What is a Port Scan?

Troy Holmes

Computers networks are made from a combination of telecommunication wires and devices that enable computers to communicate. These communication networks use special access ports to send and receive messages over the telephone line. A port scan is a network security software tool that trolls and reviews the active ports that are open on a network. This scan can inspect messages that are sent on specific port channels to look for suspicious activities.

IT administrators may run port scanning software to evaluate the security level of open network ports.
IT administrators may run port scanning software to evaluate the security level of open network ports.

Computers can be used in a variety of ways to communicate. Email, instant messaging, file transfer protocol, and hypertext transfer protocol are all methods of electronic communication. Each of these types of software uses a specific access port on the network to transmit information. The port scanning tool reviews the open ports and ensures the message traffic meets specific security guidelines.

A port scan typically uses a special port scanning software tool. This tool is configured to run port validation test across the entire network looking for suspicious behaviors. Most tools are purchased through commercial security companies that specialize in computer cyber security.

Several free port scanning tools are available on the Internet. These tools are good for home users who want a quick report of the available ports exposed on a home computer network. A free port scan provides a generic report of open port vulnerabilities, but it cannot perform the analysis available with commercial products.

A system administrator is typically responsible for running a port scan for a company's computer network. This individual runs the analysis tool on a periodic basis to ensure adequate security measures are maintained for the company. Any suspicious port activity is typically reported to security personnel.

Port scanning software can also used by computer hackers as an infiltration device. A port scan attack exposes open ports to criminals, who can then use the information to gain access to an organizations network. Once a computer hacker knows the available ports he can deploy specific virus software that will penetrate the company's computer network security.

Port sweeping is another technique that is used by computer hackers to find available ports on a computer network. This process is similar to a port scan but sends messages to the same port address on multiple computers. The intent is to find an unprotected entry point on a cluster of computers connected to the network.

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