Packed to the Brim: Investigating the Impact of Highly Responsive Prefixes on Internet-wide Measurement Campaigns

Patrick Sattler, Johannes Zirngibl, Mattijs Jonker, Oliver Gasser, Georg Carle, Ralph Holz

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Internet-wide scans are an important tool to evaluate the deployment of services. To enable large-scale application layer scans, a fast, stateless port scan (e.g., using ZMap) is often performed ahead of time to collect responsive targets. It is a common expectation that port scans on the entire IPv4 address space provide a relatively unbiased view as they cover the complete address space. Previous work, however, has found prefixes where all addresses share particular properties. In IPv6, aliased prefixes and fully responsive prefixes, i.e., prefixes where all addresses are responsive, are a well-known phenomenon. However, there is no such in-depth analysis for prefixes with these responsiveness patterns in IPv4.

This paper delves into the underlying factors of this phenomenon in the context of IPv4 and evaluates port scans on a total of 161 ports (142 TCP & 19 UDP ports) from three different vantage points. To account for packet loss and other scanning artifacts, we propose the notion of a new category of prefixes, which we call highly responsive prefixes (HRPs). Our findings show that the share of HRPs can make up 70% of responsive addresses on selected ports. Regarding specific ports, we observe that CDNs contribute to the largest fraction of HRPs on TCP/80 and TCP/443, while TCP proxies emerge as the primary cause of HRPs on other ports. Our analysis also reveals that application layer handshakes to targets outside HRPs are, depending on the chosen service, up to three times more likely to be successful compared to handshakes with targets located in HRPs. To improve future scanning campaigns conducted by the research community, we make our study's data publicly available and provide a tool for detecting HRPs. Furthermore, we propose an approach for a more efficient, ethical, and sustainable application layer target selection. We demonstrate that our approach has the potential to reduce the number of TLS handshakes by up to 75% during an Internet-wide scan while successfully obtaining 99 % of all unique certificates.
Original languageEnglish
Article number24
Number of pages21
JournalProceedings of the ACM on Networking
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 28 Nov 2023
Event19th International Conference on emerging Networking EXperiments and Technologies, CoNEXT 2023 - Paris, France
Duration: 5 Dec 20238 Dec 2023
Conference number: 19


  • highly responsive prefix
  • port scanning
  • ethical scanning


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