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4/23/2007
08:56 AM
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Sweetening the Honeypot

Experts disagree whether free tools will make honeynets more practical for enterprise IT deployment

New free tools and services aimed at making honeynets more manageable are now becoming available: The Honeynet Project next month will roll out its new Global Distributed Honeynet as well as new honeynet tools, Dark Reading has learned, while the New Zealand Honeynet Alliance has begun offering client-based honeynet services for organizations that can't run their own servers. (See Enterprises Still Not Sweet on Honeypots, Free Tool Will Help Analyze Attacks, and A New Spin on Honeynets.)

Honeynets, networks of servers that act as lures for attackers trying to break into your network, have traditionally been a popular tool for researchers studying attacker behavior and malware. Most enterprises have avoided running these servers for fear of inviting trouble and because managing them and sifting through the data has been a time-consuming, resource-intensive process. And while honeynets provide lots of attacker- and attack data, they're passive nodes that don't actually stop attacks.

But honeynet organizers say they are working to make honeynets more feasible for enterprise security folks and Web administrators. "We are aware that in the past installing and maintaining and analyzing data from honeynets has been somewhat resource intensive," says Ralph Logan, principal with The Logan Group and vice president of the Honeynet Project. "What we've done over the last year is start breaking down these barriers."

The New Zealand Honeynet Alliance's new Scout service lets end users submit suspicious URLs to find out if they are malicious or safe, and Patrol lets Web administrators determine if their sites serve malware. The services are based on a new version of the alliance's Capture-HPC client honeypot software.

Capture-HPC client honeypots require simpler setup, operation, and analysis. That's where Scout and Patrol come in, according to Christian Seifert, a researcher from Victoria University in New Zealand, as well as a member of the New Zealand alliance, a Honeynet Project affiliate. He says the tools are intended for organizations that can't or don't want to have their own client honeynet.

Meanwhile, the Honeynet Project's soon-to-be-announced Global Distributed Honeynet, a distributed network of honeynets, automatically analyzes honeypot attack data gathered from various honeypot and honeynet locations around the world. Logan says the organization is also offering downloadable images of its Honeywall high-interaction honeypot software, as well as improved data capture.

The global honeynet runs on a VMware-based server with preconfigured honeypots, and it is geared for organizations that want to run one unified honeynet instead of multiple ones around the globe, says Logan. And new (and also free) repository software lets you send all honeynet data to a central repository. It also provides centralized configuration and management capabilities, he says.

The Honeynet Project has upgraded its Honeysnap analysis tool to handle "richer data analysis capabilities," he adds, as well as the ability write to the repository.

But critics say honeynets are just too much of a time-suck for already resource-strapped enterprises. Kevin Mandia, who worked on the Honeynet Project until 2001, says honeynets are great for research and academia, but he would not recommend any of his clients in the government and enterprise world put one up. "They already are understaffed. There's no way you could have a day job and then a honeynet to look at at the end of the day -- it has no operational impact," says Mandia, CEO of Mandiant, an incident response and computer forensics firm.

Mandia says the types of attacks most often found on honeynets are the not the most technical ones, anyway. "These [types of attacks] are going to be on machines that have the most sensitive information," he says. "A honeynet is easy [for an attacker] to recognize."

Honeynets determine the "who and why" of insider attacks, notes Logan, versus security products such as firewalls and IDS that look more at the when, how, and what. "Firewall and IDS and other traditional security technologies can detect, alert, and notify you of security breaches. But without the in-depth data received from honeynets, the who and why usually go unanswered without an in-depth forensics review."

— Kelly Jackson Higgins, Senior Editor, Dark Reading

  • Honeynet Project
  • VMware Inc. (NYSE: VMW) Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. 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 ... View Full Bio

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