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Three-way Handshake

The three-way handshake is the process by which two computers create a reliable connection to eachother using TCP (Transmission Control Protocol).  The computer requesting the connection sends out a synchronize packet (SYN), when the second computer receives this packet it responds by sending a synchronize packet and an acknowledgement packet (SYN/ACK).  When the initiating computer receives the acknowledgement from the requested computer, it then sends an ACK packet as well, completing the three-way handshake.  There now exists an open-communication channel between the two computers until one issues a “FIN” or “RST” packet or the connection times out.

This is a very important concept in IT security, and it is also very exploitable.  When you think about it, the requesting computer is making sure it is connecting to the right computer before completing the connection.  What happens if someone intercepts the SYN packet (disguised as the designated computer) and sends a spoofed SYN/ACK and the requestor then completes the connection thinking it’s connected to the desired computer?  Or someone can listen in on the connection you’ve made (if it isn’t secure) and disguise information/malware to look like it came from the computer you’re talking to.

Another vulnerability occurs when someone maliciously sends out a flood of SYN packets from a spoofed IP address to a server, causing the server to consume large amounts of resources trying to keep up with these malicious packets.  This is a form of a denial-of-service attack (DoS).  This vulnerability is less of a worry with modern networks.

Sources: wikipedia, Computer Security Lab Manual

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