What Is Honeypot Cybersecurity?

mage of a jar of honey on a table with a spoon above it, dripping honey.
Use honeypots to trap cybercriminals!
Source: Unsplash

The question companies face today isn’t whether a cyberattack will happen, but when. Every application and website on the internet is a target for cybercriminals. Having digital assets means you’re in the middle of a cyber warzone, and your enemy can strike at any time. To win the war, you need to be well-prepared! Arm yourself with a honeypot—a double-edged sword in your cyber-defense strategy. You can use honeypot cybersecurity to gather intelligence on the enemy and protect your critical assets simultaneously.

Eager to learn more? In this article, I’ll explain how honeypot cybersecurity works in detail. I’ll also explore common ways of using them and their pros and cons. Let’s dive right in!

What Is a Honeypot?

A honeypot is a fake system in your company’s legitimate IT infrastructure. It contains counterfeit data and applications that imitate your real IT resources. For example, you can create a honeypot that mimics your billing system. You load it with fake credit card data and other files. You also reduce its security, making it more vulnerable.

Attackers typically target the weakest areas of your system when they try to breach it. So, they’ll first go for this honeypot system as soon as they get past your network defenses. Next, they’ll exploit the honeypot’s vulnerabilities and steal the fake data. Meanwhile, your IT team can:

  • Study real-world attacks in a controlled environment 
  • Uncover the attacker’s identity and learn their methods
  • Observe which attacks breach the firewall and improve network security
  • Use the intel to improve your company’s security policies

Thus, a honeypot is an excellent tool to divert criminals away from your critical IT assets while you study their methods. Next, let’s learn how honeypot cybersecurity works in more detail!

How Does a Honeypot Work? 

Image of network diagram showing honeypots in an IT infrastructure.
Add honeypots anywhere in your network!
Source: Cyberhoot

To the outside world, a honeypot appears as part of your company’s network. But in reality, it’s a standalone entity your IT team closely monitors. It has intentionally built-in security vulnerabilities and false versions of highly sensitive data. In essence, this decoy data draws cybercriminals’ attention, especially if they’re looking to steal such data. Once an attacker accesses the honeypot, the security team can observe the attackers without their knowledge. While observing the attacker’s activities, the security team learns 3 critical things:

  1. Who are the attackers?
  2. How do they operate?
  3. What do they want?

In addition, security teams set up honeypots that fall into 3 broad categories. Let’s see what they are next. 

3 Types of Honeypots

The security team can use different types of honeypots based on budget and the complexity of requirements. Here are the 3 broad categories honeypots fall into. 

1. Pure Honeypots

Pure honeypots mimic a company’s entire production system. They run on various servers and hold fake copies of confidential information and user data. These honeypots also comprise multiple sensors that enable the security team to track every activity within the environment.

2. High-Interaction Honeypots 

These honeypots are less complex than pure honeypots. They appear to run all the production system’s services but don’t mimic the entire system. Instead, they aim to trick the attacker into trying different methods to get more information. Thus, cybersecurity teams learn more about their identity, techniques, and target as the attacker spends time within the honeypot.

3. Mid and Low-Interaction Honeypots 

Mid and low-interaction honeypots have fewer details. They’re budget-friendly to set up. Attackers spend less time in this honeypot since fewer resources are available. While they’re useful in distracting attackers, they give you less information about the attack. Data is mostly limited to the type and origin of the threat.

Image of honeypot types based on complexity.
You can choose how complex or simple your honeypot needs to be!
Source: Cointelegraph

Next, I’ll explain how you can use honeypot cybersecurity in your business.

5 Practical Uses of Honeypot Cybersecurity

You can use honeypots for research, production decoys, or to protect against specific attacks. Here are some popular use cases of honeypot cybersecurity.

1. Cybersecurity Research 

Cybercriminals constantly use technological advances to improve their attack strategies. Government agencies and security services use research honeypots to study these attack strategies. These honeypots contain fake data with integrated tracking technology. If stolen, the security team can trace the data to identify who stole it and how they did it. The information from the research honeypot equips the company with the knowledge to improve its security. 

2. Production Defense

You can use honeypots as a decoy within your production systems. The production honeypot appears as a genuine component of the production network. It holds data that attracts intruders, keeping them occupied. It also distracts attackers from real targets and keeps them busy solving fake security challenges. Thus, your security team gets more time to implement necessary measures to mitigate the attack.

3. Spam Protection

Honeypot cybersecurity can protect your employees against phishing attacks and spam. Your security team can set up a spam trap by hiding fake email addresses so that only attackers can find them. These email addresses aren’t publicly shared, so any email they receive is only spam. Your security team analyzes the spam email, identifies the sending IP, and blocks it for your entire system. Thus, the spammer can no longer send malicious emails to anyone in your company. 

Image of a spam trap infographic.
Use honeypots to quickly block spammers!
Source: Glockapps

4. Malware Protection

Malware is harmful software like viruses, worms, and ransomware. You can use malware honeypot cybersecurity to mimic malware targets like software applications or APIs. The malware then invades the honeypot instead of the target system. Thus, the security team can study the malware and implement anti-malware measures like antivirus software 

Image of different types of malware.
Honeypots protect against all types of malware!
Source: Norton

5. Database Protection

You can use honeypots to create a decoy database that mimics your company’s authentic databases. The decoy database attracts attackers to launch database-specific attacks like SQL injections. It distracts an attacker that gets through the company’s firewall. Your security team can then analyze the attacker’s methods and prevent future attacks.

Honeypots have several uses, but are they worth the effort? Like every security tool, they come with benefits and risks. Let’s explore.

Pros and Cons of Using Honeypot Cybersecurity

Using honeypots as part of your security strategy carries many benefits. For example, a honeypot:

  • Slows attackers down, giving your security team the time to analyze the attack and launch an appropriate defense
  • Separates malicious and legitimate traffic so that you can detect threats and recover data faster
  • Provides information on vulnerabilities in firewalls and other network defenses 
  • Assists in training security staff on ever-evolving security threats
  • Is easy and cost-effective to install and maintain 

That said, like any other security solution, honeypots do have their limitations.

  • Provides limited coverage as they can only detect activity within their environment. Other attacks may pass through successfully
  • Are distinguishable because they’re a common security strategy, and experienced attackers know them. Attackers can create spoof attacks on the honeypot while launching an actual attack on the legitimate system
  • Can have configuration mistakes, giving an attacker room to access your legitimate systems. An experienced attacker can benefit from this to hurt you

Thus, honeypot cybersecurity shouldn’t be the only security measure you rely on. That said, it’s definitely worth integrating into your overall security posture. 

Final Words

A honeypot is a fake IT system designed to lure attackers to the fake system rather than your real ones. It helps to mitigate the risk of an attack by entrapping cybercriminals before they can harm your existing systems. 

You can mimic your entire system or a specific asset, like a database or application. Honeypots also offer flexibility so that you can use them according to cost and convenience. For instance, you can use complex honeypots to research advances in cyberattacks. You can also set up a simple honeypot for spam and malware protection. 

Honeypots have several benefits, giving you more time to respond to attacks. That said, when poorly configured, they pose a risk to a company’s security. Thus, you should combine them with other cybersecurity measures to remain one step ahead of cyber attackers! 

Read our FAQ and Resources sections to learn more about honeypot cybersecurity.

FAQ

Are honeypots illegal?

Honeypots are technically not illegal. That said, many companies still worry about the legality of honeypots. This concern primarily stems from entrapment and privacy violation laws like GDPR. Entrapment doesn’t apply, though, since the company doesn’t induce the attacker to commit a cybercrime. Meanwhile, a company can claim Service Provider Protection when privacy violation issues arise.

What are the dangers of honeypots?

Experienced attackers can use your honeypots to increase their attack impact. Typically, they launch a fake attack on your honeypots as a distraction. While your security team focuses on the honeypot, the attackers may target your main systems undetected. They may also use configuration mistakes in your honeypot as a backdoor to your system or steal critical data before you notice. 

What is a honeynet?

A honeynet is a network of honeypots. This network comprises different types of honeypots, each with a different design. A honeynet equips a company to study different kinds of attacks. For example, they can simultaneously investigate distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) and ransomware attacks. As a result, you can protect the company’s systems more efficiently.

What are honeypot detection systems?

A honeypot detection system is a cybercriminal’s response to honeypots. Attackers use these tools to detect honeypots embedded within a company’s network. These tools utilize specific characteristics to identify honeypots so attackers can avoid them. Thus, your company should prioritize a combination of security tools.

Why are honeypots important to a network?

Honeypots provide an isolated environment for the security team to study an attacker’s behavior. They allow the team to learn the tools and methods used by the attacker. They can discover the attacker’s target and, importantly, the vulnerabilities that the attacker may exploit. The security team can then use this intel to patch up these vulnerabilities if they exist on their legitimate network. 

Resources

TechGenix: Newsletters

Subscribe to our newsletters for more quality content.

TechGenix: Article on Cyber-Deception

Explore some benefits of using a cyber-deception strategy

TechGenix: Article on Firewall Best Practices

Read about some firewall best practices that every business should implement

TechGenix: Article on Malware Types

Explore the different types of malware and how you can stay protected.

TechGenix: Article on Attack Vectors

Discover how to protect your company from different attack vectors.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Scroll to Top