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A Christmas tree packet is a type of packet that has a number of special settings applied, which IT experts call "universal" or "default" settings. Christmas tree packets are set up in specific ways to be information heavy and to interact with various protocols in specific ways.
Christmas tree packets are also known as kamikaze packets and lamp test segments.
By manipulating a TCP header, an engineer can create a Christmas tree packet where each of a number of flags or settings is set to "open," that is, where the flags/settings are ready for a range of protocols. At the same time, this makes the data packet harder to pass through an average system and requires more processing power by a recipient. This type of packet is called a "Christmas tree packet" because of the metaphorical idea that the flags on the packet "shine" different colors and that the packet is "decked out like a Christmas tree."
Christmas tree packets can be used in "Christmas tree attacks," where a large number of these data-heavy packets can slow down or overload a network. They can also be used in certain types of hacker "reconnaissance," where outsiders send these packets to get a better idea of the network they are trying to infiltrate. For example, Christmas tree packets sent to a certain recipient can cause a piece of hardware to shut down or reboot, which can indicate to the sender that there is an older or obsolete piece of equipment, or a piece of equipment with less processing power, that might be a vulnerability in a system.