Honeypot (computing)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

In computer terminology, a honeypot is a computer security mechanism set to detect, deflect, or, in some manner, counteract attempts at unauthorized use of information systems. Generally, a honeypot consists of data (for example, in a network site) that appears to be a legitimate part of the site and contain information or resources of value to attackers. It is actually isolated, monitored, and capable of blocking or analyzing the attackers. This is similar to police sting operations, colloquially known as "baiting" a suspect.[1]

Diagram of an information system honeypot


Honeypots can be classified based on their deployment (use/action) and based on their level of involvement. Based on deployment, honeypots may be classified as: [2]

  • production honeypots
  • research honeypots

Production honeypots are easy to use, capture only limited information, and are used primarily by corporations. Production honeypots are placed inside the production network with other production servers by an organization to improve their overall state of security. Normally, production honeypots are low-interaction honeypots, which are easier to deploy. They give less information about the attacks or attackers than research honeypots.[2]

Research honeypots are run to gather information about the motives and tactics of the black hat community targeting different networks. These honeypots do not add direct value to a specific organization; instead, they are used to research the threats that organizations face and to learn how to better protect against those threats.[3] Research honeypots are complex to deploy and maintain, capture extensive information, and are used primarily by research, military, or government organizations.[4]

Based on design criteria, honeypots can be classified as: [2]

  • pure honeypots
  • high-interaction honeypots
  • low-interaction honeypots

Pure honeypots are full-fledged production systems. The activities of the attacker are monitored by using a bug tap that has been installed on the honeypot's link to the network. No other software needs to be installed. Even though a pure honeypot is useful, stealthiness of the defense mechanisms can be ensured by a more controlled mechanism.

High-interaction honeypots imitate the activities of the production systems that host a variety of services and, therefore, an attacker may be allowed a lot of services to waste their time. By employing virtual machines, multiple honeypots can be hosted on a single physical machine. Therefore, even if the honeypot is compromised, it can be restored more quickly. In general, high-interaction honeypots provide more security by being difficult to detect, but they are expensive to maintain. If virtual machines are not available, one physical computer must be maintained for each honeypot, which can be exorbitantly expensive. Example: Honeynet.

Low-interaction honeypots simulate only the services frequently requested by attackers. Since they consume relatively few resources, multiple virtual machines can easily be hosted on one physical system, the virtual systems have a short response time, and less code is required, reducing the complexity of the virtual system's security. Example: Honeyd.

Deception technology[edit]

Recently, a new market segment called deception technology has emerged using basic honeypot technology with the addition of advanced automation for scale. Deception technology addresses the automated deployment of honeypot resources over a large commercial enterprise or government institution.[5]

Malware honeypots[edit]

Malware honeypots are used to detect malware by exploiting the known replication and attack vectors of malware. Replication vectors such as USB flash drives can easily be verified for evidence of modifications, either through manual means or utilizing special-purpose honeypots that emulate drives. Malware increasingly is used to search for and steal cryptocurrencies.[6]

Spam versions[edit]

Spammers abuse vulnerable resources such as open mail relays and open proxies. These are servers which accept e-mail from anyone on the Internet—including spammers—and send it to its destination. Some system administrators have created honeypot programs that masquerade as these abusable resources to discover spammer activity.

There are several capabilities such honeypots provide to these administrators, and the existence of such fake abusable systems makes abuse more difficult or risky. Honeypots can be a powerful countermeasure to abuse from those who rely on very high volume abuse (e.g., spammers).

These honeypots can reveal the abuser's IP address and provide bulk spam capture (which enables operators to determine spammers' URLs and response mechanisms). As described by M. Edwards at ITPRo Today:

Typically, spammers test a mail server for open relaying by simply sending themselves an email message. If the spammer receives the email message, the mail server obviously allows open relaying. Honeypot operators, however, can use the relay test to thwart spammers. The honeypot catches the relay test email message, returns the test email message, and subsequently blocks all other email messages from that spammer. Spammers continue to use the antispam honeypot for spamming, but the spam is never delivered. Meanwhile, the honeypot operator can notify spammers' ISPs and have their Internet accounts canceled. If honeypot operators detect spammers who use open-proxy servers, they can also notify the proxy server operator to lock down the server to prevent further misuse.[7]

The apparent source may be another abused system. Spammers and other abusers may use a chain of such abused systems to make detection of the original starting point of the abuse traffic difficult.

This in itself is indicative of the power of honeypots as anti-spam tools. In the early days of anti-spam honeypots, spammers, with little concern for hiding their location, felt safe testing for vulnerabilities and sending spam directly from their own systems. Honeypots made the abuse riskier and more difficult.

Spam still flows through open relays, but the volume is much smaller than in 2001-02. While most spam originates in the U.S.,[8] spammers hop through open relays across political boundaries to mask their origin. Honeypot operators may use intercepted relay tests to recognize and thwart attempts to relay spam through their honeypots. "Thwart" may mean "accept the relay spam but decline to deliver it." Honeypot operators may discover other details concerning the spam and the spammer by examining the captured spam messages.

Open relay honeypots include Jackpot, written in Java by Jack Cleaver; smtpot.py, written in Python by Karl A. Krueger;[9] and spamhole, written in C.[10] The Bubblegum Proxypot is an open source honeypot (or "proxypot").[11]

Email trap[edit]

An email address that is not used for any other purpose than to receive spam can also be considered a spam honeypot. Compared with the term "spamtrap", the term "honeypot" might be more suitable for systems and techniques that are used to detect or counterattack probes. With a spamtrap, spam arrives at its destination "legitimately"—exactly as non-spam email would arrive.

An amalgam of these techniques is Project Honey Pot, a distributed, open source project that uses honeypot pages installed on websites around the world. These honeypot pages disseminate uniquely tagged spamtrap email addresses and spammers can then be tracked—the corresponding spam mail is subsequently sent to these spamtrap e-mail addresses.

Database honeypot[edit]

Databases often get attacked by intruders using SQL injection. As such activities are not recognized by basic firewalls, companies often use database firewalls for protection. Some of the available SQL database firewalls provide/support honeypot architectures so that the intruder runs against a trap database while the web application remains functional.[12]

Honeypot Detection[edit]

Just as honeypots are weapons against spammers, honeypot detection systems are spammer-employed counter-weapons. As detection systems would likely use unique characteristics of specific honeypots to identify them, such as the property-value pairs of default honeypot configuration,[13] many honeypots in-use utilise a set of unique characteristics larger and more daunting to those seeking to detect and thereby identify them. This is an unusual circumstance in software; a situation in which "versionitis" (a large number of versions of the same software, all differing slightly from each other) can be beneficial. There's also an advantage in having some easy-to-detect honeypots deployed. Fred Cohen, the inventor of the Deception Toolkit, argues that every system running his honeypot should have a deception port which adversaries can use to detect the honeypot.[14] Cohen believes that this might deter adversaries.


The goal of honeypots is to attract and engage attackers for a sufficiently long period to obtain high-level Indicators of Compromise (IoC) such as attack tools and Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTPs). Thus, a honeypot needs to emulate essential services in the production network and grant the attacker the freedom to perform adversarial activities to increase its attractiveness to the attacker. Although the honeypot is a controlled environment and can be monitored by using tools such as honeywall,[15] attackers may still be able to use some honeypots as pivot nodes to penetrate production systems.[16] This tradeoff between the honeypot attractiveness and the penetration risk has been investigated both qualitatively[17] and quantitatively.[18]

The second risk of honeypots is that they may attract legitimate users due to a lack of communication in large-scale enterprise networks. For example, the security team who applies and monitors the honeypot may not disclose the honeypot location to all users in time due to the lack of communication or the prevention of insider threats.[19][20] A game-theoretical model[21] has been proposed to simultaneously incentivize adversarial users and disincentivize legitimate users for the honeypot access by exploiting the utility difference between two types of users.

Honey nets[edit]

"A 'honey net' is a network of high interaction honeypots that simulates a production network and configured such that all activity is monitored, recorded and in a degree, discreetly regulated."

-Lance Spitzner,
Honeynet Project

Two or more honeypots on a network form a honey net. Typically, a honey net is used for monitoring a larger and/or more diverse network in which one honeypot may not be sufficient. Honey nets and honeypots are usually implemented as parts of larger network intrusion detection systems. A honey farm is a centralized collection of honeypots and analysis tools.[22]

The concept of the honey net first began in 1999 when Lance Spitzner, founder of the Honeynet Project, published the paper "To Build a Honeypot".[23]


The earliest honeypot techniques are described in Clifford Stoll's 1989 book The Cuckoo's Egg.

One of the earliest documented cases of the cybersecurity use of a honeypot began in January 1991. On January 7, 1991 while he worked at AT&T Bell Laboratories Cheswick observed a criminal hacker, known as a cracker, attempting to obtain a copy of a password file. Cheswick wrote that he and colleagues constructed a "chroot "Jail" (or "roach motel")" which allowed them to observe their attacker over a period of several months. [24]

In 2017, Dutch police used honeypot techniques to track down users of the darknet market Hansa.

The metaphor of a bear being attracted to and stealing honey is common in many traditions, including Germanic, Celtic, and Slavic. A common Slavic word for the bear is medved "honey eater". The tradition of bears stealing honey has been passed down through stories and folklore, especially the well known Winnie the Pooh.[25][26]

See also[edit]

References and notes[edit]

  1. ^ Cole, Eric; Northcutt, Stephen. "Honeypots: A Security Manager's Guide to Honeypots".
  2. ^ a b c Mokube, Iyatiti; Adams, Michele (March 2007). "Honeypots: concepts, approaches, and challenges". Proceedings of the 45th Annual Southeast Regional Conference: 321–326. doi:10.1145/1233341.1233399. S2CID 15382890.
  3. ^ Lance Spitzner (2002). Honeypots tracking hackers. Addison-Wesley. pp. 68–70. ISBN 0-321-10895-7.
  4. ^ Katakoglu, Onur (2017-04-03). "Attacks Landscape in the Dark Side of the Web" (PDF). acm.org. Retrieved 2017-08-09.
  5. ^ "Deception related technology – its not just a "nice to have", its a new strategy of defense – Lawrence Pingree". 28 September 2016.
  6. ^ Litke, Pat. "Cryptocurrency-Stealing Malware Landscape". Secureworks.com. SecureWorks. Archived from the original on 22 December 2017. Retrieved 9 March 2016.
  7. ^ Edwards, M. "Antispam Honeypots Give Spammers Headaches". Windows IT Pro. Archived from the original on 1 July 2017. Retrieved 11 March 2015.
  8. ^ "Sophos reveals latest spam relaying countries". Help Net Security. Help Net Security. 24 July 2006. Retrieved 14 June 2013.
  9. ^ "Honeypot Software, Honeypot Products, Deception Software". Intrusion Detection, Honeypots and Incident Handling Resources. Honeypots.net. 2013. Archived from the original on 8 October 2003. Retrieved 14 June 2013.
  10. ^ dustintrammell (27 February 2013). "spamhole – The Fake Open SMTP Relay Beta". SourceForge. Dice Holdings, Inc. Retrieved 14 June 2013.
  11. ^ Ec-Council (5 July 2009). Certified Ethical Hacker: Securing Network Infrastructure in Certified Ethical Hacking. Cengage Learning. pp. 3–. ISBN 978-1-4354-8365-1. Retrieved 14 June 2013.
  12. ^ "Secure Your Database Using Honeypot Architecture". dbcoretech.com. August 13, 2010. Archived from the original on March 8, 2012.
  13. ^ Cabral, Warren; Valli, Craig; Sikos, Leslie; Wakeling, Samuel (2019). "Review and Analysis of Cowrie Artefacts and Their Potential to be Used Deceptively". Proceedings of the 2019 International Conference on Computational Science and Computational Intelligence. IEEE. pp. 166–171. doi:10.1109/CSCI49370.2019.00035.
  14. ^ "Deception Toolkit". All.net. All.net. 2013. Retrieved 14 June 2013.
  15. ^ "Honeywall CDROM – The Honeynet Project". Retrieved 2020-08-07.
  16. ^ Spitzner, Lance (2002). Honeypots Tracking Hackers. Addison-Wesley Professional. OCLC 1153022947.
  17. ^ Pouget, Fabien; Dacier, Marc; Debar, Hervé (2003-09-14). White paper: honeypot, honeynet, honeytoken: terminological issues. EURECOM. OCLC 902971559.
  18. ^ Huang, Linan; Zhu, Quanyan (2019), "Adaptive Honeypot Engagement Through Reinforcement Learning of Semi-Markov Decision Processes", Lecture Notes in Computer Science, Cham: Springer International Publishing, pp. 196–216, arXiv:1906.12182, doi:10.1007/978-3-030-32430-8_13, ISBN 978-3-030-32429-2, S2CID 195750533
  19. ^ Qassrawi, Mahmoud T.; Hongli Zhang (May 2010). "Client honeypots: Approaches and challenges". 4th International Conference on New Trends in Information Science and Service Science: 19–25.
  20. ^ "illusive networks: Why Honeypots are Stuck in the Past | NEA | New Enterprise Associates". www.nea.com. Retrieved 2020-08-07.
  21. ^ L. Huang and Q. Zhu, "Duplicity Games for Deception Design with an Application to Insider Threat Mitigation," in IEEE Transactions on Information Forensics and Security, doi:10.1109/TIFS.2021.3118886.
  22. ^ "cisco router Customer support". Clarkconnect.com. Archived from the original on 2017-01-16. Retrieved 2015-07-31.
  23. ^ "Know Your Enemy: GenII Honey Nets Easier to deploy, harder to detect, safer to maintain". Honeynet Project. Honeynet Project. 12 May 2005. Archived from the original on 25 January 2009. Retrieved 14 June 2013.
  24. ^ "An Evening with BerferdIn Which a Cracker is Lured, Endured, and Studied" (PDF). cheswick.com. Retrieved 3 Feb 2021.
  25. ^ "The word for "bear"". Pitt.edu. Retrieved 12 Sep 2014.
  26. ^ Shepard, E. H., Milne, A. A. (1994). The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh. United Kingdom: Dutton Children's Books.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]