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Honeypot Systems | The Top Best Tools In Cyber Attacks Protection

Realistically, small/startup businesses to large enterprises to even fortune five companies — that are all involved in cybersecurity research — are some of the most common users of Honeypot Systems. Particularly, in order to identify and defend against attacks from the likes of Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) as well as other numerous cybercrime actors.

This, therefore, means that Honeypots are an important tool in terms of cyber attack protection —  something that large a majority of organizations use to mount an active defense against attackers. Or even for cybersecurity researchers who want to learn more about the tools and techniques attackers use. But, the cost of maintaining a Honeypot can be so high.

Partly because of the specialized skills required to implement and administer a system that appears to expose an organization’s network resources. At the same time, while still preventing attackers from gaining access to any production systems. In computer security terms, a cyber honeypot works in a similar way, baiting a trap for hackers.

It’s a sacrificial computer system that’s intended to attract cyberattacks, like a decoy. It mimics a target for hackers and uses their intrusion attempts to gain information about Cybercriminals and the way they are operating or to distract them from other targets. And now, with that in mind, let’s now elaborate further on what these systems are/how they work.

What Honeypot Is All About

According to the TechTarget team, a Honeypot is a network-attached system set up as a decoy to lure cyber attackers and detect, deflect and study hacking attempts to gain unauthorized access to information systems. Its key role is to pose on the internet as a potential target for attackers — usually, a server or other high-value asset — and gather information.

And then, as a result, it then notifies cyber attack defenders of any attempts to access Honeypot by unauthorized users. For example, a honeypot system might appear to respond to Server Message Block (SMB) protocol requests used by the WannaCry Ransomware Attack and represent itself as an enterprise database server storing consumer information.

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One honeypot definition comes from the world of espionage, where Mata Hari-style spies who use a romantic relationship as a way to steal secrets are described as setting a ‘honey trap’ or ‘honeypot’. Often, an enemy spy is compromised by a honey trap and then forced to hand over everything he/she knows. Generally, they consist of a computer, apps, and data.

Something that helps simulate the behavior of a real system that would be attractive to attackers. Such as a financial system, Internet of Things (IoT) devices, or a public utility or transportation network. It appears as part of a network but is actually isolated and closely monitored. Since no reason for legitimate users to access it, any communicable attempt is considered hostile.

How Honeypot Systems Usually Work

Ultimately, Honeypot Systems often use hardened Operating Systems (OSes) — where extra security measures have been taken to minimize their exposure to threats. They are usually configured so they appear to offer attackers exploitable vulnerabilities. Suffice it to say, all its systems are often placed in a Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on the network it runs on.

As a result, this approach keeps it isolated from the main production network, while still being a part of it. In the DMZ, Honeypot Systems can be monitored from a distance while attackers access it, minimizing the risk of the main network being breached. In layman’s language, the Honeypot looks like a real computer system, with applications and data.

Whilst, fooling cybercriminals into thinking it’s a legitimate target. For example, a honeypot could mimic a company’s customer billing system — a frequent target of attack for criminals who want to find credit card numbers. Once the hackers are in, they can be tracked, and their behavior assessed for clues on how to make the real network more secure.

External Firewalls

Honeypot Systems may also be put outside the external firewall, facing the internet, to detect attempts to enter the internal network. The exact placement of the Honeypot varies depending on how elaborate it is, the traffic it aims to attract, and how close it is to other sensitive resources inside the corporate network.

No matter the placement, it will always have some degree of isolation from the production environment.

Activities Viewing

Viewing and logging activity in the Honeypot provides insight into the level and types of threats a network infrastructure faces while distracting attackers from assets of real value. On one hand, Cybercriminals can start hijacking Honeypots and use them against the organization deploying them.

While, on the other hand, Cybercriminals have also been known to use Honeypots in other ways equally. Such as in order to gather intelligence about researchers or organizations, act as decoys, or even spread misinformation.

Virtual Machines

Forthwith, the role of Virtual Machines (VMs) is that they are often used to host Honeypots. That way, if they are compromised by Malware, for example, the Honeypot Systems can be quickly restored. Eventually, two or more Honeypots on a network form a collective system known as Honeynet.

While a honey farm is a centralized Honeypots collection and analysis tool. By definition, a Honeynet is a network set up with intentional vulnerabilities hosted on a decoy server to attract hackers. The primary purpose is to test network security by inviting attacks. In reality, this approach helps security experts study an actual attacker’s activities and methods to improve network security.

Industrial Deployments

It’s, important to realize, that both open-source and commercial offerings are available to help with deploying and administering Honeypot Systems. Perse, such tangible products, in this case, can include anything. Including but not limited to standalone Honeypot Systems, as well as Honeypots that are marketed as deception technology and packaged with other security software.

On that note, a resource such as GitHub has an extensive list of Honeypot software that can help beginners get an idea of how honeypots are used.

Tracks Marking

Overall, as you’ll come to learn in this guide, the benefits of using Honeypot Systems so far outweigh the risks. Hackers are often thought of as a distant, invisible threat, but by using Honeypots, you can see exactly what they’re doing — in real-time to be precise. And then, use that information to stop them from getting what they want.

Thus, they are used to capture critical data. For instance, they help capture critical information from unauthorized intruders that are tricked into accessing them. Obviously, because they appear to be a legitimate part of the network.

What A Honeynet Is All About

A Honeynet consists of two or more honeypots on a network. Having an interconnected network of honeypots can be useful. It enables organizations to track how an attacker interacts with one resource or network point, and it also monitors how an intruder moves among points on the network and interacts with multiple points at one time.

The goal is to get hackers to believe that they have successfully breached the network, so having more fake network destinations makes the setup more convincing. Realistically, the term deception technology has been used to describe the more complex implementations of honeypots and honeynets, often packaged with other technology.

Such as next-generation firewalls (NGFWs), IDSes, and secure web gateways. Deception technology includes automated features that let a honeypot respond in real time to potential attackers. And now, since Cyber Security Threats continue to evolve, the use of Honeypot Honeynets can help organizations keep up with the ever-changing threat landscape.

Even though it’s impossible to predict and prevent every attack, they provide quite useful information. Particularly, in order to ensure that an organization is always prepared. And this is, perhaps, the best way to catch an attacker in the act. They are a good place for Cybersecurity Professionals to gather all the attacker information they’ll need as well.

The Different Honeypot Systems Main Types — Plus Their Roles

In nutshell, Honeypot Systems are made attractive to attackers by building deliberate security vulnerabilities. For instance, a honeypot might have ports that respond to a port scan or weak passwords. Vulnerable ports might be left open to entice attackers into the honeypot environment, rather than the more secure live network.

A honeypot isn’t set up to address a specific problem, like a firewall or anti-virus. Instead, it’s an information tool that can help you understand existing threats to your business and spot the emergence of new threats. With the intelligence obtained from a honeypot, security efforts can be prioritized and focused on. For your information, they can be classified even further.

Consider the following classifications: 
  1. Pure-Interaction Honeypots: They are full-fledged production systems that monitor a honeypot’s link to the network. They are the most complex and difficult to maintain, but they also appear most realistic to attackers, complete with mock confidential files and user information.
  2. High-Interaction Honeypots: They imitate the activities of the production systems, hosting a variety of services and capturing extensive information. The goal of a high-interaction honeypot is to entice an attacker to gain root — or administrator-level — access to the server and then monitor the attacker’s activity.
  3. Low-Interaction Honeypots: They simulate the most common attack vectors on the network: these are the ones that most service-based attackers frequently request. Therefore, they are less risky and easier to maintain. They do not point malicious users to the root system. The downside of this type of honeypot is that it is more likely to look fake to an attacker. Low-interaction honeypots are good for detecting attacks from bots and malware. On that note, Honeyd is an open-source virtual low-interaction honeypot.

High-interaction honeypots are, however, resource-hungry. It is more difficult and time-consuming to set them up and monitor them. They can also create a risk; if they’re not secured with a ‘Honeywall’, a really determined and cunning hacker could use a high-interaction honeypot to attack other internet hosts or to send spam from a compromised machine.

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Different types of Honeypots can be used to identify different types of threats. Not forgetting, various Honeypot definitions are based on the threat type that’s addressed. All of them have a place in a thorough and effective cybersecurity strategy. On one side, based on design and deployment, there are two main types of Honeypot Systems: Production and Research.

While, On the other side, based on usage and delivery, there are three main types of Honeypot Systems: Spam Traps, Email Traps, and Decoy databases. Not forgetting, there are also other several types of specialized Honeypot technologies:

Research Honeypots

They perform a close analysis of hacker activity and aim to discover how hackers develop and progress in order to learn how to better protect systems against them. Data placed in a honeypot with unique identifying properties can also help analysts track stolen data and identify connections between different participants in an attack.

Production Honeypots

These are usually deployed inside production networks alongside production servers; the honeypot acts as a decoy, drawing intruders away from the production network as part of the Intrusion Detection System (IDS). A production honeypot is designed to appear as a real part of the production network and contains information to attract and occupy any hacker’s action.

Specifically, in order to tie up their time and resources. This approach ultimately gives administrators time to assess the threat level and mitigate any vulnerabilities in their actual production systems.

Spammy Traps

All too well, Spam Traps are also similar to Honeypots. They are email addresses or other network functions set up to attract spam web traffic. Spam traps are used in Project Honey Pot, which is a web-based network of honeypots embedded in website software. Its purpose is to harvest and collect Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, email addresses, etc.

In addition to related information on spammers. So that web administrators can minimize the amount of spam on their sites. The group’s findings are used for research as well and by law enforcement to combat unsolicited bulk mailing offenses.

Emailer Traps

Also known to target email carrier systems (Email Traps), they place a fake email address in a hidden location where only an automated address harvester will be able to find it. Since the address isn’t used for any purpose other than the spam trap, it’s 100% certain that any mail coming to it is spam.

All messages which contain the same content as those sent to the spam trap can be automatically blocked, and the source IP of the senders can be added to a denylist. Similarly, another notable type is the Decoy Database which helps in detecting crawlers and can help you learn how to block malicious bots, as well as ad-network crawlers.

Specialized Technology Honeypots:

  • Malware Honeypots: These are honeypots that mimic malware attack vectors — places that malware attacks and replicates.
  • Spam Honeypots: These can detect the methods of spammers, monitor their activity, and block spam.
  • Database Honeypots: These create decoy databases to mislead attackers using methods that are sometimes missed by firewalls, like Structured Query Language (SQL) injections in that case.
  • Client Honeypots: These actively seek out malicious servers behind client attacks instead of passively waiting for connections. They use virtualization to establish themselves on the server and watch for suspicious modifications to the honeypot.

NB: To elaborate on Decoy Database, a decoy database can be set up to monitor software vulnerabilities and spot attacks exploiting insecure system architecture. Or rather, using SQL injection, SQL services exploitation, or privilege abuse. There are two key decoy database types. On one side, there are what we call Malware Honeypots that usually mimic software apps.

It also helps to mimic APIs to invite malware attacks. The characteristics of the malware can then be analyzed to develop anti-malware software or to close vulnerabilities in the API. On the other side, we’ve got Spider Honeypots that tend to trap web crawlers (‘spiders’). Particularly, by creating web pages and links only accessible to crawlers.

The Main Honeypot Systems Usage Benefits (Advantages) 

Honeypots can be a good way to expose vulnerabilities in major systems. For instance, a honeypot can show the high level of threat posed by attacks on IoT devices. It can also suggest ways in which security could be improved. Using a Honeypot has several advantages over trying to spot intrusion in the real system.

By definition, a Honeypot shouldn’t get any legitimate traffic, so any activity logged is likely to be a probe or intrusion attempt. That makes it much easier to spot patterns. Such as similar IP addresses (or IP addresses all coming from one country) being used to carry out a network sweep. In contrast, such tell-tale signs of an attack are easy to lose in the noise.

More so, when you are looking at high levels of legitimate traffic on your core network. The big advantage of using honeypot security is that these malicious addresses might be the only ones you see, making the attack much easier to identify. Because honeypots handle very limited traffic, they are also resource-light. That said, below are the other advantages to note.

Vulnerability Decoy Database

First of all, since they don’t make great demands on hardware; it’s possible to set up Honeypot Systems using old computers — those that you don’t use anymore. As for software, a number of ready-written honeypots are available from online repositories, further reducing the amount of in-house effort that’s necessary to get a honeypot up and running.

Secondly, as we aforementioned, a Decoy Database can be set up to monitor software vulnerabilities and spot attacks exploiting insecure system architecture. Or rather, using SQL injection, SQL services exploitation, or privilege abuse. There are two key decoy database types. Usually, the Malware Honeypots mimic software apps and APIs to invite malware attacks.

To enumerate, the characteristics of the Malware Honeypots can then be analyzed to develop anti-malware software or to close vulnerabilities in the API. For this reason, Cybersecurity Professionals can use the data from such Honeypots to their advantage. Such as in developing advanced antivirus software for Windows or robust antivirus for Mac technology.

Likewise, Spider Honeypots tend to trap web crawlers (‘spiders’). Particularly, by creating web pages and links only accessible to crawlers. In that case, identifying these spiders can help organizations better understand how to block malicious bots. As well as ad-network crawlers.

Easy And Quick Setups

Another honeypot definition looks at whether a Honeypot is high-interaction or low-interaction. Low-interaction Honeypots use fewer resources and collect basic information about the level and type of threat and where it is coming from. They are easy and quick to set up, usually with just some basic simulated TCP and IP protocols and network services.

But, there’s nothing in the honeypot to engage the attacker for very long, and you won’t get in-depth information on their habits or on complex threats.

On the other hand, high-interaction honeypots aim to get hackers to spend as much time as possible within the honeypot, giving plenty of information about their intentions and targets, as well as the vulnerabilities they are exploiting and their modus operandi. Think of it as a honeypot with added ‘glue’ – databases, systems, and processes that can engage an attacker for much longer. This enables researchers to track where attackers go in the system to find sensitive information, what tools they use to escalate privileges, or what exploits they use to compromise the system.

Limit Cybersecurity Exploits 

As mentioned before, Spam Traps are also similar to honeypots. They are email addresses or other network functions set up to attract spam web traffic. Spam traps are used in Project Honey Pot, which is a web-based network of honeypots embedded in website software. Its purpose is to harvest and collect Internet Protocol (IP) Addresses, email addresses, etc.

As well as any other related information on spammers so web administrators can minimize the amount of spam on their sites. The group’s findings are used for research as well and by law enforcement to combat unsolicited bulk mailing offenses. Almost all types of Honeypot have a place in honeypot cybersecurity. Using a blend of both, you can refine the basic data.

Or information on threat types that comes from the low-interaction honeypots by adding information on intentions, communications, and exploits from the high-interaction honeypot. By using cyber honeypots to create a threat intelligence framework, a business can ensure that it’s targeting its cybersecurity spend at the right places and can see where it has security weak points.

Strategic Network Defense

Mark you, most Honeypot Systems also help to capture unauthorized intruders’ data. They’re tricked into accessing them because they appear to be a legitimate part of the network. Security teams deploy these traps as part of their network defense strategy. Honeypots are also used to research the behavior of cyber attackers and the ways they interact with networks.

Notably, most security teams and experts usually deploy the above-mentioned traps as part of their network defense strategy. Furthermore, they are also used to research the behavior of cyber attackers and the ways they interact with networks. This means, that by monitoring traffic coming into the honeypot system, you can assess quite a lot of data information.

Such critical data include the level of threat, where the cybercriminals are coming from, what modus operandi are they using, etc. As well as the kind of data or applications they are interested in and how well your security measures are working to stop cyberattacks.

Critical Data Collection

Honeypots collect real data from actual attacks and other unauthorized activities, providing analysts with a rich source of useful information. While, at the same time, giving fewer false positives. Ordinary cybersecurity detection technologies generate alerts that can include a significant volume of false positives, but a Honeypot reduces the number of false positives.

For one thing, there is no reason for legitimate users to access the honeypot. Thus, Honeypot Systems have a low false positive rate.  That’s in stark contrast to traditional intrusion-detection systems (IDS) which can produce a high level of false alerts. What about when in use in Encryption circumvention as well? Well, Honeypot Systems will further help the system admins.

Especially, in the best way possible so as to capture malicious activity — even if an attacker is using encryption. And, what’s more, they even showcase vulnerabilities in such areas as user permissions — that may allow insiders to exploit the system. Unfortunately, they only collect information when an attack occurs. As such, zero access means there’s no data to analyze.

High Positivity Rate

Due to their low false positive rate, they help prioritize efforts and keep the resource demand from Honeypot Systems at a low level always. As a matter of fact, Honeypots are quite useful in data collection and then correlating it with other system and firewall logs. And, by doing so, the IDS can be configured with more relevant alerts, to produce fewer false positives.

In that way, Honeypots can help refine and improve other cybersecurity systems. Of course, Firewalls won’t help against an internal threat that much — such as an employee who wants to steal files before quitting their job, for instance. For this reason, a Honeypot System can give you equally good information about any internal related threats.

The longer hackers spend wasting their effort on Honeypots, the less time they have available for hacking live systems. Or, otherwise, causing real damage — to both your business, your employees, etc. Or even other associates like company visitors who have access to your systems.

Data Intelligence

Moving on, Honeypots can give you reliable intelligence about how threats are evolving. They deliver information about attack vectors, exploits, and malware – and in the case of email traps, about spammers and phishing attacks. Hackers continually refine their intrusion techniques; a cyber honeypot helps to spot newly emerging threats and intrusions.

Good use of honeypots helps to eradicate blind spots, too. Honeypots can also catch internal threats. Most organizations spend their time defending the perimeter, and ensuring outsiders and intruders can’t get in. But if you only defend the perimeter, any hacker who has successfully gotten past your firewall has carte blanche to do whatever damage they can now that they’re inside.

A honeypot is a controlled and safe environment for showing how attackers work and examining different types of threats. With a honeypot, security staff won’t be distracted by real traffic using the network – they’ll be able to focus 100% on the danger. Basically, by setting up a honeypot you’re actually being altruistic and helping other computer users.

Network Reconnaissance Tools

Always remember, that Honeypot Systems aren’t always used as a security measure. Anyone can use them for network reconnaissance, including hackers. For instance, a Wi-Fi Pineapple lets users create a Wi-Fi honeypot. Wi-Fi Pineapples are relatively cheap also. Because consumer devices are used to create a fake Wi-Fi network that mimics a real one in the vicinity.

As an example, let’s say an unsuspecting individual mistakenly connects to a fake Wi-Fi network. As such, the Honeypot operator can then monitor their traffic. For your information, Wi-Fi Pineapples also have legitimate uses too. Such as for penetration testing (pen testing), where ethical — or white hat — hackers are hired to identify vulnerabilities in a network.

Additionally, they’re also cost-effective training tools. For sure, they can be good investments because they only interact with malicious activities and do not require high-performance resources to process large volumes of network traffic looking for attacks. By the same token, when it comes down to security, Honeypots are also excellent training tools for technical security staff.

The Main Honeypot Systems Usage Downsides (Disadvantages) 

While honeypot cybersecurity will help chart the threat environment, honeypots won’t see everything that is going on – only activity that’s directed at the honeypot. Just because a certain threat hasn’t been directed against the honeypot, you can’t assume it doesn’t exist; it’s important to keep up with IT security news, not just rely on honeypots to notify you of the threats.

A good, properly configured honeypot will deceive attackers into believing that they’ve gained access to the real system. It will have the same login warning messages, the same data fields, and even the same look and feel and logos as your real systems. However, if an attacker manages to identify it as a Honeypot, they can then proceed to attack your other systems.

Whilst, at the same time, leaving the Honeypot System untouched. Once a honeypot has been ‘fingerprinted’, an attacker can create spoofed attacks. Perse, in order to distract all the attention from a real exploit that’s bound to happen — as well as a real exploit being targeted against your production systems.

Below are other notable downsides:
  • Isolated network. Malicious traffic that has been captured is only collected when an attack targets the honeypot network; if attackers suspect a network is a honeypot, they will avoid it.
  • Distinguishable. Honeypots are often distinguishable from legitimate production systems, which means experienced hackers can often differentiate a production system from a honeypot system using system fingerprinting techniques.
  • Put production systems at risk. Although they are isolated from the real network, they do eventually connect in some way to enable administrators to collect the information they contain. A high-interaction honeypot is generally considered riskier than a low-interaction one because it aims to entice hackers to gain root access.
  • Limited data. Honeypots only collect information when an attack occurs. Zero attempts to access the honeypot means there is no data to analyze.

A ‘fingerprinted’ Honeypot can also feed bad information to the system. Worse still, a smart attacker could potentially use a Honeypot as a way into your systems. That’s why Honeypots can never replace adequate security controls. Such as firewalls and other intrusion detection systems. Since a honeypot could serve as a launch pad for further intrusion, ensure all honeypots are well secured.

Summary Thoughts:

Overall, Honeypot Systems help researchers understand threats in network systems, but production honeypots should not be a replacement for a standard IDS. If a honeypot is not configured correctly, it can be used to gain access to real production systems or as a launchpad for attacks against other target systems.

At all costs, good Honeypot Systems should give you information to help prioritize your cybersecurity efforts — but it can’t replace proper cybersecurity. However many honeypots you have, consider a package like Kaspersky’s Endpoint Security Cloud to protect your business assets. (Kaspersky uses its own honeypots to detect internet threats, so you don’t have to.)

Be that as it may, a good user example case is by having the likes of a ‘Honeywall’ set up in place, to begin with. Whereby, one thing is for sure, it can either provide you or, otherwise, your system administrators with all the basic Honeypot security. So that, in the end, you’ll be able to stop all attacks directed against the Honeypot from ever getting into your live system.

What about alternative software like Kaspersky? Well, Kaspersky Endpoint Security received three AV-TEST awards for the best performance, protection, and usability for a corporate endpoint security product in 2021. In all tests, Kaspersky Endpoint Security showed outstanding performance, protection, and usability for businesses. So, it’s a great tool to consider as well.

Other More Related Useful Resources:
  1. What Web Browser Hijacking Programs Are All About
  2. How Malware Penetrates Computers And IT Systems
  3. Spam Traps: What They Are And How To Avoid Them 
  4. Uninstall Engin Search Browser Hijacker Easy
  5. Adaware Web Companion Review Plus Steps To Install/Uninstall
  6. How To Remove Malware Software From Your Device & Browser
  7. Domain Name | What You Should Consider Before Buying

That’s it! Everything to know and learn about the Honeypot Systems with example types plus how they usually work in detail. So, do you think that there is something else worth mentioning? Well, please feel free to Contact Us and let us know. You are also welcome to share your additional thoughts, opinions, suggestions, or even questions (for FAQ Answers) in our comments box.

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