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What Is A Honeypot and How Does It Work?

Guides, Apr-02-20225 mins read

The internet opened the doors for private and public organizations to rapidly connect and share information. There are many benefits to this, such as better collaborations, better productivity, faster communication, etc.

Nevertheless, some risks come along with these benefits. Your organization might fall prey to hackers who can bypass the latest methods of cyber security solutions. You may try to defend yourself from these hackers with anti-virus software, a firewall, an Access Control List (ACL) at the router, or an Intrusion Detection System (IDS).

Despite your best efforts, you may still have a hacker or an intruder gaining unauthorized access to your system. Hackers have the latest tools to scan the network for vulnerabilities and launch an attack directly targeting them, and they’re always learning to bypass new security systems. That said, there is a way to prevent hackers from breaking into your system. Honeypots can deceive hackers to believe that it is a potential target to attack.

Honeypots are a security mechanism to attract attackers and keep them engaged there.  A honeypot is set up as a decoy to understand the behavior of the attacker. This lets you understand your vulnerabilities so you can improve your security policies.

What is a Honeypot?

A honeypot can be any resource in your organization. It can be software, network,  servers, routers, or any high-valued applications that represent themselves on the internet as a vulnerable system that attackers can target. 

You can make a computer in your network to run the honeypot application. It is deliberately displayed as compromised in the network for the attackers to exploit them.

How Does Honeypot Work?

The honeypot system appears legitimate with applications and data to make attackers believe that it’s a real computer on the network and they fall into the trap you set.

Once the system is compromised, you can use security management tools to trace and assess the behavior of the intruder. The honeypot now is a tool that provides you with information about current threats. With this information, you get the clues to build a better security framework.

They can be used to investigate cybersecurity threats, breaches, and the technologies the intruders use to break into the network. Another benefit of implementing a honeypot in your network includes:

  1. Fewer false positives.
  2. Divert malicious traffic from valued systems in the network.
  3. Get an early warning when a system is starting to get compromised. 
  4. Gather information about the attackers and their methods.
  5. Gather forensic and legal evidence without putting your network at risk.

You must ensure that your honeypots don’t contain any critical information, and make use of security management tools so that you can gain insight into the attacker, their tools, tactics, and procedures.

Some of the vulnerable options that any intruder would look for to break into the system are:

  1. Having a weak password that an intruder can easily guess to get into the system.
  2. Most intruders would target the company’s billing system to find the customer’s credit card numbers.
  3. Having open ports that will be easy to locate when an intruder does a port scan.

Types of Honeypots

There are different types of honeypots for various types of threats. You can use these honeypots in your network so that you prevent your systems from getting compromised. Let’s see in detail about each one of these.

Email Traps

You may set email traps, or spam traps, in a concealed place that can be found only by automated address harvesters. The automated address harvesters search the internet for email addresses to send bulk emails or spam.

To prevent spam mails in your network, you may set a fake email address that acts as an email trap. These email addresses are not for any specific purpose other than being used as an email trap or a spam trap. Any message coming to the email trap is most likely spam.

You can get the source of the attacker who sends spam messages in the HTTP header and you can block them simply by including the IP addresses of the sender in the denylist.

Decoy Database

Databases can be easily compromised and the data can be stolen by SQL injection.

Decoy database uses deception technology. The benefit of having a decoy database is that it protects the databases from unknown threats. An attacker crosses your defense line and gets access to some of your data in the database, but would hold something that wasn’t important to you.

Malware Honeypot

A malware honeypot imitates a software program to attract a malware attack. After the attack, cybersecurity professionals can use the data to analyze the type of attack and close the vulnerabilities or create anti-malware software.

For example, software engineers develop a Ghost USB honeypot to emulate a USB storage device. If your system is attacked by malware that infects USB drives, the honeypot will trick the malware to attack the emulated system.

Spider Honeypot

Software engineers design spider honeypots to trap web crawlers or spiders. It creates web pages and links only accessible to automated crawlers. The spider honeypot identifies these spiders as malicious bots and the ad network crawlers attacking your system.

The malicious bots are interested in crawling through your webpage to collect the backlinks, and the ad network crawler visits your site to determine its content to provide relevant ads.

Low-interaction or High-interaction Honeypot

Low-interaction honeypots use fewer resources and collect basic information about the type of threat and its source, and cannot rebuff the attackers long enough to collect vital information like their behavior and complexity.

Conversely, high interaction honeypots lure the attacker to stay longer by giving them information. The longer the attacker stays in the network, the easier it is to learn their intentions and their targets. These high interaction honeypots have attractive features like the database, systems, and procedures that can engage an attacker for an extended period.

Both high-interaction and low-interaction honeypots are useful in cybersecurity. It is better to use a combination of both types of honeypots. A low-interaction honeypot is best for learning information on the type of attack and high-interaction honeypots give details about the intruder’s intentions and their method of communication.

The Benefits of Using Honeypots

Honeypots are decoy systems, therefore they don’t get any traffic. If they do, it means that it is from an intruder. When they spot an intrusion, you can look up its IP address to learn about the country from which it originated, and block it if it is spam.   

Honeypots are lightweight resources because they handle limited traffic.

As they don’t require a higher version of the hardware, any low-configuration computer may be set apart for the honeypot application to run.

You can make use of tailor-made honey pot traps that are available online and implementing one of them would eliminate in-house effort or hiring professionals.

The information by honeypots reveals how threats evolve because they give details about attack vectors, exploits, and malware.

Hackers change their mode of intrusion every time and a cyber honeypot will spot the new threats and intrusions. Honeypots are good practice tools for cyber security rule developers. By using a honeypot, you can give more attention to monitoring treats rather than monitoring regular traffic.

A threat is not always an outsider or an intruder. An intruder can have gone past the firewall or an employee could be a threat by revealing or stealing confidential information. In such a case, a firewall would not be able to detect such threats.

But a honey pot trap can gather information about such vulnerabilities posed by the insider. 

The final takeaway is that when you make the honeypot more alluring for the hacker, they spend more time working on it and waste their time instead of causing any damage to your systems.

Closing Thoughts

In this post, we saw what is a honeypot and how it works to protect you from hackers. Honeypots expose the vulnerabilities in the system, which can be benign or malicious but you must have a full-fledged cybersecurity solution to address these problems and help you gather intelligence to build the appropriate solution.

The cost of maintaining a honeypot can be high as it requires specialized skills and a team of cybersecurity professionals. You must implement and administer a system that seems to expose an organization’s resources. Still, preventing attackers from gaining access to any of your production systems is of the utmost importance.