November 18, 2010, 2:42 PM — Intrusion detection is a complex business. Whether you deploy an intrusion detection system (IDS), or you collect and analyze the computer and device logs on your network, identifying malicious traffic in a sea of legitimate activity can be both difficult and time consuming.
A honeypot makes identifying malicious traffic dead simple. That's because any traffic to a honeypot, after some initial quick tuning to rule out false positives, is suspicious. A honeypot is a fake computer asset that exists only to alert its owner if it is touched. Nobody should be touching it or attempting to log on. Because all activity is illegitimate, no analysis is needed to tell good traffic from bad. The only question is, how dangerous is the intruder?
As a longtime security professional (and author of the book "Honeypots for Windows"), I've maintained eight different honeypots on the Internet to track hacker and malware behavior. I was able to watch as Internet malware evolved from script-kiddie viruses to professional crimeware. I was able to see and learn about bank account stealing Trojans long before they were well known in the security world, and I've seen carders (credit-card-dealing thieves) operate firsthand.
More important, I've seen the impact of honeypots in the corporate environment, where they shine as basic early-warning systems. I've seen honeypots on a corporate LAN catch foreign industrial spies, snare trusted insiders gone bad, and alert security teams to the presence of a roving malware program that had gone unseen. In nearly 10 years of deploying honeypots, I've yet to create one that didn't find something malicious within a few days of being installed.
In short, when used as early-warning systems, honeypots are low cost, low noise, and low maintenance, yet highly effective at drawing attention to threats in the network environment. They belong in any defense-in-depth program.