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Published on Apr 02, 2024


The Internet is growing fast and doubling its number of websites every 53 days and the number of people using the internet is also growing. Hence, global communication is getting more important every day. At the same time, computer crimes are also increasing.

Countermeasures are developed to detect or prevent attacks - most of these measures are based on known facts, known attack patterns. Countermeasures such as firewalls and network intrusion detection systems are based on prevention, detection and reaction mechanism; but is there enough information about the enemy?

As in the military, it is important to know, who the enemy is, what kind of strategy he uses, what tools he utilizes and what he is aiming for. Gathering this kind of information is not easy but important. By knowing attack strategies, countermeasure scan be improved and vulnerabilities can be fixed. To gather as much information as possible is one main goal of a honeypot. Generally, such information gathering should be done silently, without alarming an attacker. All the gathered information leads to an advantage on the defending side and can therefore be used on productive systems to prevent attacks.

A honeypot is primarily an instrument for information gathering and learning. Its primary purpose is not to be an ambush for the blackhat community to catch them in action and to press charges against them. The focus lies on a silent collection of as much information as possible about their attack patterns, used programs, purpose of attack and the blackhat community itself. All this information is used to learn more about the blackhat proceedings and motives, as well as their technical knowledge and abilities. This is just a primary purpose of a honeypot. There are a lot of other possibilities for a honeypot - divert hackers from productive systems or catch a hacker while conducting an attack are just two possible examples. They are not the perfect solution for solving or preventing computer crimes.

Honeypots are hard to maintain and they need operators with good knowledge about operating systems and network security. In the right hands, a honeypot can be an effective tool for information gathering. In the wrong, unexperienced hands, a honeypot can become another infiltrated machine and an instrument for the blackhat community.

This paper will present the basic concepts behind honeypots and also the legal aspects of honeypots.


Honeypots are an exciting new technology with enormous potential for the security community. The concepts were first introduced by several icons in computer security, specifically Cliff Stoll in the book "The Cuckoo's Egg" , and Bill Cheswick's paper "An Evening with Berferd". Since then, honeypots have continued to evolve, developing into the powerful security tools they are today.

Honeypots are neither like Firewalls that are used to limit or control the traffic coming into the network and to deter attacks neither is it like IDS (Intrusion Detection Systems) which is used to detect attacks. However it can be used along with these. Honeypots does not solve a specific problem as such, it can be used to deter attacks, to detect attacks, to gather information, to act as an early warning or indication systems etc.

They can do everything from detecting encrypted attacks in IPv6 networks to capturing the latest in on-line credit card fraud. It is this flexibility that gives honeypots their true power. It is also this flexibility that can make them challenging to define and understand. The basic definition of honeypots is: A honeypot is an information system resource whose value lies in unauthorized or illicit use of that resource

The main aim of the honeypot is to lure the hackers or attacker so as to capture their activities. This information proves to be very useful since information can be used to study the vulnerabilities of the system or to study latest techniques used by attackers etc. For this the honeypot will contain enough information (not necessarily real) so that the attackers get tempted. (Hence the name Honeypot – a sweet temptation for attackers)Their value lies in the bad guys interacting with them. Conceptually almost all honeypots work they same. They are a resource that has no authorized activity; they do not have any production value.

Theoretically, a honeypot should see no traffic because it has no legitimate activity. This means any interaction with a honeypot is most likely unauthorized or malicious activity. Any connection attempts to a honeypot are most likely a probe, attack, or compromise. While this concept sounds very simple (and it is), it is this very simplicity that give honeypots their tremendous advantages (and disadvantages).

A honeypot will not stop an aggressor from enter into a network. But, on the other hand, all traffic originated by the intruder is registered and can be analyzed; therefore it is possible to get information that will allow, in another occasion, the prevention of the same attack. That is, honeypot does not stop attacks against the network or against one determined ports (firewall) of a system. However, as it is simpler to invade, it can make the aggressors invest its efforts in attacking it, instead of trying to penetrate inside strategical servers.

The use of honeypots improves network security and its systems. Bruce Schneier, professional cryptograph researcher, founder and manager of the Counterpane Internet Security, decomposes the security in three distinct areas- prevention, detection and reaction. A honeypot will be useful in these three areas. How a honeypot is useful in reacting to an attack is - Through the analysis of logs generated by honeypots the security team can determine technical ways for the protection against the explored vulnerability and even looking for the identification and the legal punishment of the aggressors


Honeypots come in many shapes and sizes, making them difficult to get a grasp of. To better understand honeypots and all the different types, they are broken down into two general categories on the basis of Interaction. Interaction defines the level of activity a honeypot allows to an attacker. The two general categories of honeypots are

 Low-interaction honeypots

 High-interaction honeypots

These categories helps to understand what type of honeypot one is dealing with, its strengths, and weaknesses.

Low-interaction honeypots have limited interaction, they normally work by emulating services and operating systems. Attacker activity is limited to the level of emulation by the honeypot. For example, an emulated FTP service listening on port 21 may just emulate a FTP login, or it may support a variety of additional FTP commands. The advantage of a low-interaction honeypot is their simplicity. These honeypots tend to be easier to deploy and maintain, with minimal risk. Usually they involve installing software, selecting the operating systems and services you want to emulate and monitor, and letting the honeypot go from there.

This plug and play approach makes deploying them very easy for most organizations. Also, the emulated services mitigate risk by containing the attacker's activity, the attacker never has access to an operating system to attack or harm others. The main disadvantages with low interaction honeypots is that they log only limited information and are designed to capture known activity. The emulated services can only do so much. Also, its easier for an attacker to detect a low-interaction honeypot, no matter how good the emulation is, skilled attacker can eventually detect their presence. Examples of low-interaction honeypots include Specter, Honeyd, and KFSensor.

High-interaction honeypots are different, they are usually complex solutions as they involve real operating systems and applications. Nothing is emulated, the attackers are given the real thing. If one wants a Linux honeypot running an FTP server, they build a real Linux system running a real FTP server. The advantages with such a solution are two fold. First, extensive amounts of information are captured. By giving attackers real systems to interact with, one can learn the full extent of the attackers behavior, everything from new rootkits to international IRC sessions.

The second advantage is high-interaction honeypots make no assumptions on how an attacker will behave. Instead, they provide an open environment that captures all activity. This allows high-interaction solutions to learn behavior one otherwise would not expect. An excellent example of this is how a Honeynet captured encoded back door commands on a non-standard IP protocol. However, this also increases the risk of the honeypot as attackers can use this real operating system to attack non-honeypot systems.

As result, additional technologies have to be implemented that prevent the attacker from harming other non-honeypot systems. In general, high-interaction honeypots can do everything low-interaction honeypots can do and much more. However, they can be more complex to deploy and maintain. Examples of high-interaction honeypots include Symantec Decoy Server and Honeynets.

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