The term honeypot has long been used in the world of espionage to describe an investigative practice that entails the use of romantic relationships to compromise a target. Similarly, in cybersecurity, it is a practice used to lure targets, specifically hackers.
What Is a Honeypot?
A honeypot is a cybersecurity decoy system that you deploy to bait and trap hackers. This security solution is part of a growing niche in cybersecurity called deception technology.
It emulates a real computer system, so it appears as an attractive target for cybercriminals. Once you deploy it, it detects and lures hackers without putting the critical data at risk. Security teams also use honeypots to gather data on different types of cybersecurity attacks and methods.
Legitimate users won’t have any reason to access a honeypot. Thus, you can consider all attempts to access it as real threats.
Maintaining a honeypot can be costly, which is why large enterprises and organizations are mostly the ones deploying it.
How Do Honeypots Work?
All honeypots have a common function. They serve as decoys that keep hackers away from an organization’s confidential files.
Honeypots are more effective when they appear like genuine computer systems, such as servers or customer billing systems. The more authentic they appear, the more effective they are at baiting hackers.
To simulate a real computer system, a honeypot typically consists of a computer, data, applications, monitoring tools, alerting tools, and more. It appears vulnerable and goes undetected, making it seem like an easy target for a hacker. Its exact placement depends on different factors: its design, its target traffic, and its proximity to sensitive data.
You can set up a honeypot in a network’s demilitarized zone, where security teams can closely monitor attacks without the hacker’s knowledge. You can also set it up outside the external firewall. This enables it to detect hostile attempts to access the internal network.
No matter where you deploy the honeypot, you keep it isolated from the corporate network, so there is no real risk of data loss during an attack.
Types of Honeypot Designs
There are two main types of honeypot designs, which you can tailor to fit the needs and objectives of the organization.
- Research honeypot
Governments and organizations involved in cybersecurity research use the research honeypot design to collect information on cyberthreats, specifically the methods and strategies that hackers use.
You usually deploy research honeypots in multiple networks or locations. They are more complex than production honeypots and require more effort to deploy. Thus, businesses don’t normally use them. On the other hand, this complexity enables honeypots to gather crucial information about online threats and vulnerabilities.
During an attack, they can gather data about originating Internet Protocol addresses, attack trends, malware strains, and more.
- Production honeypot
Production honeypots are commonly used by businesses because deploying them is easier. They emulate production services and operative systems. They can also mimic different viruses and other malicious codes to lure attackers.
Like research honeypots, they can gather information about different cyberthreats and vulnerabilities. However, they can’t go as in-depth as the former.
Types of Honeypot Based on Level of Interactions
You can deploy honeypots in three distinct ways. Each one has a different interaction level, which refers to the level of malicious activity that a hacker can perform.
- Pure honeypots
A pure honeypot mimics a full-scale production environment. It contains fake user information and corporate data. Among the different honeypot systems, this is the most complex and challenging to deploy.
- High-interaction honeypots
Similar to a pure honeypot, a high-interaction honeypot mimics a production system. Its main goal, however, is to keep hackers in the honeypot for as long as possible. In doing so, security teams can observe the methods and tactics that hackers use to infiltrate the system. They can also determine what type of information they prefer to steal.
- Low-interaction honeypots
Businesses often use low-interaction honeypots to imitate Internet Protocols and network services. Even with basic simulation, a low-interaction honeypot can deceive hackers into connecting to a honeypot environment. However, it won’t be enough to fool them into spending a lot of time on this activity.
Unlike other types, a low-interaction honeypot doesn’t require a lot of resources, making it easy to deploy and maintain.