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IP address abuse: What is it and how can businesses shield themselves?

Picture of the Earth with a web of links over the surface
(Image credit: Shutterstock / NicoElNino)

Cyberattacks may take on different forms, yet all of them incur severe reputational and financial costs to companies around the globe. If not handled in time, the attacks can lead to IP reputation loss and blocklisting, causing severe and expensive damage to companies. However, timely precautionary steps can help businesses to keep the threats at bay.

What is IP address abuse?

IP address abuse occurs whenever a network, website, or device linked to the internet is attacked by one or multiple IP addresses. While these forms of abuse—including phishing, spam, DDoS, malware, and hacking, to name but a few—may use a variety of methods and aim to achieve different goals, they all target businesses through IP addresses and servers used to conduct for day-to-day operations. 

For example, ANZ, an Australian multinational banking and financial services company, experienced a DDoS attack back in September, leaving customers without access to their bank accounts. In a DDoS assault, hackers flood a website with a couple of thousand bots, all attempting to connect to the target’s IP address simultaneously, overloading its infrastructure and rendering it unusable. To put it in layman’s terms, a DDoS assault is like an unforeseen traffic jam that clogs a roadway and prevents ordinary traffic from reaching its destination.

The importance of upkeeping IP reputation

Suppose an IP address has never been associated with malicious activity, such as being hijacked by a third party or having malware travel through them. In that case, that address’s reputation is considered to be good and trustworthy. On the other hand, if an IP address has been linked to suspicious activity, it could be flagged as a risk to other users and, therefore, not be seen as legitimate. 

IP reputation can be determined through multiple variables, including age, domain reputation, presence of downloadable files, hosting location, associations with malicious activity, presence on blocklists, and more. By taking these factors into account, a certain “history” of that IP address may be logged, with a certain value of trust assigned to it. This “score” is then used to determine how much functionality that IP asset can possess without causing harm to others.

To illustrate it better, we can use restaurant ratings as an example. If a business has had a history of bad customer service, poor products, a lack of hygiene, or any other combination of factors, it will possess a lower rating score compared to restaurants that have not faced the same issues. As a result, poorly-rated establishments are less likely to be recommended, advertised, and are at higher risk of facing repercussions due to not following normative guidelines. The reputation system for IPs operates in a similar way.

Understanding the importance of handling IP address abuse

The upkeep of a good IP address reputation allows companies to both send and receive information through their networks without the restrictions that are faced by IP addresses flagged for suspicious activity. 

To make an example of the difficulties a suspicious address may face, imagine that your business’ success is dependent on e-mail campaigns. By ending up on a blocklist due to an untrustworthy reputation, you may have serious difficulties with your ability to conduct such campaigns, as your e-mails would bounce and not reach their intended recipients. 

Failure to address instances of IP abuse within your company may have a compound effect on your ability to utilize your IP resources, as the riskier your IP address history is deemed to be, the more likely they are to end up on severe blocklists (such as ‘Don’t Route or Peer’ or ‘UCE Protect Level 3), which could end up blocklisting your company entirely and bring about financial and reputational costs.

Preemptive measures to consider

While the potential repercussions are serious, businesses can position themselves to be one step ahead of the problem to limit vulnerabilities in network infrastructure and IP resources. 

First of all, the reaction time to abuse reports is crucial. The longer the time span from an attack being registered to concrete actions being taken to correct such vulnerabilities, the higher the chances of the IP address being restricted through blocklists. Keeping track of how your IP resources might be misused is often overlooked and, as it is generally hard to do, businesses might consider outsourcing such responsibility to professionals—the opportunity of having their abuse prevention needs handled by another party allows diverting focus to other projects and scale their company faster.

Abuse of the IP space might also occur whenever a server is hacked. To pre-empt such occurrences, companies can use Secure Socket Shell (SSH) keys to increase security. In the SSH protocol, the private key, used to connect to servers, never leaves the device used to access the network, unlike regular passwords, which aren’t as heavily encrypted.  In addition, opting for complicated and irregular passwords around 16 digits long to lessen the risk of being hacked. Though this will not prevent the onboarding of a risky customer, it helps bolster the overall integrity of the network.

IP abuse, if unchecked, could become a real menace to businesses by disrupting the regular flow of information through the network infrastructure. Though this could have severe consequences—the reputation of the IP might be jeopardized, potentially leading to blocklisting—companies can protect themselves from damage by taking concrete measures to secure their IP resources or allowing professionals to do it for them.

Vincentas Grinius

Vincentas has a long track record and 10+ years of experience combining today’s technologies and making IPXO the first in the market IPv4 lease and monetization platform. The platform brings RIRs, LIRs, and everyone from small to large enterprises together to share the IPv4 resources and to make the Internet much more sustainable, also alleviating the pressures from the IPv4 shortage.