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10/29/2009
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New Honeypot Mimics The Web Vulnerabilities Attackers Want To Exploit

New open-source Honeynet Project tool toys with attackers by dynamically emulating apps with the types of bugs they're looking for

A next-generation Web server honeypot project is under way that poses as Web servers with thousands of vulnerabilities in order to gather firsthand data from real attacks targeting Websites.

Unlike other Web honeypots, the new open-source Glastopf tool dynamically emulates vulnerabilities attackers are looking for, so it's more realistic and can gather more detailed attack information, according to its developers. "Many attackers are checking the vulnerability of the application before they inject malicious code. My project is the first Web application honeypot with a working vulnerability emulator able to respond properly to attacker requests," says Lukas Rist, who created Glastopf.

Rist, a student, built Glastopf through the Google Summer of Code (Gsoc) 2009 program, where student developers write code for open-source projects. His Web honeypot was one of the Honeynet Project's Gsoc projects.

Unlike other Web honeypots that use templates posing as real Web apps, Glastopf basically adapts to the attack and can automatically detect and allow an unknown attack. Glastopf uses a combination of known signatures of vulnerabilities and also records the keywords an attacker uses when visiting the honeypot to ensure it gets indexed in search engines, which attackers often use to find new targets. The project uses a central database to gather the Web attack data from the Glastopf honeypot sensors installed by participants who want to share their data with the database.

"The project will contribute real-world data and statistics about attacks against Web apps -- an area where we do not have good collection tools yet," says Thorsten Holz, Rist's mentor on the project.

Holz says Glastopf fakes out an attacker by returning "content that is commonly found on vulnerable versions of Web apps, such as characteristic version numbers or similar information."

"A very neat feature [of the honeypot] is its ability to attract more attackers through adaptation of its exposed vulnerabilities based on what attackers are searching for," says Christian Seifert, chief communications officer for the Honeynet Project.

Aside from researchers, ISPs and Web hosting companies could use Glastopf to collect data about ongoing attacks, Holtz says. "They can, for example, find compromised servers in their space that host PHP bots, or other data related to remote file inclusion vulnerabilities," he says.

Glastopf creator Rist says he's working with ISPs in Germany and France, as well as universities in Germany and an anti-abuse team in the Netherlands, on the project. The organizations hope to use the honeypot data to generate abuse tickets, shut down servers that are hosting malware, and to track the bad guys, Rist says. "We are planning to set up a publicly accessible Web interface to your central database to illustrate the impact of Web-based attacks against Web applications," he says.

Holz says the honeypot data should yield some interesting analysis of PHP-based botnets, as well as different attack techniques out there against Web applications and the volume of these attacks. "We are still in the beginning of analyzing this data," he says.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message. Kelly Jackson Higgins is Senior Editor at DarkReading.com. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise Magazine, ... View Full Bio

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