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Traceroute is a packet-tracking tool that is available for most operating systems. It operates by sending an Internet Control Message Protocol (ICMP) echo to each hop (router or gateway) along the path, until the destination address is reached.

When ICMP messages are sent back from the router, the time to live (TTL) is decremented by one for each router along the path. This allows a hacker to determine how many hops a router is from the sender. One problem with using the traceroute tool is that it times out (indicated by an asterisk) when it encounters a firewall or a packet-filtering router. Although a firewall stops the traceroute tool from discovering internal hosts on the network, it can alert an ethical hacker to the presence of a firewall; then, techniques for bypassing the firewall can be used.