What is a Honeypot?
Honeypots are decoy security systems that are intended to be used alongside other security factors within the network. The intention of a honeypot is to appear to be an enticing target for potential attackers, and to misdirect them from truly important data within an organization.
Honeypots may be simple or rather complex in nature, depending on the level of security required by the organization; if implemented properly, they can be the main line of defense when it comes to detecting threats quickly.
It is possible to gather information about the attackers, which can be used to prevent such attacks again in the future. If the honeypot is well monitored and does not contain any actual sensitive company data, it can be used to gather forensic and legal evidence to be used against the attackers, without risk of the rest of the network becoming vulnerable.
To successfully fool attackers into using the honeypot, it should appear to be entirely legitimate and contain production processes along with seemingly important company files. The honeypot can be placed within the company firewall, this will give it additional security and also enhance the appearance that it indeed contains valuable information.
How can a Honeypot Identify Cyberattacks?
The key to ensuring the success of a honeypot security system is having the ability to monitor all traffic coming into the honeypot system. As part of the monitoring process, the IT security team will be able to detect:
- The origin of an attack
- The sophistication/skill level of the attacker
- Commonly used techniques by the attackers
- The most attractive targets within your network
- The effectiveness of your current cybersecurity measures
Using this valuable information, it is possible for an IT security team to identify the techniques that attackers use, and actively protect the network against known threats through reverse-engineering.
Types of Honeypots
These are the main categories of the most commonly used honeypot mechanisms:
- Low-Interaction Honeypot – These run a small number of services and mainly server as an early warning detection. When suspicious activity is flagged, other security defenses will kick in to ensure the security of the network. Low-interaction honeypots are simple to deploy and there may be many in use within a single network.
- Medium-Interaction Honeypot – These contain aspects of the Application layer of the SDL, but do not feature their own operating system. This level of honeypots is effective at confusing potential attackers in that they waste more time searching for valuable data, which in turns gives IT security teams more time to respond to the attack.
- High-Interaction Honeypot – These can contain a vast number of internal processes in additional to its own operating system, all designed to mislead attackers; however they are not meant to fully replicate a full-scale production system. The downside of such a system is that it may be resource intensive and require a high level of maintenance.
- High-Interaction Honeypot – This is an entire system that completely replicates a working production system, but it is entirely a honey in nature. It can provide an incredible amount of information on any attacks due the amount of sensors within. However these systems are very complex and difficult to maintain.
Benefits of a Honeypot
There are many tangible benefits that can be derived from using honeypots, example of this are:
- They can greatly slow down an attack, buying you time to act – As attackers navigate though your network environment, they will seek out misconfigured or vulnerable devices as well as scan your network. This activity is very likely to trigger the honeypot, alerting IT security to investigate and contain the attack.
- They are simple and low in maintenance requirements – A basic honeypot is easy to download and install, but can still provide adequate protection against malicious attacks. They are so unobtrusive that there are cases where developers may forget that honeypots have been installed, and only become aware of a problem when a honeypot is triggered.
- They can assist in helping strengthen your current security and incident responses – Honeypots are a simple way to help evaluate whether your current security processes are adequate and which areas need improvement, as they can check whether your security team can efficiently respond if a honeypot were to register expected activity.
While honeypots should not be used as the sole protection for your network, when combined with firewalls and other protection, honeypots can add a much needed extra layer of security.
It must be noted that just as an organisation may use honeypots to create a diversion for cybercriminals, such attackers may attempt to do the same. It is possible for attackers to flood the honeypot with malicious attacks as a means to distract IT security teams from noticing their real attacks against legitimate network resources.
The attackers, if they identify that they are dealing with a honeypot, may intentionally provide false information in an attempt to hide their true identity. This is a good reason why organisations should invest in a wide range of monitoring and detection tools when utilising honeypots.
It is very important that honeypots should be configured correctly; the honeypot should be the only entry and exit point within a network. If the honeypot were to be misconfigured, it would be fairly easy for attackers to avoid the honeypot and attack other more vulnerable network resources and this defeat the point of the honeypot.
Are There Legal Implications with Using Honeypots?
There are some people who believe that using honeypots may be a form of entrapment, and that they can be prosecuted for entrapping the potential cyberattackers. This is simply not true.
Entrapment can be defined as when a person of authority uses force or coercion to cause somebody to commit a crime, and then the person of authority attempts to prosecute that person for the crime. With this in mind, honeypots are legal to use as their purpose is not to trap anyone unintentionally and serve only to protect the organization who implemented them.
Current privacy laws in the USA may limit your right to capture data about a potential attacker, even is the attacker is maliciously breaking into your honeypot; but the exemption under Service Provider Protection is key. What this exemption means is that security technologies can collect information on people (and attackers), provided that the technology is being used to secure the organization network and environment.
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