Historically, the word “Honeypot” has been used to represent a “lure” or “trap” to attract or pull the victims.
In the world of cyber security, honeypots are now being used as cyber bait – to fool attackers or hackers by luring them into a deceiving cyber set-up.
A honeypot is a cybersecurity mechanism that uses a manufactured attack target to lure cyber criminals away from legitimate targets. They also gather intelligence about the identity, methods and motivations of adversaries.
A honeypot is a server that is configured to detect an intruder by mirroring a real production system. It appears as a legitimate target, but all the data and transactions are phony. Located either inside or outside the
firewall, the honeypot is used to learn about an intruder’s techniques as well as determine vulnerabilities in
the real system.
In practice, honeypots are computers which masquerade as unprotected to distract cyber criminals from actual targets. The honeypot records all actions and interactions with users. Since honeypots don’t provide any legitimate services, all activity is unauthorized (and possibly malicious).
The intelligence gathered from honeypots is useful in helping organizations evolve and enhance their cybersecurity strategy in response to real-world threats and identify potential blind spots in the existing architecture, information and network security.
What are the objectives of using honeypots in Cyber Security?
Honeypots are used:
- to divert malicious traffic away from production systems.
- to get an early warning of a current attack before critical systems are hit.
- to gather information about attackers and their methods and behavior.
If the honeypots don’t actually contain confidential data and are well-monitored, you can get insight on attacker’s TTPs – tactics, techniques, and procedures and gather forensic and legal evidence without putting the rest of your network at risk.
What are the primary uses of Honeypots?
There are two primary uses for honeypots: research and production.
- Research honeypots: Research honeypots allow administrators to study the activity of hackers to learn how to offer better protection against such threats. Honeypots also can help shed light on larger software system vulnerabilities that might not otherwise be detected. For example, honeypots should only receive fake traffic, so any activity is a red flag that marks a cyber attacker. You can then take actions like flagging similar IP addresses.
- Production honeypots: Production honeypots are usually placed inside networks to act as a decoy and lessen the risk of real targets being infiltrated. These honeypots serve to distract cyber attackers from legitimate targets inside the network.
Honeypots: an offensive or defensive security measure?
Almost all security technologies being used are made to keep the hackers out. For example firewalls are made to keep systems secure by keeping hackers from outside out of the network and keeping internal threats reaching out of the network, similarly IDS are designed to keep harmful attacks out of network/system.
However, honeypot is a technology which is designed specifically to make the hackers come inside the network so that their behavior can be studied and it will be used to further strengthen systems. Thus one can say that firewalls and IDS used
defensive security whereas honeypots work as offensive security measure.
It lures the intruder to attack it by constructing a system with security vulnerability and then record the intrusion methods, motives, and tools of the intruder in the intruding process. By analyzing the intrusion information, we can get the content of the newest techniques of the intruder and find the system vulnerability. And the virtual honeypot can prevent the production systems from attacking.
How Honeypots work?
For a honeypot to work, the system should appear to be legitimate. It should run processes a production system is expected to run, and contain seemingly important dummy files. The honeypot can be any system that has been set up with proper sniffing and logging capabilities. It’s also a good idea to place a honeypot behind your corporate firewall — not only does it provide important logging and alerting capabilities, but you can block outgoing traffic so that a compromised honeypot cannot be used to pivot toward other internal assets.
How honeypots are used by Security analysts?
While monitoring traffic to honeypot systems, security analysts can better understand three key data points:
- where cybercriminals are coming from?
- how they operate?
- what they want?
Monitoring honeypots can help determine which security measures are working — and which ones need improvement.
More specifically, honeypots can be useful in detecting and preventing outside attempts to break into internal networks. For example, a honeypot could be placed outside an external firewall to attract, deflect, and analyze traffic.
Honeypots also are intentionally created with security vulnerabilities that will lure in cyber attackers. For example, a decoy database with vulnerable software might be created to flag attackers that seek to exploit those software vulnerabilities. The cybercriminals would then attack the decoy database rather than a legitimate one, simultaneously divulging their identities so companies can spot and flag them in the future.
Which are the different types of Honeypots?
There are four primary types of honeypots.
These so-called spam traps are email addresses created to attract and receive spam internet traffic. What they do is set up a fake email address to attract automated spammers only. They’re particularly useful in blocking spammers from sending phishing emails to legitimate email addresses, as their Internet Protocol (IP) addresses can be automatically blocked. They’re also used to study spamming activity.
A security team might set up a honeypot to act as a decoy database that flags attackers who are trying to exploit software vulnerabilities. The decoy databases are useful in attracting and distracting attackers that get through firewalls.
The malware honeypot copies software apps and APIs to attract malware attacks. Then security teams can find out what API weaknesses need to be addressed and create anti-malware software.
So-called spider honeypots are malicious bots and ad-network crawlers that essentially prowl the web. Spider honeypots are created to trap hackers with accessible web pages and links.
Benefits of using Honeypots – How Honeypots help in Cyber Security?
Honeypots are an important part of a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy. Their main objective is to expose vulnerabilities in the existing system and draw a hacker away from legitimate targets. Assuming the organization can also gather useful intelligence from attackers inside the decoy, honeypots can also help the organization prioritize and focus their cybersecurity efforts based on the techniques being used or the most commonly targeted assets.
Additional benefits of a honeypot include:
Ease of analysis: Honeypot traffic is limited to nefarious actors. As such, the security team does not have to separate bad actors from legitimate web traffic – all activity can be considered malicious in the honeypot. This means that the cybersecurity team can spend more time analyzing the behavior of cybercriminals, as opposed to segmenting them from regular users.
Ongoing evolution: Once deployed, honeypots can deflect a cyberattack and gather information continuously. In this way, it is possible for the cybersecurity team to record what types of attacks are occurring and how they evolve over time. This gives organizations an opportunity to change their security protocols to match the needs of the landscape.
Internal threat identification: Honeypots can identify both internal and external security threats. While many cybersecurity techniques focus on those risks coming from outside the organization, honeypots can also lure inside actors who are attempting to access the organization’s data, IP or other sensitive information.
Are there any Risks involved in using Honeypots?
One of the risks of having a honeypot could be relying too heavily on its intelligence. For example, honeypots only spot the activity that they attract. Another disadvantage is that, experienced hackers may be able to tell the difference between honeypots and legitimate systems with fingerprinting, for example.
Honeypots also may introduce risk in their connection to the administrators collecting the information generated.