Unused IP addresses: What are the Cybersecurity Risks?

Unused IP addresses may seem harmless, but for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), they can pose significant security risks if they are left unaddressed.

In today’s digitally connected business landscape, every IP address, whether used or not, is a potential target for cybercriminals. Hackers often scan for these dormant addresses as a way to infiltrate networks, bypass security measures, and launch attacks. The impact on your SMB can be devastating, leading to operational downtime, data loss, and costly recovery processes.

To mitigate these risks, it’s crucial to adopt robust cybersecurity solutions that help you regularly monitor and manage IP addresses, even those seemingly inactive, to prevent vulnerabilities, maintain your business continuity, and ensure your business remains secure for the long-term.

What is an unused IP address?

An unused IP address (also called Internet Protocol address) is an IP address that is assigned to a network, but is not currently in active use by any device. 

In a business context, IP addresses are crucial for network communication, allowing your technology devices such as computers, printers, and servers to connect and interact. However, not all IP addresses allocated within a network are always in use. These dormant or unused IP addresses might be left over from reconfigurations, expansions, or changes in your network.

What is the business importance of an unused IP address?

For small and medium-sized businesses beginning their journey into understanding network management and network security, recognizing what constitutes an unused IP address is a crucial first step to prevent them from becoming a security risk, and to maintain cybersecurity. 

Unused and static IP addresses are often inadequately secured by most businesses, making them easy targets for cyberattacks. Since these addresses are typically acquired and forgotten, hijacking attempts are rarely detected, exacerbating the problem for companies that are unaware of the potential risks associated with their dormant IP resources. 

Whether it’s decommissioned devices, changes in network infrastructure, or simply because they were never assigned to any device in the first place, it’s important to get on top of these lost addresses. Otherwise, if left unmonitored and unmanaged, these addresses can become entry points for cyber threats.

Unused IP addresses are an often overlooked security risk for SMBs

What are the security risks of unused IP addresses?

Hackers often scan networks to find and exploit such unused addresses, potentially leading to unauthorized access and data breaches. Here is a breakdown of the four most prominent cyber threats and security risks in the area of unaddressed IP addresses:

Threat #1: IP hijacking

IP hijacking occurs when cybercriminals take control of unused IP addresses without the owner’s knowledge. This can happen because these addresses are often not actively monitored or secured. Once hijacked, these addresses can be used to conduct illegal activities such as spamming, launching cyberattacks, or bypassing geolocation restrictions.

Impact on your SMB: For small businesses, IP hijacking can lead to significant reputational damage and legal issues if your IP addresses are used for malicious purposes. It can also disrupt network operations and result in financial losses due to the recovery process.

Threat #2: Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) Attacks

Unused IP addresses can be exploited as part of a botnet in a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack. Cybercriminals can use these addresses to flood a target’s network with traffic, overwhelming it and causing potentially damaging service disruptions.

Impact on your SMB: A DDoS attack can cause significant downtime, preventing your customers from accessing your services or products, and leading to loss of revenue and customer trust. If you lack the resources to quickly mitigate such attacks, it’s best to consider a cybersecurity IT partner to help you combat the threat, as the consequences can be severe.

Threat #3: Network infiltration and data breaches

Unsecured unused IP addresses can serve as entry points for cybercriminals to infiltrate your network. Once inside, they can move laterally to access sensitive data or deploy malware. This occurs when your IP addresses are not actively managed or included in security protocols.

Impact on your SMB: Network infiltration can result in data breaches, exposing sensitive business information and customer data, of which we know reached a record high of $4.45 million USD in 2023 due to unprepared and unprotected businesses, according to IBM. It can also lead to regulatory fines, loss of customer trust, and significant costs associated with data breach recovery, which you want to avoid at all costs – especially as a smaller business.

By recognizing and understanding these threats, and moving forward to actively manage and secure all your IP addresses, including those not currently in use, this is the first important step to significantly reduce your cybersecurity risk in the area of networking. 

However, if you are an SMB without a dedicated IT department or expert within the business able to spearhead your cybersecurity initiatives concerning unused IP addresses, now may be the time to begin considering the help of a managed service provider (MSP), who can manage the implementation and management of your network security and IP address monitoring on your behalf.

Unused IP addresses and cybersecurity: Next steps

It’s clear that properly managing all IP addresses, including those not in use, is a critical part of a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy for your SMB’s network security. By recognizing the threat and taking a proactive approach to IP address management, you can better help the business prevent potential vulnerabilities and strengthen overall network security.

If your SMB requires dedicated IT support or expertise in the area of your network security, consider a MSP like SparkNav for assistance. Speak to our team today to learn how we can help you identify any IP address vulnerabilities, and build a more robust cybersecurity posture for your business overall.

Robert Griffin
Robert Griffin
As COO, Robert Griffin plays an instrumental role in aligning operational excellence with strategic goals by leveraging his decades of experience in enterprise leadership. With deep knowledge and expertise in security, governance, risk, and compliance (GRC), and AI, his insights are often shared through thought leadership channels, including LinkedIn and blogs. → Follow Robert on LinkedIn.