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What is a HoneyPot in Security? 4 Examples You Need to Know

By Tibor Moes / September 2022

What is a HoneyPot in Security? Examples You Need to Know

Honeypot

No matter how good secure your infrastructure is, software vulnerabilities can always emerge. You need to protect yourself from attacks, and one of the best ways to do so is to incorporate a HoneyPot System. What exactly are HoneyPots, and what makes them robust security measures?

This article will provide a HoneyPot definition and explain how this deception technology works. We’ll also cover a few examples to help you understand how it can thwart cybercriminals.

Summary: HoneyPots are digital decoys for hackers and cybercriminals. They are attached to a network or device to lure attackers away from the actual asset. 

Tip: Malware never sleeps. Don’t take risks with your devices and data. Install antivirus software and a VPN service to protect your devices, data and privacy.

What is a HoneyPot?

HoneyPots are cybersecurity mechanisms that deploy fake targets to lure attackers away from your legitimate systems. They also collect data on the methods, motivations, and identity of your adversaries.

HoneyPots can be designed according to various digital assets, such as servers, a real network, or software applications. The technology protects legitimate users by mimicking their system’s structure, content, and components. This convinces criminals they’ve entered the actual infrastructure and encourages them to stay in the controlled environment.

The more time they spend there, the more time HoneyPots have to gather intelligence. The information helps you enhance security policies to respond to threats more efficiently. It lets you identify vulnerabilities in your existing infrastructure so you can patch them up.

HoneyPots generally involve applications, a computer system, and data to simulate a real internal network that attackers target. For instance, criminals may want to exploit financial systems, IoT devices, or public utilities.

Once you set up a HoneyPot, attackers discover it as part of your network, but it’s closely monitored and isolated. There’s no reason you should access your HoneyPot, so any communication attempts are deemed hostile.

HoneyPots typically sit in demilitarized zones on your network. These subnetworks help protect your system from suspicious traffic. The approach keeps HoneyPots away from your production systems, despite being part of them.

You can easily monitor HoneyPots inside your demilitarized zones. The attacker’s behavior can be observed safely, as there’s no risk of security breaches to your main network.

Another common place for HoneyPots is external firewalls. Here, they face the web and discover any efforts to access your internal network.

The specific placement of your HoneyPot can vary, depending on the complexity of the system and the traffic it attracts. Regardless of the location, it should always be isolated from your production systems.

By observing and logging HoneyPot activity, you learn more about the threats your infrastructure faces when criminals look for valuable assets. Your internal security team can use this insight to polish their strategy and make your system bulletproof.

Keep in mind that HoneyPots aren’t perfect. They can be hijacked and used against you. Attackers can use them to steal your data or spread misinformation.

To counteract this, many organizations set up virtual machines to host their HoneyPots. If the HoneyPot is compromised, the security team can quickly restore it to prevent disasters.

 When deploying your HoneyPots, you can use both commercial and open-source offerings. Your product can be a standalone system or configuration rolled out with other software marketed as robust deception technology.

While HoneyPots elevate your network security, they can have a broader purpose. One of the most common uses is to perform surveillance.

For example, Wi-Fi Pineapples (wireless auditing platforms) allow users to set up an effective Wi-Fi Honeypot. Hackers can utilize this technology to create fake connections that mimic real ones. In turn, unsuspecting individuals link their devices to the network, enabling the operator to observe their traffic. It’s an affordable and widespread tactic, so avoid unverified connections.

Examples of HoneyPots

There are several classifications of HoneyPots.

Deployment and Design

Based on their deployment and design, HoneyPots are divided into two groups.

Research HoneyPots

Research HoneyPots closely analyze hacker activity to determine how they organize and execute attacks. This way, they tell you how to streamline your network security and address software vulnerabilities. The data in these HoneyPots also enable you to track information and identify how multiple intruders are connected.

Businesses don’t typically use this type of HoneyPot. Instead, they’re utilized mainly by research and governmental organizations.

This is what sets them apart from their production counterparts. While production systems are deployed within a single business network, research HoneyPots can be found in multiple locations or networks.

Production HoneyPots

A production HoneyPot normally sits inside your production network and production servers. They draw attackers away from the network through an intrusion detection system.

Production HoneyPots usually appear as an integral part of the environment and contain decoy information. Hence, they attract hackers to keep them busy and waste their resources. This approach gives network admins enough time to mitigate the threat and expose vulnerabilities.

A huge number of businesses rely on these HoneyPots. They’re popular due to their user-friendly design and the ability to reveal critical information, such as vulnerabilities and threats facing the network. However, they’re not as comprehensive as research systems.

Complexity

HoneyPots can also be categorized by complexity. In other words, they can be grouped according to the level of interaction.

High-Interaction HoneyPots

A high-interaction HoneyPot engages attackers for a long time using multiple databases and other fake targets. This tells your team how the adversaries operate, dissects their tactics, and provides identity clues.

High-interaction HoneyPots require more resources, but they offer more relevant and high-quality information. Your organization can use the insight to adapt internet protocols and otherwise improve your system.

A high-interaction HoneyPot is powerful but must be carefully executed, monitored, and contained. The perimeter established around one needs to be 100% secure, with just one entrance and exit. This helps ensure your HoneyPot cyber security personnel can manage the traffic and keep intruders from accessing the real system.

Pure HoneyPots

A pure HoneyPot is a production system that monitors the connection between your network and the HoneyPot itself. It’s the most advanced type to maintain, but the advantages are considerable. Primarily, they’re more realistic than other technology, successfully hiding user information and confidential files.

Low-Interaction HoneyPots

A low-interaction HoneyPot mimics the most widespread attack vectors on your network. These are the services your environment requests most often. This makes them relatively easy to maintain and less risky.

Unlike high-interaction technology, they don’t point intruders to the primary system. The only downside is that they’re not very complex, so criminals are more likely to recognize them.

Nonetheless, they’re incredibly effective for mitigating some threats, including malware and bots.

Activity

Not every HoneyPot detects the same activity. Here’s the division according to this metric.

Spam HoneyPots

A spam HoneyPot (spam trap) implants fake email addresses in hidden fields that only a site crawler or address harvester can detect. Since legitimate users can’t see the addresses, you can categorize the messages delivered to the mailbox as spam. Then, you can block the senders and their IP addresses to prevent further correspondence.

This HoneyPot falls into several subgroups.

  • Username typos – This filter recognizes typos caused by machine or human error and sends the messages to your spam folder. Misspelled addresses are the most common example.
  • Bought email lists – Purchased lists usually contain invalid addresses that trigger traps. As the senders didn’t authorize the sending, they’re considered spam and are blacklisted.
  • Expired accounts – Many providers use expired domain names or email accounts to set up traps.

This technology has a few drawbacks, which typically arise if the attackers recognize the trap. In this case, they can exploit the system by sending real content, making the tactic less effective. To make matters worse, some users may respond to these messages, thinking it’s legitimate correspondence.

Used against you, a spam trap can hurt your organization by tarnishing your deliverability and reputation. An internet provider may also blacklist or block your IP address. Additionally, companies consulting these providers can filter your messages.

Decoy Database

Another way to fix your security vulnerabilities is to create decoy databases. They let you monitor your software, identify malicious internal members, and tackle architecture insecurities.

Decoy databases collect data about credential hijacking, privilege abuse, and injection techniques used by attackers. You can then incorporate defense tactics into your system.

Malware HoneyPot

As the name suggests, malware HoneyPots detect malware in a non-threatening environment. They dispatch an API or software app to lure attackers and examine their techniques. You can use this technology to enhance your anti-malware solutions and reduce the chances of intrusions.

Spider HoneyPots

Like spam traps, a spider HoneyPot traps web crawlers (sometimes known as spiders) by setting up websites and links only accessible to them. Identifying the spiders helps your organization determine how to keep them from accessing your network. It also makes your system more resistant to malicious bots.

HoneyNets

HoneyNets are decoy networks generally comprised of multiple HoneyPots. They resemble real networks with several systems, but they’re only hosted on a couple of servers. Each server represents a single environment.

HoneyNets have HoneyWalls that monitor the inbound and outbound traffic. The traffic is then directed to HoneyPots to improve security.

Any point on your HoneyNet can be used as an entrance for attackers. Once they access the network, the system collects information about the criminals and keeps them from infiltrating the legitimate environment.

The most significant benefit of HoneyNets over standalone HoneyPots is that they replicate actual networks more accurately. The catchment area is also larger, enabling the technology to recognize more intruders.

For this reason, HoneyNets are a better option for complex networks. They add authenticity to the decoy, which is why assailants are more likely to fall for the trap.

What Are the Benefits and Drawbacks of HoneyPots?

We’ve already mentioned some advantages of HoneyPots. Here are a few more.

  • Ongoing evolution – The best feature of HoneyPots might be that they gather information and deflect attacks continuously. Your team can record intrusions and how they change over time. Hence, you can adjust your security tactics to match the ever-evolving landscape.
  • Easy analysis – Only malicious users generate HoneyPot traffic. Your security team doesn’t have to distinguish illegitimate traffic from legitimate traffic. All activity is considered hostile. This gives your staff more time to dissect the actions of cybercriminals rather than segment them from standard individuals.
  • Threat identification – A HoneyPot system can recognize both external and internal threats. While most techniques focus on outside risks, HoneyPots also lure malicious actors attempting to manipulate your IP or other information.

Keep in mind that your entire security strategy shouldn’t rest on HoneyPots only. Like any other method, they can’t adequately protect you from a complete array of risks and threats.

The main problem with HoneyPot instances is that they’re susceptible to misuse. If intruders recognize your decoy, they can overwhelm the system with numerous attacks. This way, they distract your team from actual intrusion on legitimate targets.

Another potential issue is that criminals can provide your HoneyPot with misinformation. It allows them to hide their identity while confusing your machine-learning models and algorithms that analyze the activity.

Misconfiguring your decoy environment is also risky. Advanced adversaries can use this environment for lateral movements throughout your network. The only way to prevent this is to set up a HoneyWall to limit entrances and exits and contain HoneyPot Traffic.

HoneyPots Are a Must-Have for Safe Surfing

Exploring the internet without proper security measures is a disaster waiting to happen. Criminals could easily exploit your system, manipulate information, and prevent you from accessing certain data. The results can be catastrophic, ranging from minor inconveniences to irreparable reputation loss.

HoneyPots can help you avoid this scenario. They can trick intruders into thinking they’ve tapped into your system while you analyze their behavior. Next time they attempt to infiltrate your network, they’ll hit a brick wall.

Resources

Frequently Asked Questions

What can you find out with HoneyPots?

HoneyPots are versatile defense mechanisms that tell you where attackers come from, what data they’re interested in, and how effective your security measures are.

How hard is it to set up a HoneyPot?

Installing a HoneyPot isn’t too challenging because the system doesn’t require advanced hardware. In fact, you can even use old PCs to run great software.

Do HoneyPots produce false alarms?

HoneyPots can trigger false alarms, but this rarely happens. This technology is unlikely to alert you without reason, making it incredibly time-saving.

Author: Tibor Moes

Author: Tibor Moes

Founder & Chief Editor at SoftwareLab

Tibor is a Dutch engineer and entrepreneur. He has tested security software since 2014.

Over the years, he has tested most leading antivirus software for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS, as well as many VPN providers.

He uses Norton to protect his devices, CyberGhost for his privacy, and Dashlane for his passwords.

This website is hosted on a Digital Ocean server via Cloudways and is built with DIVI on WordPress.

You can find him on LinkedIn or contact him here.

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