During the Second World War, a unit of the Allied Forces called the Ghost Army used rubber airplanes, inflatable tanks and other props to fool German commanders into thinking they were dealing with a bigger military force than in reality. One of their many subterfuges was to get Axis forces to think an entire Allied Army unit was in a particular area when in fact there was none. Such deception and strategic trickery has been a staple of warfare through history, and is an approach that a growing number of organizations have now begun employing in cyberspace as well.
Gartner defines deception technologies as a class of products that use "deceits, decoys and/or tricks" to stop, throw off or delay an attacker, disrupt automated malware tools and to detect attacks. Analysts at Technavio estimate the global demand for deception tools to grow at 10% annually to around $1.5 billion by 2021.
Deception tools are basically decoys of real systems that can be deployed at multiple points on the network to keep intruders away from your real assets. They work by getting malicious actors to chase down non-existent targets, luring attackers into traps, and keeping them engaged long enough for security teams to understand their activities. The goal is to confuse and confound attackers to the point where it becomes too hard or too costly for them to pursue a campaign.
Honeypots are a good example of a deception technology. But they are not the only available option, by far. Deception tools these days allow you to deploy decoys for virtually every hardware and software asset on your network. The tools — available from a fairly long and growing list of vendors — can be used to mimic your endpoint systems, servers, network components, applications and real data. From an attacker's perspective, the decoy systems will appear exactly like the real thing down to the operating system and software versions.
In addition to luring attackers away from your real assets, deception tools trick attackers into revealing their hands early. With deception systems, there is no question of false positives and false alerts. Anytime someone hits a decoy system you know it has to be an unfriendly actor because there is no reason for a legitimate user to want to access it. You can then either choose to shut down the attackers more quickly, or observe their moves and see what you can learn about the tactics, techniques and procedures.
Deception products can supplement the capabilities of your existing portfolio of security controls. They are not primarily designed to stop attacks from happening. Virtually no existing security tool or control can guarantee against a breach. Instead, deception tools can help you quickly and reliably spot intruders who have managed to penetrate your outer defenses in order to prevent them from moving laterally inside your network. That is a critical capability to have at a time when attackers have shown a growing ability to breach perimeter defenses and lie hidden on enterprise networks for extended periods of time.