ARP spoofing attacks and ARP cache poisoning can occur because ARP allows a reply from a host even if an ARP request was not received. After the attack, all traffic from the device under attack flows through the attacker’s computer and then to the router, switch, or host.
An ARP spoofing attack can affect hosts, switches, and routers connected to your Layer 2 network by sending false information to the ARP caches of the devices connected to the subnet. Sending false information to an ARP cache is known as ARP cache poisoning. Spoof attacks can also intercept traffic intended for other hosts on the subnet.
This figure shows an example of ARP cache poisoning.
Figure 1. ARP Cache Poisoning
Hosts A, B, and C are connected to the device on interfaces A, B, and C, all of which are on the same subnet. Their IP and MAC addresses are shown in parentheses; for example, host A uses IP address IA and MAC address MA. When host A needs to send IP data to host B, it broadcasts an ARP request for the MAC address associated with IP address IB. When the device and host B receive the ARP request, they populate their ARP caches with an ARP binding for a host with the IP address IA and a MAC address MA; for example, IP address IA is bound to MAC address MA. When host B responds, the device and host A populate their ARP caches with a binding for a host with the IP address IB and the MAC address MB.
Host C can poison the ARP caches of the device, host A, and host B by broadcasting two forged ARP responses with bindings: one for a host with an IP address of IA and a MAC address of MC and another for a host with the IP address of IB and a MAC address of MC. Host B and the device then use the MAC address MC as the destination MAC address for traffic intended for IA, which means that host C intercepts that traffic. Likewise, host A and the device use the MAC address MC as the destination MAC address for traffic intended for IB.
Because host C knows the true MAC addresses associated with IA and IB, it can forward the intercepted traffic to those hosts by using the correct MAC address as the destination. This topology, in which host C has inserted itself into the traffic stream from host A to host B, is an example of a man-in-the middle attack.