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Understanding the Basics of a Honeypot in CyberSecurity


Cyber attacks are becoming increasingly sophisticated and damaging. They can compromise hardware systems, networks, software programs, and the data they contain.

Honeypots deceive attackers into committing attacks against a fake system, giving security teams the time and resources to analyze those attacks. It allows them to understand the threat actor’s tactics and skillset and identify potential vulnerabilities in their network.

What is a Honeypot?

What is a honeypot in cyber security? Honeypot is a cyber security tool that mimics vulnerable systems to lure hackers into a trap. It copies data, applications, and network infrastructure to resemble a natural target. A honeypot can help detect malicious software and other threats that a traditional firewall or antivirus system may not have identified by copying actual systems.

It is more effective than a standard threat detection tool because it doesn’t produce the same number of false positives that can distract teams from protecting natural systems in an organization. It also helps reduce costs by reducing the time and resources needed to track down cyber attackers.

Different types of honeypots differ in their level of interaction and focus. For example, high-interaction honeypots provide more details on an attack and can help researchers understand the attack’s modus operandi. Low-interaction honeypots are simple and require few resources to maintain. They collect basic information about an attacker’s activity and allow for monitoring even if the attacker uses encryption to conceal their activities.

Types of Honeypots

The types of honeypots vary based on their design and deployment. Low-interaction honeypots emulate a limited number of services and require few hardware resources, making them relatively easy to deploy and maintain. They stall an attacker and allow security professionals to observe their activity without risking critical systems.

High-interaction honeypots mimic a fully functional operating system and capture more data from an attack than low-interaction systems. These are more difficult to deploy and resource-intensive but provide a much more realistic target that can detect attacks against natural systems.

Honeypots can also be deployed as a security measure to catch malicious insiders, a growing problem for organizations. Firewalls can protect against external threats, but an internal hacker who passes the firewall has carte blanche to access sensitive information. Honeypots can divert cyber attackers away from important assets, alert security teams of an attack before it reaches critical systems and gather forensic and legal evidence without putting actual data at risk. They also help to identify attack tactics and procedures (TTPs) and improve the efficiency of threat protection tools.

High-Interaction Honeypots

High-interaction Honeypots are complex systems that attempt to mimic an actual computer network so hackers will engage with them. They require a lot of time and resources to set up and monitor, but the intelligence collected by these honeypots is often precious to security teams.

Most honeypots employ some OS emulation. For example, the services on a honeypot may emulate the behavior of a Windows 2000 server, or it might appear to be a Linux system. Some advanced solutions take this a step further and emulate the operating system at the IP stack level.

In addition, using virtual machines to deploy these high-interaction honeypots can significantly reduce the risk of attack and minimize maintenance costs. It can allow multiple honeypots to be deployed on one physical machine and provides additional facilities such as rate limiting for inbound and outbound connections. This can help protect against attackers exploiting compromised honeypots to launch attacks on the organization’s production environment. These capabilities make virtual high-interaction honeypots a popular choice for NSM environments.

Low-Interaction Honeypots

A low-interaction honeypot mimics the appearance of a machine and is easy to set up, maintain and monitor. It is an excellent choice for an organization looking to understand the attackers’ activity. These honeypots are designed to lure an attacker with false data that looks like a real server, file, login information, database table (also called a honey table), credit card information, or another artifact.

A high-interaction honeypot requires more resources to set up and run than a low-interaction honeypot. Its main goal is to get the attackers to spend more time on the decoy network, allowing researchers to learn more about their modus operandi. It can also identify the tools attackers use to break into a system, their vulnerabilities, and exploits.

While honeypots have numerous advantages, organizations must understand that this tool does not replace internal solid cyber security methods. As hackers become savvier, cyber professionals must do the same to keep up. It is why StrongDM provides comprehensive background checks and training for all new hires.

Placement of Honeypots

As cybercriminals target organizations, they often scan and probe for misconfigured systems. A honeypot can divert this traffic from critical systems and help companies understand attacker tools, tactics, and procedures (TTPs).

For example, a honeypot system can be configured to look like a production system, complete with processes a natural production system would run and containing seemingly important dummy files. It can also be designed to bypass encryption, making it easy for security teams to monitor attacks even when they use encryption.

A honeypot can be as complex as a full-scale production system that mimics various servers, contains data made to look confidential and sensitive, and has sensors for tracking attacker activity. It can also be as simple as a single Pentium computer with 128MB of RAM. A honeypot also uses fewer resources than a typical IDS, which can be used on older computers and still provide valuable logging and alerts without placing other systems at risk of attack. It means less in-house IT support is required to keep a honeypot running, further reducing the cost of cybersecurity.

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