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What Is the Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol?

Router configurations may reset if power is lost.
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  • Written By: M. McGee
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 19 December 2014
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Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) is a method of autoconfiguring Internet Protocol (IP) settings. The main purpose of DHCP is removing a lot of the technical knowledge necessary to configure a web connection. It achieves this by automatically assigning each computer an IP address from a list of available options. Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol will also log Internet and network connections so users may keep track of what is happening at any given time. Since DHCP doesn’t provide any sort of authentication methods in its normal configuration, it is vulnerable to certain types of attacks.

Many different devices use Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol. It is so common in modern networked electronics that it is nearly a given that an item will contain it. Nearly any hand-held electronics that connect to a network can use DHCP. Cameras, video game consoles and practically anything with Wi-Fi™ capabilities will have a DHCP system.

When a device that uses Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol links to a network, it sends out a broadcast asking for information from the local DHCP server. The server will receive the broadcast and send out the information the item needs to operate on the network. The primary piece of information sent is the address the device will use as long as it is connected and the network remains in its current state. In addition, it will often receive information about other IP addresses on the network as well as mask any gateway addresses.

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These addresses typically remain the same as long as the network is stable. Should the router lose power, the entire network may change configuration when turned back on. The Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol server will send out new addresses to each connected device in the order in which it receives their broadcasts. Should a single item be removed from the system, such as removing a hand-held network device for use elsewhere, it shouldn’t affect the other devices. When that device comes back, it may receive a totally different address than it had before.

The majority of Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol servers ask for no authentication and send out none with their information. As a result, there are several methods for spoofing a DHCP system. It is possible to impersonate a legitimate DHCP server and send out incorrect information, often to route personal or secure information to the wrong place. On the other side, it is possible to act like a DHCP client and repeatedly ask for address information until the DHCP system runs out of addresses. This will cause any other connections to the network to fail.

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