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The TCP protocol is:

  • Reliable, reliability mechanisms
  • Ordered, the delivery of packets is ordered
  • Error-checked, it has some more error checking techniques

The TCP protocol is similar to a phone call, when we use a phone to call, we use the "phone protocol" without knowing it, indeed, considering two persons A and B, what they do to start a call is:

  1. A requests a call to B with a "Ring"
  2. B replies "Hello?" to A
  3. A replies back "Hi" to B

TCP establish a connection with a similar technique. The most interesting fields in the TCP Header are: * source port * destination port * sequence number: these numbers are used to reassemble packets in the correct orderon an end-point * acknowledgement number: is used from the receiver to let the sender know that a packet has been received * flags (or control bits): are used to indicate the type of packet sent, or to call attention to other significant conditions, the flags that we need to be familiar with are: * RST (Reset) * SYN (Synchronize) * FIN (Finish) * URG (Urgent) * ACK (Acknowledgement) * PSH (Push)

Instead of giving now a definition for all of these flags, let's see an example of communication: if host A wants to communicate with host B in TCP, what happens is:

  1. host A sends a packet with SYN flag to host B
  2. host B replies with a packet with SYN+ACK flags to A
  3. host A replies back with a packet with ACK flag

this sequence is what is called "Three-way handshake". After the three-way handshake, data can flow and ACK packets can be sent as confirm, then when A wants to terminate (finish) the conversation, it sends a packet with the FIN flag, and B replies with a packet containing the ACK flag, then it does the same, by sending a FIN packet to A and waiting for A to send an ACK packet. We can do host enumeration using TCP packets in nmap is possible through:

  • -PS80 ;no space between port and options
  • -PA80 ;no space between port and options notice that the port 80 is even the default port if not specified.
  • -PS Option ; The -PS option starts with a SYN packet as in the 3 way handshake, once the SYN is sent two things can happen:
    1. if the host is alive and the port is open (rare), we receive a SYN+ACK reply from host, and at this point we reply back with a RST packet terminating the connection, and so without concluding the 3 way handshake, this technique of closing connection after the first SYN+ACK reply is called "half-open scanning"
    2. if the host is alive, and the port is closed, we receive a RST packet from the host, and the connection is aborted, notice that this is different from UDP where the reply is an ICMP message, in this case we have a TCP packet
  • -PA Option ; The -PA option sends an ACK packet to the host, as if we were in the middle of a communication session with the target, since the target system has no record of packages, responds with a RST packet. This response is right what nmap is trying to listen to, since it let us understand that the system at the mentioned address is alive
  • Other Options; Other possible options in nmap are: * -Pn avoids system enumeration and runs a port scan