Skip to content

explain like I’m five: what is BGP Hijacking?

BGP hijacking, sometimes referred to as IP hijacking or route hijacking, is a malicious activity wherein incorrect IP address announcements override the correct routes in the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP). Essentially, it’s a way to misdirect Internet traffic.

Here’s a simple breakdown:

  1. BGP Basics: The Internet is a vast network of networks. For data to travel from one point to another, routers need to know the best path. BGP is the protocol they use to share this information on a large scale, like between Internet Service Providers (ISPs).
  2. Route Announcements: In BGP, networks (or Autonomous Systems) announce which IP addresses they are responsible for. This is called a route announcement.
  3. Hijacking: In BGP hijacking, a network maliciously or mistakenly announces IP addresses that it doesn’t actually own. Since BGP is built on trust and routers usually accept these announcements, traffic meant for those IP addresses can be routed through the hijacker’s network.
  4. Potential Consequences:
  • Eavesdropping: By redirecting traffic, a hijacker can inspect data, leading to privacy breaches.
  • Man-in-the-Middle Attacks: If traffic passes through a malicious network, it can be altered before reaching its destination.
  • Denial of Service: The hijacked traffic might be discarded, making services unavailable.
  • Impersonation: By hijacking the IP address of a specific website, attackers can pretend to be that site, collecting data from unsuspecting users.
  1. Real-world Examples: There have been several documented instances of BGP hijacking, sometimes due to configuration mistakes, but other times for malicious purposes.
  2. Protection Measures: There are some proposed solutions and best practices to prevent BGP hijacking, such as the RPKI (Resource Public Key Infrastructure) and route validation. But the implementation of these solutions requires global cooperation, and adoption has been slow.

In essence, BGP hijacking exploits the trust-based nature of the Internet’s routing protocol, leading to misrouted traffic with potentially severe consequences.