Blog , 10 Sep 2021

How To Prevent and Defeat Cybercriminals with Honeypot Traps in Network Security

Isla Sibanda,

Content Creator

In 2021 it’s not a matter of if your company will experience a data breach, it’s when. Cybercrime is at an all-time high so investing in effective network security solutions is critical going forward. Research shows that 97% of all cyberattacks could be prevented by using the right tools and methods to detect and stop an attack before causing any damage. 

Honeypots have been deployed as part of a robust cybersecurity ecosystem for many years, but there is a new focus in this area since ransomware has affected so many businesses in 2020 and 2021. Following a series of significantly damaging attacks, 80% of organizations have increased their protections against ransomware threats, but less than a third of them reported confidence that all members of their company would know what to do in case an attack were to happen. This means that many organizations are at serious risk of becoming a target for an attack. 

Early detection is the best way to keep company assets safe, and honeypots create the perfect environment to detect when someone is trying to breach company data without sacrificing proprietary information. Honeypots mislead hackers into a decoy network, and while they think they’re in control, network security is already monitoring their actions so that teams can identify and respond to an attack before it’s too late. 

What can honeypots do?

Honeypots allow network security monitors to find out information about potential hackers to prevent attacks instantaneously and in future instances. Some data that an organization might be able to learn to include the usernames, roles, and privileges that attackers are likely to use to attempt a breach and the IP address that is being used to conduct the attack. 

Honeypots can also help detect what data is being accessed, altered, or deleted as well as what keystrokes hackers type out in the process. By keeping cybercriminals busy trying to hack the honeypot network, network administrators have the time and knowledge they need to put counter-actions in place to remediate an attack.  

Here are some examples of common types of honeypots:

  • Malware Honeypots – used to detect malware according to known replication techniques and vectors.
  • Database Honeypots – used to divert cybercriminals from legitimate servers to a decoy database.
  • Client Honeypots – used to listen for incoming connections by posing as a client and engaging with malicious servers. 
  • Email Honeypots – used to detect spammers.
  • Spider Honeypots – used to trap web-crawlers and block bots. 

A seasoned backend developer with a background in cybersecurity is a crucial asset for any company to have. Even smaller enterprises can benefit from hiring a more affordable freelance developer to help them contain potential threats. You can expect to pay around $60 an hour for a freelance backend developer to build honeypots that work in conjunction with an organization’s existing security ecosystem.

Importance of honeypots in network security

While there are certain regulating bodies like the National Institute of Standards and Technology, or NIST, that provide security recommendations that can help prevent cyberattacks, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to network security. 

The Payment Card Industry (PCI) also has certain criteria that must be met if your company accepts online payments in order to keep your customer’s sensitive credit card information secure. PCI compliance drives the security operations of many organizations, but like the NIST regulations, there are still a number of pitfalls that remain unaddressed for many companies. 

In addition to other tools and methods, honeypots can help organizations fill the gaps in their network security ecosystem. A honeypot or honeypot network can help companies to gain insights about the latest attack trends and what areas of their network are at increased risk. This deceptive technology can be customized to meet the specific security needs of any business in order to be better equipped to mitigate future risks.

Best practices for honeypots 

Rapid digital transformation has brought levels of accessibility and connectivity that has never been seen before. Navigating these changes and the threats that come along with them is vital for companies seeking long-term security solutions. The cybersecurity areas that businesses have the most control over are implementing the right procedures and adopting the right technologies. 

Here are some best practices to consider when adding a honeypot to your cybersecurity repertoire:

  1. Use fake data – No matter what honeypot methodology your organization chooses to deploy, never use real data. 
  2. Keep honeypots isolated – Don’t connect the honeypot to the main network. All incoming traffic should pass through firewalls and routers to get onto the fake network. 
  3. Use virtual machines – This is the safest way to make sure that none of your actual data gets lost. 
  4. Use unique credentials to access the honeypot – Do not use the same roles and passwords that are used on the main network. In fact, it’s best to make one up that doesn’t exist at all. 
  5. Honeypot testing – In addition to regular security audits, honeypots should be thoroughly tested before going live. There are many reasons organizations should conduct additional security audits after a honeypot has been deployed, too, like using new applications, devices, upgrades, patches, and changes to end-user policies. 

Honeypot methodologies

Since over 90% of malware used in 2021 has the ability to transform its code to escape detection, it’s important that organizations deploy honeypots to monitor any changes in code patterns. 

Research honeypots are used by researchers in order to learn more about attack techniques and motivations behind an attack. They also help researchers gain a better understanding of malware strains and security vulnerabilities in order to make better decisions regarding defense strategies, future security investments, and patching priorities. 

Production honeypots are actually deployed within an organization’s internal network, and are used to gain similar insights as research honeypots. However, production honeypots are much less complex and are deployed to detect attacks that are actively attacking the internal network and misdirect attackers from attacking legitimate servers.

A full-scale honeypot might consist of a production environment that seems to be live but is instead packed with faux-sensitive data. However, this is not the only way to deploy a honeypot for network security. The level of interaction defines the cybercriminals’ degree of interactivity with the networks, systems, and servers that they are attempting to infiltrate. 

These levels of interaction are:

High-Interaction Honeypots

A high interaction honeypot mimics a company’s system with functions and operating systems that act a lot like the real thing in order to trick hackers. While this is not a pure honeypot like we mentioned before, it can still provide extensive information about how an attack can progress and how the payloads execute within a network. 

Medium-Interaction Honeypots

Medium-interaction honeypots fall somewhere in between the most and least complex honeypot environments. They can imitate the application but do not have their own operating systems. These honeypots are deployed with the intention of stalling an attack to buy the organization some time to respond. 

Low-Interaction Honeypots

These honeypots run limited services and have restricted functionality compared to what you might expect from a server. They are best used as an early detection mechanism for production environments, as they can come across as an inauthentic target to a cybercriminal. 

Conclusion

Honeypots are an effective strategy to prevent cyberattacks and breaches of data when they are deployed properly. Network security administrators should use deception technology analytics to constantly monitor code changes across the entire network and respond appropriately when hackers are detected. Hiring a backend developer is the best way to configure honeypots accurately in addition to the context that third-party threat intelligence programs provide. 

Choosing the right methodology and deployment strategy will depend on many factors such as the size of the network, operating system complexity, and budget. By following our honeypot best practices and utilizing automation wherever possible, honeypots can be a valuable addition to any cybersecurity ecosystem.

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