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What are honeypot servers?

Affan Malik

Grokking Modern System Design Interview for Engineers & Managers

Ace your System Design Interview and take your career to the next level. Learn to handle the design of applications like Netflix, Quora, Facebook, Uber, and many more in a 45-min interview. Learn the RESHADED framework for architecting web-scale applications by determining requirements, constraints, and assumptions before diving into a step-by-step design process.

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Overview

honeypot is a deliberately compromised computer system that allows an attacker to exploit and investigate its vulnerability to improve the security policy. Honeypots apply to any computing resource, such as software and networks.

It allows us to understand the attacker's behavior patterns. Security teams can use honeypots to investigate cyber security breaches and collect information about the behavior of cybercriminals. 

How do honeypot servers work?

Honeypots look like natural computer systems with applications and data that cybercriminals believe are legitimate targets.

For example, honeypot traps appear like payment gateways. It is a desirable target for hackers because it contains personal information and transaction details, such as encrypted credit card numbers and bank account information.

Once a hacker breaks in, we can track the movements of cybercriminals and better understand their methods and motives. It helps organizations adapt existing security protocols to thwart similar attacks on legitimate targets in the future.

An illustration of where honeypot servers reside in the overall network

Types of honeypot

There are four types of honeypot deployments that allow attackers to perform malicious activities at different levels:

  • Pure honeypot: This is a full-fledged, utterly production-like system on various servers. It contains private data and user information and is full of sensors. These can be difficult to maintain, but the information provided is invaluable.
  • Highly interacting honeypot: It is a complex setup that behaves like a fundamental production infrastructure. It does not limit cyber criminals' activity and provides comprehensive cyber security insights.
  • Mid-interaction honeypot: These emulate aspects of the application layer but do not have their operating system. They act to confuse attackers while organizations can spend more time figuring out how to respond appropriately to attacks.
  • Less-interacting honeypots: These mimic services and systems that often get the attention of criminals. They provide a way to collect data from blind attacks such as botnets and malware worms.

Some other types of honeypot include the following:

  • Email trap or spam trap
  • Malware honeypot
  • Spider honeypot
  • Decoy database

Advantages and disadvantages of honeypot

Here are some advantages and disadvantages of honeypot servers:

Advantages

Disadvantages

It prevents cybercriminals from attacking legitimate systems.

A compromised honeypot that is not effectively quarantined can be used to launch an attack on an entire network.

It monitors attacker behavior and detects zero-day vulnerabilities.

An intrusion can only be detected if attacked directly. However, if an attacker identifies a honeypot, it could bypass the system and break into the network.

It helps improve the overall security of the organization.

An attacker could potentially create a honeypot fingerprint based on specific characteristics and launch fake attacks.

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Affan Malik
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Grokking Modern System Design Interview for Engineers & Managers

Ace your System Design Interview and take your career to the next level. Learn to handle the design of applications like Netflix, Quora, Facebook, Uber, and many more in a 45-min interview. Learn the RESHADED framework for architecting web-scale applications by determining requirements, constraints, and assumptions before diving into a step-by-step design process.

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