August 2018

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Honeypots are one of the latest tools being used to lure in unsuspecting hackers into a trap. These systems are designed to mimic original data hubs, but instead, capture the methods being used to track better and block system attacks.
Peter Chipkin
Peter Chipkin,
Chipkin Automation Systems Inc


Introduction: Hackers are always looking for new ways to steal your information. Whether it be social security numbers, credit cards, passwords, or other identifying data – we are constantly under attack. But, just as hackers are growing in stratagem, so are the people defending our data. Honeypots are one of the latest tools being used to lure in unsuspecting hackers into a trap. These systems are designed to mimic original data hubs, but instead, capture the methods being used to track better and block system attacks. Let’s take a more in-depth look at Honeypots, their use, and their benefits to future cybersecurity threats. 

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1.  Overview:

With the day to day growth of internet users in an information revolution, how secure are we and our data?

From social media to banking, everything is over the internet!

How to protect our valuable data from hackers? What are HONEYPOTS? What has that to do with the security of the data? Let’s check out.

Network diagram of a honeypot deployed on a DMZ to detect attacks 

Fig: Network diagram of a honeypot deployed on a DMZ to detect attacks

Well, what are honeypots?

It is a decoy computer system that simulates the behavior of a real system having data that seems to be a legitimate part of the network/site, but it is actually isolated and closely monitored for trapping hackers or tracking unconventional or new hacking methods, which are then blocked/trapped.

The main purpose of a Honeypot is to detect and learn from the attacks and further use the information to improve security.

Why Honeypots??

The value/worth of the honeypots depends on the information that could be gathered from it. There are two popular reasons for setting up a Honeypot:

1.  Gain Understanding
To understand how hackers probe and attempt to gain access to your systems. Since a record of the hacker activities is kept, one can gain an understanding of the attack methodologies incorporated and improve the security of the network/system by eliminating the loopholes.

2.   Gather Information
Gather forensic information that is needed to aid in the prosecution of hackers. This is the sort of information which is often needed to provide law enforcement officials with the details needed to prosecute.

Honeypots can also protect an organization from insider threats. According to the 2016 Cyber Security Intelligence Survey, IBM found that 60% of all attacks were carried by insiders.

2. Types of honeypots:

There are mainly two types of honeypots based on the use-case scenario:

1.    Research Honeypots
2.    Production Honeypots

Research Honeypots:

Production Honeypots:

Further Based on design criteria of the honeypots are further classified as:

1.    Pure honeypots
2.    High-interaction honeypots
3.    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 his 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.


3.    What are Honeynets, how is it different than honeypots?

Two or more honeypots on a network form a honeynet. In some cases, only one honeypot will not be sufficient (example: databases, ATC) therefore a honeynet plays a vital role in monitoring the entire network at a larger scale. 

Honeynets and honeypots are usually implemented as parts of larger network intrusion detection systems.

In addition to the honeypots, a honeynet usually has real applications and services so that it seems like a normal network and a worthwhile target. However, because the honeynet doesn't actually serve any authorized users, any attempt to contact the network from without is likely an illicit attempt to breach its security, and any outbound activity is likely evidence that a system has been compromised.

For this reason, the suspect information is much more apparent than it would be in an actual network, where it would have to be found amidst all the legitimate network data. Applications within a honeynet are often given names such as "Finances" or "Human Services" to make them sound appealing to the attacker.

A honey farm is a centralized collection of honeypots and analysis tools. A virtual honeynet is one that, while appearing to be an entire network, resides on a single server.

4.    Could honeypots be set up wirelessly?

Yes, you can- With the exponentially increasing use of wireless devices, the threat of wireless attacks is also growing. The goal of deploying wireless honeypots is to capture behaviors of our system in a wireless area and obtain some information and statistics.

Honeyspot is the well-known wireless honeypot project supported by Spanish Honeynet Project.

Honeyspot architecture

Fig: Honeyspot architecture

Well, what are the typical steps in configuring a wireless honeypot?

Wireless Honeypot setup configuration

  Fig: Wireless Honeypot setup configuration

There are different types of attack scenarios and based on which the layers of the network are configured with the deployment of the honeypots.

Related study:

Wireless honeypot framework

Fig: Wireless honeypot framework

5.    How to configure/Setup a simple Honeypot?

6.    Honeypots securing SCADA network, how?

Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) is an integrated part of a process control network. SCADA has applications in many complex and critical places like a nuclear power plant, electricity grid, air traffic control, satellite launch center and lot more. The “Stuxnet virus” and “Duqu” proved the need for process control network security which caused substantial damage to Iran’s nuclear program.

A typical process control network (PCN) is categorized by four levels, starting at Level 0.

Considering example as a temperature control in a factory floor-

Level 0: Temperature sensor senses the temperature of a boiler and sends the values to the controller- typically the signals are analog in nature.

Level1: Based on the sensed value required actions are executed by the controller, either regulate the temperature or turn it ON/OFF.

Level2: On the factory floor there might be several of these controllers, these are connected to a centralized control system (SCADA) that supervises the control to ensure synchronization between various processes.

Level3: Here advanced controllers are deployed to optimize the processes, includes historians and optimization controllers.

Typically Level 1 to Level 3 can use the Ethernet for connectivity. The business network that is not part of the PCN is considered as Level 4, and care is taken to control access between these two networks only on a need basis. SCADA at Level 2, is one of the most important parts of the PCN. It is used to monitor and record various process parameters centrally. Here, the processes may be running at one physical location and SCADA may be located at entirely different locations. As per the requirement, WAN/LAN links are used for interconnection between them.

Honeypots/Honeynets could be deployed at level2 mimicking SCADA systems. An attacker may attack a SCADA honeypot perceiving it to be a true SCADA system.

Fig: SCADA network of water pumping station attack

Fig: SCADA network of water pumping station attack


How to set up a honeypot on SCADA?

Honeyd: An open source honeypot

As defined by, Honeyd is a small daemon that creates virtual hosts on a network. These hosts can be configured to run arbitrary services, and their personality can be adapted so that they appear to be running certain operating systems.

Honeyd enables a single host to claim multiple addresses (tested up to 65536) on a LAN for network simulation. Honeyd improves cyber security by providing mechanisms for threat detection and assessment. It also deters adversaries by hiding real systems in the middle of virtual systems.

The Honeyd configuration file defines how the configured honeypot will respond to various types of requests such as ICMP Ping, requests on UDP ports, TCP SYN, etc., thus, in a way, defining the status of various ports and services. This reply is interpreted by the scanning tool as a system running a corresponding service.

How Honeyd works 

Fig: How Honeyd works

Setting up Honeyd on Ubuntu:

7.    Advantages and Disadvantages of setting up a honeypot.


  1. Simple – Deploy, understand and maintain
  2. Reduced False Positive - With most detection technologies (IDS, IPS) a large fraction of alerts is false warnings, while with Honeypots this doesn’t hold true
  3. Cost Effective
  4. Collect Real Data - While Honeypots collect a small volume of data but almost all of this data is a real attack or unauthorized activity
  5. IPv6 Encryption


  1. Risk- A Honeypot, once attacked, can be used to attack, infiltrate, or harm other systems or organizations
  2. The narrow field of View- If an attacker breaks into your network and attacks a variety of systems, your honeypot will be blissfully unaware of the activity unless it is attacked directly
  3. Finger Printing - When an attacker can identify the true identity of a honeypot because it has certain expected characteristics or behaviors
  4. The honeypot may be used as a zombie to reach other systems and compromise them.
  5. This can be very dangerous. 

8.    Ethical concerns related to honeypots!

Every country has different laws regarding honeypot usage and information capturing. Earlier there were some confusions on honeypot for several reasons; one the concept was very new and different variants of it deployed. Based on the use case scenarios there are different legal issues that are concerned with the same scenario. There are no precedents for honeypots. Also, there were no legal cases recorded on the issues.

There are three issues that are commonly discussed on honeypots,

  1. Privacy: Since honeypots capture the extensive amount of information about hackers- this can potentially violate their privacy. In some cases there is an exemption, meaning that security technologies can capture information on attacker identity as long as it is used to secure your environment.
  2. Liability: If the honeypot is used to attack or harm other systems in the network there is a concern with liability on honeypots. The risk is greatest for research honeypots.
  3. Entrapment: In most of the cases involving honeypots, entrapment isn’t an issue. According to Lance Spitzner’s The Value of Honeypots, Part Two: Honeypot Solutions and Legal Issues article, honeypots cannot be an entrapment issue. Here are his three reasons why entrapment is not an issue for honeypots:

More detail study:

9.    Firewall and Honeypots. How they inter-work together?

Basically, a firewall is designed to keep the attackers out of the network whereas honeypots are designed to entice the hackers to attack the system.

This is done so that a security researcher can know how hackers operate and can know which systems and ports the hackers are most interested in. Also, firewalls log activities and logs also contain events related to production systems.

Based on the application and size of networks honeypots are deployed either inside the firewall or outside.

However in the case of honeypot, the logs are only due to non-productive systems, these are the systems that no one should be interacting with. So a firewall log contains 1000 entries of all the systems of the network whereas the honeypot’s log only contains 5-10 entries.

Related read:

10.    Honeypot & automation, a bigger game!! - Communication protocols - PLC, FTP, Modbus, etc.,

SCADA infrastructures mostly comprise of two levels: operations (Master stations and databases) and field networks (PLC, RTU). Various communication protocols interoperate in the infrastructure. We’ll look at Modbus honeypot which is deployed at a field network of SCADA system acts as a PLC.

Honeypot Front-end interface:

Modbus API module specifically implements the Modbus TCP protocol variant which is widely used in ICS (Industrial Control Systems). Its ease of operation and deployment makes its use widely.

Modbus Honeypot implementation on SCADA infrastructure

Fig: Modbus Honeypot implementation on SCADA infrastructure

There are typically four components,

  1. Modbus API simulator: Receives commands and behaves like regular PLC, inhibiting minimal protocol functionality.
  2. File transfer protocol (FTP) module
  3. Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP)
  4. Port Scan: Detection module to detect probing activity in the TCP/IP service ports.

Modbus Honeypot Software architecture 

Fig: Modbus Honeypot Software architecture

Event monitor:

The information is processed at event monitor which is obtained from the front-end interface module. It has submodules:

  1. Filter – It filter relevant event according to pre-defined configurations
  2. Reductor and Aggregator – It Processes events to aggregate the events and grouping. 
  3. Event assembly – It creates the security event messages using a standardized format
  4. Event transmission – Ensures message transmission

The architecture is very simple and could be implemented on a simple SOC like Raspberry Pi; the implementation has two Python libraries to manipulate the Modbus data (Modbus-tk-0.4.2 and pymodbus-0.9.0).

Raspberry Pi - SOC 

Fig: Raspberry Pi - SOC

The Modbus messages are parsed by pymodbus library, SNMPD and FTPD modules are composed by a complete service implementation and a script to check its logs – they run NET-SNMP and VSFTPd respectively.

Additionally, the scripts parse service logs, looking for activity and port Scan module uses libpcap (C-module).

Control Solutions, Inc References:

About the Author

Peter Chipkin is the President of Chipkin Automation Systems Inc - a company with a reputation for excellence in service and customer support. With over 30 years of experience in automation, controls, and in Communications and Automation software development, Peter still relies on honesty and integrity to make sure each job is done right.

While originally from South Africa, Peter now resides in Vancouver with his family - including Jack the Husky.




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