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What Are Honeypots (Computing)?

"You can catch more flies with honey rather than vinegar"

The evolution of internet technology has transformed the world into a vast network of interconnected digital information-generating systems. Many different conveniences have made everyone's life easier. These conveniences have greatly increased the risk of a data breach. With rapid advancements in networking, storage, and processing technology, as well as easy access to information, the risks of digital data being exposed have increased.

Many security solutions have been developed to protect information and internet resources from illegal access. Various effective procedures are in place to detect attacks during the event as well as to analyze them afterward. However, after a system has been infiltrated, it is impossible to properly evaluate it, making it difficult to get specific information about the hacker and his motivations. Obtaining knowledge about an attack a priori, before a violation occurs, has always been difficult. At this point, honeypots come on the scene.

A honeypot is a deceptive system or mimicked program that replicates an entire network to lure attackers by impersonating common vulnerabilities. Honeypot can be defined in a variety of ways. To put it another way, there is no universally accepted definition. The term "honeypot" may be defined differently by different experts. There has been a lot of misunderstanding and misinterpretation as a result of this circumstance. Some feel it is a deception tool, while others say it is a weapon used to entice hackers, and still, others believe it is just another intrusion detection tool. Some people feel a honeypot should imitate weaknesses, while others consider it as nothing more than a prison. Some people think of honeypots as locked-down production systems that intruders can sneak into.

During the Cold War, the term "honeypot" was first used to describe a spying method. The release of "The cuckoos-Egg" and "An Evening with Berferd in which a Cracker is Lured, Endured and Studied" in 1990 marks the beginning of the application of the honeypot idea in the field of information security.

How do Honeypots Work?

A honeypot operates by creating a deliberately weak security flaw. Honeypots run as virtual computers in an accessible network location, with security protections weakened. These VMs frequently lack important security upgrades, as well as unprotected ports and unneeded services that a hacker may exploit. Honeypot devices also include administrator credentials that are simple to breach. The attacker, who has easy access to numerous accounts, believes he has enhanced his network access rights.

All of these security breaches will lead an attacker to believe that they have discovered an easy target to penetrate, while their time is being spent as the administrator watches their activities and blocks access to the rest of the network. As a result, an attacker is caught in a trap and has no important data or system access to show for it. By the time the hacker realizes what's going on, the administrator has acquired enough information to strengthen the network further or report the activities to authorities.

Honeypots are security assets with no production value; no one or resource should communicate with them. As a result, any behavior directed against them is by definition suspicious. Any traffic directed at the honeypot is almost certainly a probe, scan, or attack. Any traffic initiated by the honeypot indicates that the system has been compromised and that the attacker is creating outbound connections.

What are Honeypots Used for?

A honeypot is a trap machine that seems to be a real system to lure an attacker. The honeypot's goal is to analyze, comprehend, observe, and track hacker behavior to build better security systems. Honeypots are an excellent technique for network managers to increase network security.

The most important benefit of a honeypot lies in the data that it gathers and can promptly warn on. The data that enters and exits a honeypot helps security personnel to obtain information that an intrusion detection system(IDS) does not provide. Even if encryption was utilized to establish the connection, an attacker's keystrokes can be tracked during it. In addition, any efforts to access the system may result in rapid notifications.

Honeypots can identify attacks early by solving several of the issues associated with typical intrusion detection systems, also including false positives and the inability to recognize new types of attacks or zero-day attacks. However, honeypots are increasingly being used to identify insider attacks, which are typically more sophisticated and costly than external attacks.

Honeypots aren't always deployed as a form of security. Anyone, including hackers, can use them for network reconnaissance. A Wi-Fi Pineapple, for example, allows users to establish a Wi-Fi honeypot. Because consumer devices are used to build a false Wi-Fi network that replicates an actual one in the location, Wi-Fi Pineapples are reasonably inexpensive. Individuals join the false Wi-Fi network by accident, allowing the honeypot operator to analyze their data.

How are Honeypots Set Up?

As mentioned before, a honeypot is a network device that is set up for the sole purpose of being attacked. It is built with intentional flaws that are exposed to a public network. Honeypots are not meant to get any valid traffic. As a result, any traffic directed to a honeypot is almost certainly part of an ongoing attack and may be examined to discover vulnerabilities targeted by attackers.

Honeypots comprise 5 main setups;

  • Honeypot Production System: It is not a genuine production system, but more a gathering spot for intruders. This supplies the attacker with honey - files and fake system resources to play with. Automatic reactions to intruder behaviors are programmed to demonstrate the honeypot as a true production system.

  • Firewall: Firewalls keep track of how an attacker tries to get access to the Honeypot. Because there should be no legitimate reason for traffic flowing to or from the Honeypot, the firewall is set up to log all packets traveling to it.

  • Monitoring Unit: It is an elevated risk unit that watches network and system activities for malicious activity or policy breaches and reports back to a Management Station. Analyzing the order, sequence, time stamps, and kind of packets used by an intruder to obtain access to Honeypot, as well as keystrokes, system accesses, files altered, and so on, can assist in identifying the invaders' tools, methods, and goals.

  • Alert Unit: The honeypot should be able to deliver email or pager notifications to the administrator regarding traffic traveling to or from the honeypot, allowing the administrator to monitor intruder behavior while it's happening.

  • Logging Unit: This device stores all firewall and system logs, as well as communication between the firewall and the honeypot system, efficiently.

What are Types of Honeypots?

Honeypots can be constructed and deployed in a variety of ways. What you want to do with your honeypot will determine how you build it. In terms of objectives, there are two main types of honeypots: research and production honeypots

What are Types of Honeypots

Figure 1. What are Types of Honeypots?

1. Research Honeypots

Research honeypots are primarily used to gather information on new attack methods, new attacks, viruses, and worms that are not detected by IDS. These honeypots are generally difficult to set up. The primary objectives of the research honeypots are to acquire substantial information regarding the Blackhat community's motivations and strategies while attacking various networks. It's worth noting that research honeypots don't directly benefit a company; rather, they're used to learn more about the hazards that companies face and how to better defend themselves from them. Research honeypots are difficult to set up and manage, but they collect a lot of data and are mostly utilized by research, military, and government agencies.

We have no choice but to utilize research honeypots to obtain significant information on the attackers. Honeypots allow attackers to interface with legitimate operating systems and apps. This allows us to understand the attackers, how they communicate, and how they build or obtain their tools.

2. Production Honeypots

Production honeypots are employed largely by businesses or organizations because they are simple to set up, use, and gather minimal information. These honeypots are installed alongside the production server within the organization's production network to increase overall security. A production honeypot is utilized within a company to prevent attacks and manage risks. It ensures the immediate security of production resources. Production honeypots tend to duplicate the production network or give certain services to the attackers such as FTP, HTTP, and SMTP. Production honeypots assist commercial entities more. Because of its simplicity, it overcomes several IDS concerns.

3. Malware Honeypot

Malware honeypots encourage malware infections by using well-known replication and attack channels. Malware honeypots, for example, can be used to simulate USB flash drives. If a workstation is infected with malware that infects USB drives, the honeypot will entice the virus to infect the simulated USB drive. The virus can then be analyzed by a team of professionals to address holes or develop anti-malware software.

4. Spider Honeypot

A spider honeypot is a sort of honeypot network that comprises connections and web pages that are only accessible to automated crawlers. Spider honeypots are used by IT security specialists to trap and analyze web crawlers to discover how to neutralize hostile bots and ad-network crawlers. Detecting these crawlers can help you stop bot activity.

5. Database Honeypots

A database honeypot is a fake database that is put up to attract database-specific attacks such as SQL injection. Firewalls are frequently bypassed by such attempts. Database firewalls that enable honeypot systems are used by organizations to deflect the attacker away from the real database.

6. Spam Honeypots

These are employed to simulate open mail relays and open proxies. Spammers will first send themselves an email to test the open mail relay. If they are successful, they will send out a huge amount of spam. This form of the honeypot is capable of detecting and recognizing this test, as well as successfully blocking the large volume of spam that follows.

Spam honeypots can expose the spammer's IP address, allowing the honeypot operator to ban email from that address. The honeypot operator can also contact the abuser's ISP to get their accounts terminated. Spam honeypots may be quite successful since they make spam usage more risky and difficult.

How Are Honeypots Classified?

There are various sorts of honeypots, which may be classified into four primary types:

  1. Based on Usage:
  • Production Honeypots

  • Research Honeypots

  1. Based on Level of Interaction:
  • Low-interaction honeypots

  • Medium Interaction Honeypots

  • High-interaction honeypots

  1. Based on Hardware Deployment Type:
  • Physical Honeypots

  • Virtual Honeypots

  1. Based on Role of Honeypot:
  • Server Side honeypots

  • Client-Side honeypots

What are the Benefits of Using Honeypots?

There are several benefits to employing honeypots, however, the following are just basic and most important ones;

  • Gaining valuable data is one of the problems that the security sector faces. Every day, businesses acquire massive volumes of data, such as firewall logs, system logs, and intrusion detection alerts. The sheer volume of data available might be overwhelming, making it impossible to extract any value from it. Honeypots, on the other hand, collect a small amount of data, but what they do capture is usually quite valuable. The honeypot idea, which involves no planned producing activity, greatly minimizes noise. Honeypots can provide you with the specific information you want in a timely and understandable manner. This simplifies analysis and speeds up reaction times.

  • Another issue that most security solutions face is resource limitations or depletion. Resource exhaustion occurs when a security resource is depleted to the point that it can no longer operate. Honeypots, overall, don't suffer resource exhaustion issues. The honeypot only records activity directed at itself, ensuring that the system is not overloaded. A secondary benefit of a honeypot's modest resource needs is that you don't have to spend a lot of money on hardware. Honeypots, unlike many security devices such as firewalls or intrusion detection sensors, do not require cutting-edge technology, significant quantities of RAM or chip speed, or massive disk drives.

  • The greatest benefit of honeypots is their simplicity. There are no complicated algorithms to create, no signature databases to keep track of, and no rule bases to mess up. Simply take the honeypot, place it anywhere within your company, and wait. Check out the honeypot if someone connects to it.

  • Return on investment is another benefit. Honeypots prove their worth regularly. People know the evil guys are out there when they are targeted. Honeypots may be used to justify not just their worth but also investments in other security resources by recording illegal actions. Honeypots can successfully demonstrate that there is a large deal of risk while management believes there are no risks.

What are the Dangers of Honeypots?

While honeypots do offer several benefits, they also have several disadvantages. It is important to note that honeypots don't replace security procedures; instead, they complement and enhance your entire security architecture.

Honeypots are devices that exclusively monitor interactions with themselves. The biggest disadvantage of honeypots is this. They only see what activity is directed against them. Unless your honeypot is explicitly attacked, an attacker breaking into your network and attacking some systems will go unnoticed. If an attacker recognizes your honeypot for what it is, he can bypass it and enter your organization, leaving the honeypot in the dark.

Honeypots have distinct identities and characteristics that will reveal themselves. This is also owing to the availability of honeypot information on the internet, such as Project Honeypot, which offers downloads for all open-source honeypot applications and source code. Honeypots' strengths and weaknesses are easily learned and studied by the attacker.

Fingerprinting is another issue that may be observed in many commercial versions. When an attacker can determine the real identity of a honeypot based on certain predicted features or behaviors, this is known as fingerprinting. To detect the presence of a honeypot, attackers can employ techniques such as fingerprinting, response time analysis, and sending attack traffic from the compromised system. If an intruder discovers a company that uses a honeypot on its internal networks, he can impersonate other production systems and attack the honeypot. The honeypot would detect these spoofed attacks and incorrectly warn administrators that a production system is attacking it, leading to a desperate search for the source of the attack. Meanwhile, in the middle of the chaos, an attacker may concentrate on more serious strikes.

Can Honeypot be Hacked?

Yes, you may expect a honeypot to be examined and targeted in some way. Intruders use a system's weaknesses to conduct an attack on the system. These vulnerabilities might be in the particular program, the host as a whole, or the network over which the hosts would communicate information.

Honeypots are frequently deployed in a network's demilitarized zone (DMZ). This strategy isolates it from the main production network while yet allowing it to be a part of it. A honeypot in the DMZ may be watched from a distance while attackers use it, reducing the chance of the main network being compromised. Honeypots can be put outside the external firewall, facing the internet, to detect efforts to enter the internal network. Viewing and logging honeypot activity gives information into the quantity and sorts of threats that a network infrastructure encounters while diverting attackers from assets of actual worth. Honeypots can be hijacked and used against the company that deploys them by cybercriminals. Honeypots have also been used by cybercriminals to acquire intelligence on researchers or organizations, pose as decoys, and propagate misinformation.

Is a Honeypot Illegal?

There is just no way for a single document to provide an answer to that issue. For example, the nation in which you live decides whether legal legislation, rules, or case laws apply to you. Legal processes and financial obligations related to issues such as information security and information storage with using honeypot may differ from country to country. Even inside the United States, each state may have regulations that prohibit or ban specific honeypot installations.

The sort of information you gather and what you intend to do with it may also have an impact on the legality of your honeypot. Do you plan to uncover new risks, prevent ongoing threats, punish intruders, or achieve other goals? Each of these criteria can influence whether a certain honeypot deployment is legal. Therefore, we can say that it is neither legal nor illegal.

There are three major legal difficulties at the moment: privacy, entrapment, and civil responsibility. Honeypots do not constitute entrapment. One thing many people misunderstand is that they think they will be prosecuted if they use honeypots against malicious people trying to harm their systems and trap them. Indeed, entrapment is not a problem. There are several reasons for this. For starters, most persons in the organization are not law enforcement, do not act under the direction of the law, and do not have the purpose to commit a crime. As a result, entrapment does not apply here. Furthermore, honeypots do not reflect entrapment in the perspective of law enforcement since honeypots are not used to encourage or induce intruders.

The next significant concern is privacy. It might be viewed in two ways. Either in the files that intruders store on compromised systems or in the monitoring of communication transmitted through honeynets. There is little case law about the interception of communication conveyed through a compromised host.

Liability is a civil, not a criminal, concern. Liability implies that you may be sued if your honeypot causes harm to others. Owners of these systems can sue if they are used to harm other resources. There is an argument that demonstrating that you are keeping your systems secure and striving for it can relieve you of responsibility for the attack. The liability problem is one of the major risks.