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Security Operating Systems Software The Internet Unix

Help Perfect The Cracker Antfarm With honeyd 93

Niels Provos would like you to help create the perfect lure for crackers. In the style of similar challenges presented by the Honeynet Project, Provos, a doctoral candidate at CITI (a research institute at the University of Michigan) has announced a public competition for contributions to his honeyd project, which the project page describes as "a small daemon that creates virtual hosts on a network." Honeyd does more than that terse description implies, though: read on to see how you can contribute to creative cracker snaring.

Behind door number three ...

Rather than wait for production systems to be cracked, honeypot makers arrange sting operations: they set up as traps intentionally tempting target machines loaded with tools to observe any break-ins.

Though the projects' names (and their rosters of hackers) are confusingly similar, honeyd is distinct from the Honeynet Project. Both are concerned with watching intruders' behavior for analysis and, in the long run, preventing their exploits, but the projects vary in their scope. Honeyd offers specific software tools to effect the appearance of a crackable box (and can simulate thousands of crackable machines at once); the Honeynet Project is broader, and uses honeyd within its larger framework of studying cracker attacks.

"Honeyd creates virtual honeypots that simulate operating system characteristics to such a degree that it fools fingerprinting tools like nmap or xprobe," says Provos. "As such it is a virtual honeypot that may be used for all kinds of purposes -- network sensors, decoys, et cetera. As the Honeynet project investigates interesting honeypot technologies, Honeyd got me involved with the [Honeynet Project] and is my contribution."

The competition Provos is organizing is in turn a chance for others to contribute to his honeypot tool; a variety of prizes (including a trip to CanSecWest/core03) will go to the programmers who provide the best improvements to the current version (0.5) of honeyd. He's hoping to field contributions to upgrade the user interface, better analyze information captured as intruders try to break in, provide simulated P2P programs, and more. Though there's a list of suggestions on the site, anything to more effectively mimic genuine target machines is welcome.

License requirements are friendly to open source programmers: "Source code features to be integrated into Honeyd need to be covered by a BSD-like license. Service emulations and graphical user interface [submissions] may be either BSD-like or GPL."

Though the page says that Provos is sponsoring the challenge, he says others (like Honeynet Project lead Lance Spitzer) have put up the prizes. "As I am still a poor student, I anticipate that my only financial expenses are going to be shipping costs."

What inspired the idea of a contest, rather than simply waiting for code to roll in from interested hackers? "The Honeynet project has held very successful challenges in the past," says Provos. "Additionally, Lance Spitzer and Marcus Ranum have been giving tutorials on honeypots and noticed that all the participants really enjoyed working with Honeyd. As a result, Lance encouraged me to hold this challenge."

What's in it for them?

Spitzer, one of the challenge judges, lists a few things he'd like to see come out of this contest. "All the plumbing and features are there for developing your own honeypots. I would love to see these capabilities extended and making it easier to use. For example, it would be great [to see] new emulated services added, a port to Windows, and a GUI to make it easier to use."

Spitzer has recently published a book about honeynets as well, so he has a good reason to want some attention focused on this sort of calculated intruder watching.

"I am most interested in the balance of getting realism with as little risk of abuse," says Job de Haas, another judge for the competition and CEO of security consulting firm ITSX. "The idea is to build simulated services, but you want to end the realism where it starts to undermine the security of the system beyond control." De Haas says that one of the system's weak points right now is that it's simply difficult for new users to know where to begin. "Hopefully lots of useful examples will come out of the challenge, to make it easier to get started."

I send you this file to ask your advice about breaking in.

Code submissions from hundreds of contributors (all of them savvy enough about cracking to contribute in the first place) raise the prospect of at least a few of them trying to sneak in their own malware to subvert the competition, but the organizers discount the possibility of a backdoor or other crack being submitted.

While it's unlikely that malicious code would make it far, Provos says that to be on the safe side (and make sure it doesn't hurt his working environment), "Personally, I run all new code under a systrace sandbox, and before new code gets integrated into the official honeyd source code it has to pass a source code audit."

Similarly, De Haas says that he's not worried about malicious code, but is "alert that someone might try. Generally we're quite used to dealing with untrusted code. On the other hand I don't consider myself unhackable, it can always happen. You mostly try to minimize the damage it can do."

"Generally the community is very good about this." says Spitzner. "While I doubt this would happen, you do have to be concerned about it. Fortunately, the judges we have (except for me :) are outstanding at code review."

Further reading: We've mentioned the Honeynet Project a few times before -- here's one story from July 2001 and other from July 2002; a search on "honeynet" will yield several more.

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Help Perfect The Cracker Antfarm With honeyd

Comments Filter:
  • by Waffle Iron ( 339739 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @12:22PM (#5326439)
    When I feel a cracker attack coming on, I don't sit around waiting to "lure" crackers. Instead, I just head down to the local supermarket and buy a few boxes.

    There's no need to deal with sticky messy honeypots, either. You can get Honey Grahams with the delicious honey flavor baked right in.

  • by Boss, Pointy Haired ( 537010 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @12:23PM (#5326447)
    How hard is it to make a honey pot look lived in?

    I mean, anybody can walk into a house and tell almost instinctively if anybody is living there at the current time.

    It is nothing you can put your finger on, it is just a "sense".

    Is the same true for honey pots? Can a hacker that is familiar with System X instinctively tell if (s)he is in a real live in-use System X or just a honey pot of System X?

    (posted AC the first time by accident)
    • I'd wager you can..

      Audit a live system somewhere, where people "live" to copy everything that isn't "sensitive". Then fake the sensitive info, like passwords, card numbers and names.

      That is how you do final tests before production. You make a system so lifelike, it is infaliable.. or nealy so.

    • by TopShelf ( 92521 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @12:36PM (#5326563) Homepage Journal
      That's an interesting point - you'd need to create output files with varying dates and times (to look like production data), log files, etc. I would think one idea would be to take a snapshot of your live environment at a given time, then create a honeypot when needed that alters file create/mod dates appropriately. Not easy, but it's a thought...
    • It depends on what your goal is. If you're looking to collect new exploits, well, it's pretty easy to make things seem real on the outside. The earlier versions of honeyd (if I recall correctly from my conversations with Neils) didn't actually allow an attacker to get very far with an attack, because they didn't run any actual services, just a fake thing that mimicked a service. The purpose wasn't to actually entrap and convict hackers, or to observe their modes of operation and so on; but to collect information about new attacks (for signature detectors in firewalls) and to hide your real system in among a bunch of fakes.

      If you're looking to actually observe crackers "in the wild", you have to make your system look reasonably real; while at the same time making sure the attackers can't do any real damage from your machine (else you may be implicated in their crimes). The Honeynet project has a lot of good tips and tricks on this sort of thing. For example, not allowing more than 10 outgoing connections (so that it can't be used to scan or launch a DDOS attack), and putting a message in motd saying, "The network is acting kind of flaky, we're working on it, blah blah blah."

      In fact, making a realistic honeypot is essentially just social engineering... hmm...

    • With so many inexperienced system administrators out there - is it possible? It's so easy to put a [insert linux distro here]-system online, say "hey, it worked", and forget about it, that I doubt that anyone would raise an eyebrow when entering a 'dead' system.

    • by Marcus Brody ( 320463 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @02:48PM (#5327540) Homepage
      Doesnt need to look lived in...

      For starters - scripts, scanners, worms, script kiddies arent ever going to notice the difference.

      Furthermore, more advanced crackers wouldnt neccessarily be put off by such a box... e.g. they may see a nice unused NT sitting in the corner of a lab, just waiting for her to install that new DDOS tool...

      However, I guess leet dudes like us would smell a rat!
  • Mmm... (Score:2, Funny)

    by grub ( 11606 )

    Mmmm... Honeynet Cheerios </homer>
  • Hmmm...? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @12:24PM (#5326462)
    For example, it would be great [to see] new emulated services added, a port to Windows, and a GUI to make it easier to use. many people that set up honeypots use Windows or need a GUI?

    Furthermore, how many developers that make these kind of tools want to cater to the Windows/GUI crowd?
    • Re:Hmmm...? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by srmalloy ( 263556 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @12:32PM (#5326521) Homepage many people that set up honeypots use Windows or need a GUI?

      You're right; who needs a honeypot when you can just set up a Windows system, which is automatically a hack magnet?

      Seriously, though, having a Windows honeypot would be useful simply because of the enormous variety of attacks directed at Windows systems. Having a system designed to attract and log attacks would give more information than trying to examine the post-mortem data after a Windows box has been 'H4C|20R3D'.
  • Genius! (Score:5, Funny)

    by bdesham ( 533897 ) <bdesham@[ ] ['gma' in gap]> on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @12:25PM (#5326476) Journal
    This is perfect! Since crackers never visit Slashdot, they'll never see this one coming!
    • Re:Genius! (Score:5, Funny)

      by Joe the Lesser ( 533425 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @12:45PM (#5326611) Homepage Journal
      Actually, I think most of /.er's are probably caucasian...
      • From Websters:

        5. A nickname to designate a poor white in some parts of the Southern United States. --Bartlett.

        Wordnet says's it's synonymous with Redneck. How is that not caucasian (A member of any of the white races of mankind)?
        • Who's white? As for me, I am more of a light pink color. My girlfriend is slightly olive-toned. We are both caucasian, but neither one of us is white. I know asian people who, when you put my skin next to theirs, are much much whiter than I. In fact, I can't think of anyone I know that is acutally white. Black people aren't black, they are brown. Who the fuck came up with this color-coding system anyway?
    • Re:Genius! (Score:3, Insightful)

      by arvindn ( 542080 )
      You were probably just trying to be funny, but just in case you thought its really a bad idea to discuss honeypots on /. :

      You are essentially arguing for security through obscurity. Consider how a cracker would start to attack a system. They would most likely have some portscanning scripts that would pick up a vulnerability. Honeypots are perfect for this. You set up a virtual machine that detects a vulnerability.

      Next, the cracker has r00ted your machine and wants to exploit it. They've read about honeypots on /. and wonder if it is one. So how do they find out? From the outside, a honeypot looks just like any other machine.

      If you let the world know that you are running a honeypot on a certain IP, then you're doing something stupid. But knowledge about honeypots in itself does not decrease their effectiveness.

    • OT (in reply to the OP's .sig):

      I actually took a Differential Equations test drunk.

      I got a 96%.

      It's safe to drink and derive! It's fun!
  • by borgdows ( 599861 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @12:26PM (#5326486)
    Honeyd is a small daemon that creates virtual hosts on a network. The hosts can be configured to run arbitrary services, and their personality can be adapted so that they appear to be running certain operating systems.

    ...adding personality to daemons is pure evil!
  • by murphj ( 321112 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @12:40PM (#5326585) Homepage
    Dear Slashdot,
    I'm a little busy right now, and having trouble finishing my dissertation. Can you guys finish it up for me? Thanks a bunch,
    Niels Provos
    PS - If you help, you can call yourself Dr., too!
  • Hacker? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by kramer2718 ( 598033 )
    Aren't they actually trying to trap hackers? When I read the title, I naturally assumed that the post refered to an attempt to catch people who break into protected software. Has that use of the term 'cracker' gone away? If so, what does 'hacker' mean now days?
  • Warez (Score:3, Funny)

    by cybermage ( 112274 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @12:54PM (#5326670) Homepage Journal
    Give each honeypot an IP of All the co01 wArEz is there. Crackers will flock to them.
  • by cybermage ( 112274 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @12:59PM (#5326697) Homepage Journal
    and find out how the NSA/CIA hack boxes.
  • by iamacat ( 583406 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @02:28PM (#5327379)
    While obviously malicious code might be easy to spot, how difficult would it be for someone to slip an obscure buffer overflow into honeyd and have fun after its released. Anyone knows of any good hacks that happened BECAUSE of the honeypot bugs?

    There used to be a package called COPS to check UNIX security. The author made use of eval to scan users' .rhosts for suspicious entry. I promptly modified my own file to contain some ` characters and UNIX commands. Worked like a charm. Thought about modifying sendmail to send a few randomly selected local messages to a random local account, but decided it would be too mean. Exchanging screens of two lab suns with screendump and screenload or playing sounds telling a user that his or her shoe is untied is as far as I got.

  • by Marcus Brody ( 320463 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @03:03PM (#5327627) Homepage
    Such tactics as honeypots are probably good methods for prospective risk assesment. It has been used in physical security with some success - I remember the story of Marty Pell (not the lead singer from wet wet wet...).

    A few years ago the was a whole succession of major politicol and tabloid leeks to the British press. Talk surfaced of some "Hacker" with an agenda.... Some legal firm (I think) who were a little shady (e.g. contracts with arms companies, MI6 etc) caught him in the end. Such a company has pretty steep security. Everything got shredded. Occasionally, they would leek false documents into their trash, and see if they would appear in the media.

    One of their fake stories was published in a broadsheet. Marty Pell was caught on CCTV stealing there trash. The guy was the worlds most prolific dumpster diver - a house full of trash, not the slightest hacking skill.

    Makes you wander - is this whole hacking/internet security really just a bit of an academic excersice at times?

    Anyway i digress, I was on-topic at some point....
  • Niels Provos would like you to help create the perfect lure for crackers.

    IANAL, but I think that doing this sort of thing in the UK could be considered by the authorities to be entrapment. Just something to think about. (I believe entrapment law is much more strict in the UK than in the US.)
    • IANAL but the entrapment laws only apply to law enforcement officers and agencies. As an individual who is not a LEO, or even as a LEO operating outside of work hours, feel free to entrap.
    • It should be OK for even the police/fbi to do.
      Police in various cities have parked cars on city streets waiting for a break in. The cars are there as bait for a car thief to take. Once they get in, the police remotely lock the doors, disable the engine, and promptly arrest them for grand theft auto.

      This is really just the online equivalent of that.

      Entrapment would be a cop notifying you of a system with security flaws, encouraging you to break into it, and then arresting you when you follow his advice.

      Honeynets just give the appearance of a parked car with the doors unlocked.
      • It should be OK for even the police/fbi to do.

        Yes, but I asked about UK law. I know US law is a lot more permissive in this respect. As I said, I don't know much about law, but this would definitely be illegal in the UK.

        There was a bit of a news story [] recently about about the UK Government considering changing the law to make entrapment of paedophiles by police officers posing as children in online chat rooms legal.

        Interesting that Article 6 of the EU Convention on Human Rights outlaws evidence gathered by entrapment.
  • Follow up article (Score:3, Informative)

    by cascadefx ( 174894 ) <> on Tuesday February 18, 2003 @04:24PM (#5328338) Journal
    A good follow up to this post is a short introduction to honeyd [] by Marcus Ranum in the latest issue of Information Security Magazine. A good little overview of what the program does and how to potentially use it.
  • If you were doing this at home, would you deliberately put on a flimsy curtain on an outside door with a bright shiny VCR and big ass TV (fake store demo) inside in the hope of attracting theives to your place?

    I didn't think so.

    Go do something useful.

  • Interesting, count me in... I'm getting hungry.

"So why don't you make like a tree, and get outta here." -- Biff in "Back to the Future"