When we think of cybersecurity measures, we think of keeping hackers out, but how can you actively do that? That’s where Honeypots come in.

Honeypotting is about employing the inverse tactic to lure hackers and attackers into a pre-made trap in order to gain crucial information about their activities. You may want to consider Honeypots as part of your cybersecurity setup, helping you to mitigate against worst-case scenarios.

In this article, we introduce you to Honeypotting and why it’s such an effective way to protect your networks.

What is a honeypot in cybersecurity?

A Honeypot is a realistic decoy system that is built to attract the attention of hackers and tempt them into mounting an attack. Honeypots are surveillance, risk mitigation, and advance warning tools.

Honeypots are used by companies to gain information and insights into their cybersecurity vulnerabilities and what kinds of threats they face (but more on this later).

What is a honeynet?

A Honeynet is a network of Honeypots. They often comprise a range of different types of honeypots designed to lure different kinds of cyberattacks.

What does a honeypot do?

Fundamentally, a Honeypot is a fake system that first convinces a hacker that it is legitimate, and secondly persuades them to launch an attack against it. By doing so, it allows IT Pros or MSPS to better understand the motivations, behavior, and tactics used by attackers. This helps to reinforce cybersecurity strategies and protocols to better prepare for genuine attacks.

What is ‘honeypotting’?

‘Honeypotting’ refers to the deployment of Honeypots within a cybersecurity strategy.

Benefits of honeypots

It may seem slightly counterintuitive to intentionally invite a cyber-attacker into your system. However, although there are associated risks, the advantages of using Honeypots may make it absolutely worth it:

Detect imminent threats

First and foremost, Honeypots are an effective warning system for incoming attacks or hacks. Because they’re specifically designed to pique an attacker’s attention, Honeypots are likely to be their first port of call. This gives MSPs time to detect and protect against their potential attack on their real network.

Plus, with the information obtained through the Honeypot attack, MSPs will be able to determine the type and level of threat they’re facing.

Distract attackers from the real target

Honeypots, by nature, are designed to be attractive targets. If they work properly, Honeypots should distract potential attackers from the real, more valuable targets.

Gain information

Honeypots are also an important source of information. Using Honeypots, MSPs can learn about who their attackers are, what their motivations are, and where they’re coming from.

Crucially, because they exist separate from real networks, the only traffic they receive is illegitimate and malicious. This means MSPs can focus on analyzing and understanding the Honeypot’s traffic without getting distracted by other genuine users.

In addition, Honeypots are an effective way of flagging potential vulnerabilities in existing cybersecurity infrastructure and pointing to areas that need some reinforcement.

Easy and low-maintenance

From an MSPs perspective, Honeypots are easy, effective, and low-maintenance. Once they’re live and active, Honeypots work pretty autonomously, only requiring monitoring when and if they are hacked.

Don’t let the simplicity fool you; the information you can gather through Honeypotting is highly valuable and can help to optimize your cybersecurity strategy.

Plus, Honeypots are not a one-time-only solution. Although they may require some tweaks, Honeypots work continuously to gather information.

Risks of honeypots

As with anything, there are certain risks associated with Honeypotting. Although, on balance, most MSPs would argue that the benefits reaped far outweigh the potential risks.

Not 100% effective

No cybersecurity measure is 100% effective, and Honeypots are no different. Just because your Honeypot hasn’t picked up a potential threat, doesn’t mean that you’re in the clear.

Sometimes, savvy attackers may realize you’ve set up a trap for them and will circumvent your Honeypot in favor of your real systems. It pays to be prepared for the worst-case scenario with a diverse range of strategies.

Can be used against you

Honeypots can be redeployed to an attacker’s advantage. If they become aware that they’ve been duped, a hacker could use the Honeypot to distract you and your IT team, or even use the honeypot as a means of gaining access to your system.

How to design a honeypot

To lay an effective trap, a Honeypot must look like a realistic and legitimate target. For this reason, Honeypots look like real computer systems, complete with real applications, data, processes, and files. However, the key difference is that Honeypots are purposely designed with security vulnerabilities. This makes them more attractive because they’re more easily compromised, and therefore more appealing to potential attackers.

It’s also good practice to put your honeypots behind the firewall that shields your real network. This means that if a hacker does manage to breach it, you’ll be able to see how and make necessary changes to prevent the same thing from happening again.

Main types of honeypot

There are a few different ways of differentiating between Honeypots: by purpose, by attribute, or by the type of activity they’re targeting.

Attribute Categorization: High-Interaction and Low Interaction Honeypots

High-interaction honeypots

High-interaction Honeypots aim to keep the attention of the hacker for as long as possible. For this reason, they’re more resource intensive because they’ll include more systems and potential points of interest for a potential attacker. However, the return you get on investment is high because the longer you’re exposed to the activities of your attacker, the more information you can gather.

High-interaction honeypots need more monitoring and maintenance than low-interaction ones.

Low-interaction honeypots

By contrast, low interaction Honeypots are far more basic in nature, and therefore less labor and resource intensive. They aim to give you low-level information about the threat you’re facing, but won’t give you much more than that.

Purpose categorization: production honeypots and research honeypots

Production honeypots

Production honeypots are low-interaction honeypots that are relatively simple and rudimentary. They aim to capture limited and basic information, and work to mitigate against cybersecurity risks.

Research honeypots

Research honeypots are higher-interaction and are designed to collect information about attacks with more scrutiny. Beyond basic timeframes, research honeypots will tell you a lot more about the specific techniques and strategies employed by the attacker.

Type of activity categorization: email/spam traps, malware honeypot, and spider honeypot (and more)

This method of categorization tells you about what kind of activity the Honeypot is specifically aimed at.

Email or spam traps

These target spammers and automated address harvesters. As we mentioned above, since Honeytraps are fake systems with no legitimate traffic, it’s certain that any incoming mail to the email trap is spam. This means MSPs can block the source IP and any incoming messages containing the same information.

Malware honeypot

Malware Honeypots mimic software apps to tempt malware attacks.

Spider honeypot

These target ‘webcrawlers’ which can ultimately help you to understand how best to mitigate against bots and ad-network crawlers.

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