The Cisco Discovery Protocol (CDP) is a proprietary protocol that all Cisco devices can be configured to use. CDP discovers other Cisco devices that are directly connected, which allows the devices to auto-configure their connection. In some cases, this simplifies configuration and connectivity.

By default, most Cisco routers and switches have CDP-enabled on all ports. CDP information is sent in periodic, unencrypted broadcasts. This information is updated locally in the CDP database of each device. Because CDP is a Layer 2 protocol, CDP messages are not propagated by routers.

CDP contains information about the device, such as the IP address, software version, platform, capabilities, and the native VLAN. This information can be used by an attacker to find ways to attack the network, typically in the form of a denial-of-service (DoS) attack.

The figure is a portion of a Wireshark capture showing the contents of a CDP packet. The Cisco IOS software version discovered via CDP, in particular, would allow the attacker to determine whether there were any security vulnerabilities specific to that particular version of IOS. Also, because CDP is not authenticated, an attacker could craft bogus CDP packets and send them to a directly-connected Cisco device.

It is recommended that you disable the use of CDP on devices or ports that do not need to use it by using the no cdp run global configuration mode command. CDP can be disabled on a per port basis.

Telnet Attacks

The Telnet protocol is insecure and can be used by an attacker to gain remote access to a Cisco network device. There are tools available that allow an attacker to launch a brute force password-cracking attack against the vty lines on the switch.

Brute Force Password Attack

The first phase of a brute force password attack starts with the attacker using a list of common passwords and a program designed to try to establish a Telnet session using each word on the dictionary list. If the password is not discovered by the first phase, a second phase begins. In the second phase of a brute force attack, the attacker uses a program that creates sequential character combinations in an attempt to guess the password. Given enough time, a brute force password attack can crack almost all passwords used.

To mitigate against brute force password attacks use strong passwords that are changed frequently. A strong password should have a mix of upper and lowercase letters and should include numerals and symbols (special characters). Access to the vty lines can also be limited using an access control list (ACL).

Telnet DoS Attack

Telnet can also be used to launch a DoS attack. In a Telnet DoS attack, the attacker exploits a flaw in the Telnet server software running on the switch that renders the Telnet service unavailable. This sort of attack prevents an administrator from remotely accessing switch management functions. This can be combined with other direct attacks on the network as part of a coordinated attempt to prevent the network administrator from accessing core devices during the breach.

Vulnerabilities in the Telnet service that permit DoS attacks to occur are usually addressed in security patches that are included in newer Cisco IOS revisions.

Note: It is a best practice to use SSH, rather than Telnet for remote management connections.