What Is A Honeypot Trap (5 Tips On How To Avoid Honeypot Attacks While Web Scraping)

In our digitally-inclined world, analyzing public data is power. That’s why many companies and organizations rely on web scraping to gather large amounts of relevant data to help them make smarter business decisions. Yet it’s not all rainbows and butterflies when scraping the internet. Business owners and operators often encounter challenges while looking for data online — like facing blocks and bans or collecting unreliable data because of traps.

One of the most frequent challenges brands face during their web scraping endeavors is honeypot traps. Anyone scraping data can easily fall into one. But what is a honeypot trap, exactly? These hiccups that web scrapers face are typically links that deliberately direct the user to fake data. When this happens, the resulting research is rendered unusable.

Using a reliable proxy server to scrape the web is highly recommended since it provides anonymity and security to all kinds of enterprise users. However, the risk of facing a honeypot trap is always there. But before we jump right into the main methods used to avoid these nuisances, let’s define honeypot traps and the main forms they can take.

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How To Define Honeypot Trap

define honeypot trap

Many business managers and operators that depend on valuable data to grow and expand their companies find themselves asking the same question: “What is a honeypot trap?” In general terms, a honeypot trap is a decoy system that’s developed to mimic a legitimate one to lure malicious actors and cybercriminals and divert them from their actual targets.

Most sites’ security teams also use these traps to examine malicious activity. The results let them identify and mitigate their main vulnerabilities, prevent malicious web scraping activity, and protect copyrighted content from theft. However, honeypot traps can’t recognize malicious bots from good bots — which leads them to catch both kinds indiscriminately.

How Do Honeypots Work?

how do honeypots work

There are many ways to use honeypot traps. These security tools are an intentional vulnerability in a system that will lure in potential attackers so that they can get caught. A virtual machine with a honeypot will typically have critical security updates missing and open ports for hackers to take advantage of.

Honeypot devices also tend to have administrator accounts with weak passwords. This is to make it easier for malicious actors to escalate their privileges within the network. As the intruder thinks they’ve found an easy target to exploit, the security team can monitor their activity and understand what they’re looking for without jeopardizing valuable data.

Types of Honeypots

types of honeypots

These are the more popular types of honeypots and how they work.

Honeypots based on objectives

Depending on their primary goals, honeypots can be classified into two categories: ‌research honeypots and production honeypots.

1. Research honeypots: 

These honeypots gather information about cybercriminal attacks and provide useful data on attack trends. The information obtained is highly relevant for security teams to analyze. It can help improve weak defense mechanisms.

2.  Production honeypots:

These honeypots are launches alongside real production servers. They detect intrusions into a specific system and help deflect the attacker’s attention from their main target.

Honeypots based on complexity

Depending on their complexity, there are four primary tiers of honeypots:

1. Pure honeypot

This refers to a full-sale system that runs on various servers and contains what looks like confidential or sensitive data. A pure honeypot mimics the production system entirely and uses numerous sensors to track and observe any potentially malicious activity.

A bug tap installed on the link connecting the honeypot to the network provides valuable information about the attacks.

2. High-interaction honeypot

This is designed to make attackers spend as much time as possible inside the trap, thus giving the security team more chances to analyze their intentions, preferences, and methods, and discover the system’s more prominent vulnerabilities. High-interaction honeypots tend to be resource-intensive and inherently are costly to maintain. They typically have additional systems, processes, and databases to trick cybercriminals and lure them into infiltrating more information.

High-interaction honeypots offer researchers valuable insights. Virtual machines generally have multiple high-interaction honeypot traps within a single system to ensure cybercriminals and hackers have a harder time gaining access to the real production system.

3. Mid-interaction honeypot

This type of honeypot mimics elements of the application layer. However, it doesn’t have an operating system of its own. Mid-interaction honeypots are intended to throw the attacker off or slow their attempts so that the company has more time to react and fix any vulnerabilities.

4. Low-interaction honeypot

This kind simulates only the system and services that are the most attacked by cybercriminals. Low-interaction honeypots are a lot less resource-intensive than their counterparts — and therefore, more affordable. However, this means the information they provide about the threat’s nature and where it came from is more rudimentary.

Low-interaction honeypot traps are easy to set up, but although they use network services, Internet Protocol (IP), and Transmission Control Protocol (TCP), they don’t have much inside to hold the attacker’s attention for longer periods of time. That’s why they’re more commonly used as an early detection mechanism before the security team commits to a more sophisticated solution.

Honeypots based on purpose

Different companies and organizations need honeypots for diverse uses. These are the most common ones:

1. Malware honeypots

These are typically used to identify replication and attack vectors to lure in malware attacks. For example, they can imitate a USB storage device with sensitive information. If a machine comes under attack by malware that infects USB drives, the honeypot will fool the malware into infecting the emulated USB flash drive. Once this happens, the security team can analyze the malware and create defense software or patch vulnerabilities.

2. Spam honeypots

These are used to attract, detect, and block spammers that often abuse open proxies and mail relays.

These types of cybercriminals usually operate by performing tests on mail relays and using them to send themselves an email. When successful, they can use the address to forward large amounts of spam. That’s when spam traps come in handy. They allow the security team to identify a spammer’s initial test and take immediate action.

3. Database honeypot

These are decoy database setups used to lure in SQL injections and other database-specific attacks. Database honeypots are normally implemented using a firewall to divert attackers from legitimate databases. 

4. Client honeypots

These are used to attract malicious servers that cybercriminals use when attempting to hack clients. As their name states, client honeypots pose as a server’s client to analyze how the hacker modifies the server while attacking it. These types of traps are generally run in a virtualized environment and help contain web scraping activity. 

5. Honeynets

These consist of a network of honeypots designed to look like legitimate networks. Honeynets typically contain multiple systems and are used for keeping tabs on inbound and outbound traffic in large networks where using a single honeypot wouldn’t be enough.

These types of honeypots have a “honeywall” gateway, which is there to monitor traffic coming into the network and divert it to the different honeypots within it. 

How To Avoid A Honeypot Trap

avoid honeypot traps

Collecting public data from websites that use honeypot traps is not advisable. They can easily detect and track any web scraping activity and won’t stop to figure out if they’re dealing with a good guy or a bad guy before taking action against the potential attacker.

Following web scraping best practices can help you avoid honeypot traps altogether. These are some other useful suggestions to steer clear from honeypots.  

1. Program bots

Since some sites use honeypots to detect and stop web scraping, following unfamiliar links may lead researchers into a trap. These honeypots are typically invisible to humans, so having programmed bots search for “display: none” or “visibility: hidden” can help avoid them and dodge any blockages. 

2. Assess links

When web scraping, it’s vital to only follow links from trusted sources. Doing so doesn’t always offer an infallible guarantee that a researcher won’t fall into a honeytrap, but it allows them you be more cautious of the sites they attempt to get their data from. 

3. Avoid public Wi-Fi

Cybercriminals target people that use insecure networks. They often use hotspot honeytraps to take advantage of unsuspecting users utilizing free-to-join networks. This renders people vulnerable to get their sensitive information stolen.  

4. Scrape with caution

Web scraping is one of the main reasons why people land in honeypot traps because many sites use them as an additional security layer to protect their systems and information. When building a scraper program, researchers need to assess all sites for hidden links and their CSS properties to ensure they’re good to go.  

5. Be wary of fake databases

Most web scrapers also use databases to gather important amounts of information. Security teams know this, and that’s why they set up fake databases to attract malicious attackers and web scrapers alike. This leads to researchers getting blacklisted.

It’s best to always confirm the authenticity of any site before trying to gather information from it.  

Final Thoughts

what about honeypot trap

Honeypot traps have been around for a long time, and with the rapid growth in cyberattacks in recent years they’re becoming increasingly popular. They provide websites with effective methods for detecting and preventing malicious attacks that lead to data theft — but they can also pose a threat for ethical web scrapers trying to harmlessly gather information. 

It’s important for those looking to scrape public data for market research purposes to watch out for these traps and steer clear from honeypot attacks. In addition, it’s vital for you to further protect your identity using data center proxies and residential proxies. Contact Blazing SEO today for more information on how you can use proxies to help gather all the necessary information you need while scraping the web.

The information contained within this article, including information posted by official staff, guest-submitted material, message board postings, or other third-party material is presented solely for the purposes of education and furtherance of the knowledge of the reader. All trademarks used in this publication are hereby acknowledged as the property of their respective owners.

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