Banner grabbing is a technique used to gain information about a computer system on a network and the services running on its open ports. Administrators can use this to take inventory of the systems and services on their network. However, an intruder can use banner grabbing in order to find network hosts that are running versions of applications and operating systems with known exploits.
Some examples of service ports used for banner grabbing are those used by Hyper Text Transfer Protocol (HTTP), File Transfer Protocol (FTP), and Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP); ports 80, 21, and 25 respectively. Tools commonly used to perform banner grabbing are Telnet, nmap, zmap and Netcat.
For example, one could establish a connection to a target web server using Netcat, then send an HTTP request. The response will typically contain information about the service running on the host:
[root@prober] nc www.targethost.com 80 HEAD / HTTP/1.1 HTTP/1.1 200 OK Date: Mon, 11 May 2009 22:10:40 EST Server: Apache/2.0.46 (Unix) (Red Hat/Linux) Last-Modified: Thu, 16 Apr 2009 11:20:14 PST ETag: "1986-69b-123a4bc6" Accept-Ranges: bytes Content-Length: 1110 Connection: close Content-Type: text/html
This information may be used by an administrator to catalog this system, or by an intruder to narrow down a list of applicable exploits.
To prevent this, network administrators should restrict access to services on their networks and shut down unused or unnecessary services running on network hosts.
Shodan is a search engine for banners grabbed from portscanning the Internet.
McClure, Stuart et al. Hacking Exposed. New York: McGraw-Hill/Osborne, 2005.