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What Is a Honeypot Trap and What Does It Do?

During the last decade, many businesses and governmental agencies understood the importance of cybersecurity very literally. The COVID-19 lockdown introduced global work-from-home policies and opened new vulnerabilities in unsecured home networks used as a gateway to corporate infrastructure.

Furthermore, after surviving two years of pandemic, the illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine was followed by a huge increase in cyberwar operations. The damages increased exponentially, as ransomware gangs do not differentiate between private businesses, the energy sector, and even healthcare institutions.

Honeypot traps are one way of dealing with increasing cybersecurity threats. Let's take a closer look at how they work and how cybersecurity specialists use a honeypot trap to spot system vulnerabilities.

What Is a Honeypot Trap?

You can understand honeypot traps very literally. They are decoys designed to lure cybercriminals to monitor their behavior.

A honeypot trap is a closed environment designed to attract hackers, monitor their cyberattacks for cybersecurity improvements, and guide them away from the real targets.

Essentially, a honeypot trap is a simulation that resembles an original attack target. Although it is not a defense mechanism because most honeytraps do not stop a cyberattack (they even enforce it), it is invaluable for cybersecurity intelligence gathering to improve security systems.

Honeypot or Production System?

There are different types of honeypot traps, which we will explain in the following section. Before we go into specifics, it's important to remember that honeypot traps are not production systems. Mistaking a production system for a honeypot trap is easy because the latter is designed to simulate the former. Here are their differences.

  • Cybersecurity

Production systems are heavily guarded to deny unauthorized access and promptly fix vulnerabilities upon detection. Meanwhile, honeypot traps often include vulnerabilities to lure cybercriminals.

  • Goal

Production systems run core applications and store critical business data, such as client records, research and development documents, etc. A honeypot trap may store fake user data or imitate an important application to trick hackers into attacking it.

  • Deployment

A production system is placed within the main network. In contrast, a honeypot trap is often isolated from the main network to prevent collateral damage if poorly designed. However, some honeypot traps have access to the main network, demanding additional cybersecurity protocols.

  • Breach results

A successful compromise of the main corporate network can have devastating results, as numerous ransomware examples illustrate. Breaching a honeypot trap, on the other hand, is a favorable result because cybersecurity professionals get crucial cyberattack information. However, experienced cybercriminals who identify a honeypot trap can reveal fake cyberattack details or compromise the trap to access the main network, if possible.

Ransomware is an excellent example of the efficiency of honeypot traps. Let's consider server honeypots that simulate an actual server, mimic real applications, and store fake business information. An attacker breaches the fake server, deploys ransomware, activates it, and encrypts chosen segments or the whole server.

The cybersecurity specialist then inspects the trap logs and receives this information:

1. How the attacker breached the server

2. What ransomware software is used

3. What are ransomware targets

4. What are ransomware demands

5. (Circumstantial) the type of encryption used

This is a goldmine of valuable data that is then used to fix (if there are any) vulnerabilities in the main network and can even prepare a decryption method if there are sufficient details.

Honeypot Trap Categories

Although there can be as many honeypot traps as there are cyber attack methods, they generally fall into two categories.

Firstly, there are research honeypot traps. Cybersecurity experts deploy these traps to lure hackers and analyze their cybersecurity toolkit, attack vectors, targets, and all other relevant data.

Then, there are production honeypots. Their primary purpose is to lead attackers away from the main corporate network. Simultaneously, they can gather the same intelligence as research honeypots, which often work interchangeably.

Another distinction is between low interaction honeypots and high interaction honeypots. The latter, while expensive to maintain, provides the most in-depth insights into cyber threats. On the other hand, high interaction honeypots, sometimes called complex honeypots, while cheaper and simulating only a particular service or part of the network, are faster to deploy and don't require a pricey upkeep.

You may also hear the term passive honeypots, which describes honeypots with limited functionality that focus solely on network activity monitoring. However, this term is also redundant, as all honeypots at their core are passive and do not actively protect against cyberattacks.

Honeypot Types

Now that we have categories sorted out, let's take a look at various honeypot types. Let's start with malware honeypots.

Malware Honeypots

A malware honeypot is specifically designed to gather malware-related intelligence. Instead of gathering attackers' details or broad network activity, it focuses on the malicious software. Because this type often involves vulnerabilities to lure attackers, it demands extra honeypot system security to prevent the malware from spreading. Overall, honeypot security should not be overlooked, regardless of its type.

Spam Honeypots

Spam honeypots target spam bots that post on forums and social networks, fill out website forms, etc. Spam honeypots create invisible fields on the website that are only visible and interactable to spam bots. Firstly, they prevent spam by rerouting bot activity from the original website. They can also gather information to keep up with and prevent the latest spamming methods.

Spider Honeypots

This type is used to deny scraping and other kinds of automated online information gathering. Spider Honeypot creates specific web pages that are inaccessible to human visitors but reachable to scrapers. Then, the trap monitors the bots' activity and marks down what site elements it targets and its IP address. Unfortunately, it may block legitimate scrapers used for ethical research or price comparison, so using reliable residential proxies to rotate between IPs is best.

Client Honeypots

A client honeypot turns the tables and switches sides. This type mimics a vulnerable client, like a web browser, and actively scouts for malicious servers. Client honeypots simulate vulnerabilities that these servers exploit and gather cyberattack intelligence. High-interaction client honeypots interact with the server in numerous ways to get as many details as possible. Meanwhile, low-interaction honeypots only trigger the cyber attack to get more specific information.

Database Honeypots

As you might have guessed, a database honeypot mimics a database. These are among the more popular honeypot types because information theft is a viral cyber attack and personal information data leaks can have dire consequences. Cybersecurity professionals use database honeypots to improve data safety and meet the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) or its alternative standards.

This type mimics a real database with fake information and vulnerabilities but allows SQL injections. Although primarily used as research honeypots, they can also be real-time alerts to data breaches. In this case, they are placed as a priority attack target, and once data theft is noticed, a warning is issued that the whole network can be under attack.

Honeypot Traps Benefits

honeypot traps, cybersecurity benefits are numerous. However, they also have some setbacks that require additional attention, but more on that later. Now, let's overview its most valuable aspects in more detail.

Threat Analysis

Deep insights into cyber threats are the most obvious and valuable benefit. Cybercriminals and security experts play a neverending cat-and-mouse game. Whenever one develops a new hacking tool or protection software, the other spends time breaking it, introducing vulnerabilities, which are later patched up. A honeypot trap provides details into the most recent hacking attacks, their specific methods, attack targets, etc.


Because these traps are simulations, they are a perfect platform to test cybersecurity systems. For example, a server honeypot can allow a ransomware attack, wait for the execution, and then try to stop it from spreading to different server segments or other networks. This allows for identifying cybersecurity software issues without compromising real network safety. This is a widespread model to test intrusion detection systems, firewalls, antiviruses, etc.

Production Protection

Regarding cybersecurity, protecting the main production line is most important. Cyber attacks that halt the production line or put core business files at risk are extremely damaging. Expensive honeypots can sophistically simulate an entire main network to shift attackers' attention from the real target. A hacker can spend enormous resources on the attack only to realize it hit the wrong target. Furthermore, these traps collect data at the same time, so it's really a win-win situation for the defender.

Honeypot Traps Setbacks

Although the benefits outweigh the setbacks, there are issues you should be aware of. Firstly, some honeypots can be extraordinarily expensive. High interaction traps require good attention to detail to trick the attacker into exploiting vulnerable elements. Furthermore, this trap often works 24/7, increasing its maintenance costs.

Hackers also have their weapons. They create honeypot identification tools to separate the real server from the fake. If they are successful, they can use the trap to gather information about the main network. What's worse, they can use it to launch an attack if the trap is connected to the corporate network.

Lastly, these traps are not protection mechanisms. They can only lure the attacker, gather intelligence, or prevent minor nuisances like spam. However, they are not designed to stop cyber attacks. That's a task for other cybersecurity software. Always remember that your honeypot does not make your network safer but contributes to its safety indirectly.

Final Words

According to an analysis by the International Monetary Fund, the number of cyberattacks has more than doubled since the pandemic. This concerns businesses and casual Internet users alike. The fact is that hackers have exploited the fragile and tense situation over the last couple of years. Furthermore, political tensions enable state-backed hacking groups to attack targets almost out in the open, like the rampant Russian ransomware gangs.

A honeypot trap will not prevent a cyber attack if a state-sponsored professional cybercrime group chooses you as a target. However, it can help you prepare for it and mitigate the damages. Firstly, we advise identifying your most precious and vulnerable network segment that will most likely become a target. Then, choose a specific trap type and analyze the threat, resulting in relevant cybersecurity software acquisition.

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