Digital forensics

What is a Honey Pot? [updated 2021]

January 29, 2021 by Dejan Lukan

Introduction: What is a Honeypot?

Honeypots are special programs that are written for one purpose: to be exploited. Honeypots emulate the appearance of a vulnerability so that attackers, viruses and worms are attracted to this system, which appears to be poorly secured. 

The honeypots collect as much information as they can on the attacks coming from various sources, which enables us to later analyze and study them. This can be a great tool to use to reveal any zero-day worms that haven’t been discovered yet.

Honeypot Classifications

Honeypots are classified in two groups, based on different criteria.

The first criterion is based on deployment of the honeypots. There are two groups of honeypots:

  • Production honeypots: Primarily used in the company’s internal network to improve the security of the whole network. They are easy to use, but provide less information about the attacks.
  • Research honeypots: These honeypots are very complex but provide very detailed information about the attacks. They are used by research, military or government organizations.

The second criterion classifies honeypots based on the design criteria and introduces three groups:

  • Pure honeypots: Full production systems, so no other software needs to be installed.
  • High-interaction honeypots: Use non-emulated operating systems with multiple services which can be exploited by the attacker. This kind of honeypot requires quite a lot of resources to function, but we can lower the expense by using multiple virtual machines.
  • Low-interaction honeypots: Emulate the part of the system and services most frequently used. They consume relatively low amounts of resources, but the cost can nevertheless be lowered by the use of virtual machines. This is because multiple VMs can easily be run on one physical computer. These honeypots are a great way to collect the malware that botnets and worms use to expand. Some examples of such honeypots are nepenthes, dionaea and mwcollectd.

Nepenthes

The nepenthes honeypot includes several modules that emulate mostly Windows vulnerabilities. Those vulnerabilities are then detected by the self-replicating worm, which can exploit them.

First, we need to install nepenthes on the Ubuntu Linux distribution with the command below:

[bash]

# apt-get install nepenthes

[/bash]

This will install the nepenthes honeypot and add the user nepenthes and group nepenthes on the system. The command below proves that the user and group named nepenthes actually exist:

[bash]

# groups nepenthes

nepenthes : nepenthes

[/bash]

After the installation is complete, we need to start the nepenthes honeypot. This should bind to various ports on the system that will be visible to the attacker as open ports running various software programs. To start nepenthes, execute the command below:

[bash]

# /etc/init.d/nepenthes start

Starting nepenthes: nepenthes.

[/bash]

Let’s verify that the nepenthes honeypot was actually started:

[bash]

# ps aux | grep nepenthes | grep -v color

113   5367  0.3  0.3   7400  3044 ?    S 20:09   0:00 /usr/sbin/nepenthes –user=nepenthes –group=nepenthes -C

[/bash]

We can see that the nepenthes starts with a process ID number (PID) 5367, and that it specifies the user and group nepenthes upon starting. The -C options force kernel security capabilities to be loaded. If we would rather start nepenthes manually, we can apply various other command line parameters upon starting nepenthes:

[bash]

# nepenthes -h

Nepenthes Version 0.2.2

Compiled on Linux/x86 at Apr 12 2011 15:41:15 with g++ 4.5.2

-c, –config=FILE         use FILE as configuration file

-C, –capabilities          force kernel ‘security’ capabilities

-d, –disk-log                disk logging tags, see -L

-D, –daemonize           run as daemon

-f, –file-check=OPTS check file for known shellcode, OPTS can

be any combination of `rmknown’ and

`rmnonop’; separate by comma when needed

-h, –help                      display help

-H, –large-help            display help with default values

-i, –info                        how to contact us

-k, –check-config        check configuration file for syntax errors

-l, –log                         console logging tags, see -L

-L, –logging-help        display help for -d and -l

-o, –color=WHEN      control color usage. WHEN may be `never’,

`always’ or `auto’

-r, –chroot=DIR          chroot to DIR after startup

-R, –ringlog                 use ringlogger instead of filelogger

-u, –user=USER           switch to USER after startup

-g, –group=GROUP     switch to GROUP after startup (use with -u)

-V, –version                 show version

-w, –workingdir=DIR  set the process’ working dir to DIR

[/bash]

Let’s display the ports that nepenthes has bound to:

[bash]

# netstat -lntup | grep nepenthes

tcp    0 0.0.0.0:2107        0.0.0.0:*           LISTEN  5437/nepenthes

tcp    0 0.0.0.0:443         0.0.0.0:*           LISTEN  5437/nepenthes

tcp    0 0.0.0.0:220         0.0.0.0:*           LISTEN  5437/nepenthes

tcp    0 0.0.0.0:445         0.0.0.0:*           LISTEN  5437/nepenthes

tcp    0 0.0.0.0:1023        0.0.0.0:*           LISTEN  5437/nepenthes

tcp    0 0.0.0.0:1025        0.0.0.0:*           LISTEN  5437/nepenthes

tcp    0 0.0.0.0:993         0.0.0.0:*           LISTEN  5437/nepenthes

tcp    0 0.0.0.0:995         0.0.0.0:*               LISTEN  5437/nepenthes

tcp    0 0.0.0.0:3140        0.0.0.0:*           LISTEN  5437/nepenthes

tcp    0 0.0.0.0:135         0.0.0.0:*           LISTEN  5437/nepenthes

tcp    0 0.0.0.0:5000        0.0.0.0:*           LISTEN  5437/nepenthes

tcp    0 0.0.0.0:42          0.0.0.0:*           LISTEN  5437/nepenthes

tcp    0 0.0.0.0:139         0.0.0.0:*           LISTEN  5437/nepenthes

tcp    0 0.0.0.0:3372        0.0.0.0:*           LISTEN  5437/nepenthes

tcp    0 0.0.0.0:110         0.0.0.0:*           LISTEN  5437/nepenthes

tcp    0 0.0.0.0:143         0.0.0.0:*           LISTEN  5437/nepenthes

tcp    0 0.0.0.0:80          0.0.0.0:*           LISTEN  5437/nepenthes

tcp    0 0.0.0.0:10000       0.0.0.0:*           LISTEN  5437/nepenthes

tcp    0 0.0.0.0:6129            0.0.0.0:*           LISTEN  5437/nepenthes

tcp    0 0.0.0.0:465         0.0.0.0:*           LISTEN  5437/nepenthes

tcp    0 0.0.0.0:5554        0.0.0.0:*           LISTEN  5437/nepenthes

tcp        0  0 0.0.0.0:27347       0.0.0.0:*           LISTEN  5437/nepenthes

tcp    0 0.0.0.0:17300       0.0.0.0:*           LISTEN  5437/nepenthes

tcp    0 0.0.0.0:21          0.0.0.0:*           LISTEN  5437/nepenthes

tcp    0 0.0.0.0:3127        0.0.0.0:*           LISTEN  5437/nepenthes

tcp    0 0.0.0.0:2103        0.0.0.0:*           LISTEN  5437/nepenthes

tcp    0 0.0.0.0:2105        0.0.0.0:*           LISTEN  5437/nepenthes

tcp    0 0.0.0.0:2745        0.0.0.0:*           LISTEN  5437/nepenthes

tcp    0 0.0.0.0:25          0.0.0.0:*           LISTEN  5437/nepenthes

udp    0 0.0.0.0:1434        0.0.0.0:*                       5437/nepenthes

[/bash]

There are quite a lot of open ports that nepenthes is using, which means that nepenthes is listening to every single one for malicious incoming connections. All the logged activities are saved into the /var/log/ directory. In that directory, there is a file (nepenthes.log) that contains basic information about nepenthes’ activity. There’s also a directory nepenthes/ in /var/log/ that contains various files and folders described below:

  • logged_downloads: A list of all downloads. The entries in the log file have the following syntax: first there’s a timestamp of when the event occurred, separated by a space. What follows is the source and the destination IP, each also separated by a space. At the end, there is also the URL to the malicious piece of software that the attacker is trying to download to our computer using the nepenthes honeypot.
  • logged_submissions: A list of successful downloads.
  • binaries: Contains all the detected binaries that probably contain malicious code. The binaries are named after the MD5 hash of the file, which also ensures that the same binary is saved only the first time it is observed.

There’s also a directory (/etc/nepenthes/) that holds various configuration information. We can configure nepenthes to send the logged downloads automatically on an IRC channel, which makes the logging practically real-time.

Dionaea

Dionaea is also a low-interaction honeypot. The first step is of course, installing all the required dependencies. On the official website of dionaea we can see all the dependencies that need to be installed for dionaea to work.

On an Ubuntu Linux distribution, we can install most of the dependencies with the command below:

[bash]

# apt-get install libudns-dev libglib2.0-dev libssl-dev libcurl4-openssl-dev libreadline-dev libsqlite3-dev python-dev libtool automake autoconf build-essential subversion git-core flex bison pkg-config sqlite3 curl

[/bash]

Some of the dependencies are not satisfied yet, so we’ll have to install them manually. We’ll install them in the /opt/dionaea/ directory. First, we need to create and move into that directory:

[bash]

# mkdir /opt/dionaea

# cd /opt/dionaea

[/bash]

Install libcfg:

[bash]

# git clone git://git.carnivore.it/liblcfg.git liblcfg

# cd liblcfg/code

# autoreconf -vi

# ./configure –prefix=/opt/dionaea

# make install

# cd ../..

[/bash]

Install libemu:

[bash]

# git clone git://git.carnivore.it/libemu.git libemu

# cd libemu

# autoreconf -vi

# ./configure –prefix=/opt/dionaea

# make install

# cd ..

[/bash]

Install libev:

[bash]

# wget http://dist.schmorp.de/libev/Attic/libev-4.04.tar.gz

# tar xfz libev-4.04.tar.gz

# cd libev-4.04

# ./configure –prefix=/opt/dionaea

# make install

# cd ..

[/bash]

Install Python 3.2:

[bash]

# wget http://www.python.org/ftp/python/3.2.2/Python-3.2.2.tgz

# tar xfz Python-3.2.2.tgz

# cd Python-3.2.2/

# ./configure –enable-shared –prefix=/opt/dionaea –with-computed-gotos –enable-ipv6 LDFLAGS=”-Wl,-rpath=/opt/dionaea/lib/ -L/usr/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/”

# make

# make install

# cd ..

[/bash]

Install Cython:

[bash]

# wget http://cython.org/release/Cython-0.15.tar.gz

# tar xfz Cython-0.15.tar.gz

# cd Cython-0.15

# /opt/dionaea/bin/python3 setup.py install

# cd ..

[/bash]

Install libpcap:

[bash]

# wget http://www.tcpdump.org/release/libpcap-1.1.1.tar.gz

# tar xfz libpcap-1.1.1.tar.gz

# cd libpcap-1.1.1

# ./configure –prefix=/opt/dionaea

# make

# make install

# cd ..

[/bash]

After all that, we finally arrived at a point where we can install dionaea. We can do that by executing the commands below:

[bash]

# git clone git://git.carnivore.it/dionaea.git dionaea

# cd dionaea

# autoreconf -vi

# ./configure –with-lcfg-include=/opt/dionaea/include/

–with-lcfg-lib=/opt/dionaea/lib/

–with-python=/opt/dionaea/bin/python3.2

–with-cython-dir=/opt/dionaea/bin

–with-udns-include=/opt/dionaea/include/

–with-udns-lib=/opt/dionaea/lib/

–with-emu-include=/opt/dionaea/include/

–with-emu-lib=/opt/dionaea/lib/

–with-gc-include=/usr/include/gc

–with-ev-include=/opt/dionaea/include

–with-ev-lib=/opt/dionaea/lib

–with-nl-include=/opt/dionaea/include

–with-nl-lib=/opt/dionaea/lib/

–with-curl-config=/usr/bin/

–with-pcap-include=/opt/dionaea/include

–with-pcap-lib=/opt/dionaea/lib/

# make

# make install

[/bash]

Configuring dionaea

The configuration file of dionaea is located under the $DIONAEA_HOME (which is /opt/dionaea), under the etc/dionaea/dionaea.conf configuration file. We can configure dionaea to log the following messages: debug, info, message, warning, critical and error. In the configuration file, there is a “levels” configuration parameter that we can use to specify what dionaea should log.

In the configuration file, there are the following sections:

  • Logging: Specifies what messages we would like to log. By default, we’re logging all messages in the log/dionaea.log and log/dionaea-errors.log.
  • Processors: The actions done on streams when getting attacked.
  • Downloads: A place to download the malicious malware.
  • Bitstreams: A place to download network streams, which can be useful for replaying the attack later when analyzing it.
  • Submit: Where to send files upon receiving them. By default, all the downloaded files are sent to Anubis, Norman and Mannheim’s university. If we don’t want to do that, we should remove the appropriate lines in the submit portion of the configuration file.
  • Listen: The addresses the dionaea will listen on. By default, it listens on all addresses on the computer running dionaea.
  • Modules: Specifies which modules to load and the options for each module. By default the following modules are loaded: curl, emu, pcap, nfq, python and nc. The python module is special as it can load Python scripts, which act as modules. There’s also a services = { … } directive that specifies all the services that will be loaded upon starting the dionaea. By default, the services below are enabled:

[plain]

services = {

serve = [“http”, “https”, “tftp”, “ftp”, “mirror”, “smb”, “epmap”, “sip”,”mssql”, “mysql”]

}

[/plain]

Each of those services is a special emulated version of a specific vulnerable service. The http module acts as a HTTP server, which uses the $DIONAEA_HOME/var/dionaea/wwwroot/ as DocumentRoot when requesting files.

Starting dionaea

After installation and configuration of dionaea, we can finally start it and start receiving new malware programs. To start dionaea, we need to run the command below:

[bash]

# /opt/dionaea/bin/dionaea -u nobody -g nogroup -p /opt/dionaea/var/dionaea.pid -D

Dionaea Version 0.1.0

Compiled on Linux/x86 at Sep 18 2012 08:19:02 with gcc 4.5.2

[18092012 09:38:44] dionaea dionaea.c:245: User nobody has uid 65534

[18092012 09:38:44] dionaea dionaea.c:264: Group nogroup has gid 65534

[/bash]

Dionaea is now running and will try to intercept the malware software programs. To check out the ports dionaea is listening on, we can run the netstat command:

[bash]

# netstat -lntup | grep dionaea

tcp    0 192.168.1.2:443       0.0.0.0:*           LISTEN  13167/dionaea

tcp    0 127.0.0.1:443       0.0.0.0:*           LISTEN  13167/dionaea

tcp    0 192.168.1.2:445           0.0.0.0:*           LISTEN  13167/dionaea

tcp    0 127.0.0.1:445       0.0.0.0:*           LISTEN  13167/dionaea

tcp    0 192.168.1.2:5060      0.0.0.0:*           LISTEN  13167/dionaea

tcp        0  0 127.0.0.1:5060      0.0.0.0:*           LISTEN  13167/dionaea

tcp    0 192.168.1.2:5061      0.0.0.0:*           LISTEN  13167/dionaea

tcp    0 127.0.0.1:5061      0.0.0.0:*           LISTEN  13167/dionaea

tcp    0 192.168.1.2:135       0.0.0.0:*           LISTEN  13167/dionaea

tcp    0 127.0.0.1:135       0.0.0.0:*           LISTEN  13167/dionaea

tcp    0 192.168.1.2:3306      0.0.0.0:*           LISTEN  13167/dionaea

tcp    0 192.168.1.2:42        0.0.0.0:*           LISTEN  13167/dionaea

tcp    0 127.0.0.1:42        0.0.0.0:*           LISTEN  13167/dionaea

tcp    0      0 192.168.1.2:80        0.0.0.0:*           LISTEN  13167/dionaea

tcp    0 127.0.0.1:80        0.0.0.0:*           LISTEN  13167/dionaea

tcp    0 192.168.1.2:21        0.0.0.0:*           LISTEN   13167/dionaea

tcp    0 127.0.0.1:21        0.0.0.0:*           LISTEN  13167/dionaea

tcp    0 192.168.1.2:1433      0.0.0.0:*           LISTEN  13167/dionaea

tcp    0 127.0.0.1:1433      0.0.0.0:*           LISTEN  13167/dionaea

tcp6   0 fe80::20a:cdff:fe05:443 :::*                LISTEN  13167/dionaea

tcp6   0 fe80::20a:cdff:fe05:445 :::*                LISTEN  13167/dionaea

tcp6   0 fe80::20a:cdff:fe0:5060 :::*                LISTEN  13167/dionaea

tcp6   0 fe80::20a:cdff:fe0:5061 :::*                LISTEN  13167/dionaea

tcp6   0 fe80::20a:cdff:fe05:135 :::*                LISTEN  13167/dionaea

tcp6   0 fe80::20a:cdff:fe0:3306 :::*                LISTEN  13167/dionaea

tcp6   0 fe80::20a:cdff:fe05::42 :::*                LISTEN  13167/dionaea

tcp6   0 fe80::20a:cdff:fe05::80 :::*                LISTEN  13167/dionaea

tcp6   0 fe80::20a:cdff:fe05::21 :::*                LISTEN  13167/dionaea

tcp6   0 fe80::20a:cdff:fe0:1433 :::*                LISTEN  13167/dionaea

[/bash]

We can see that dionaea is listening on the same ports but different interfaces. We can change the configuration settings to listen only on interface 192.168.1.2, thus making the services accessible by the outside world.

We can also configure dionaea to send updates over the XMPP protocol to enable real-time messaging as events are occurring on the server. The xmpp module is also capable of sending binaries over the xmpp protocol, thus sharing the downloaded malware between multiple users of dionaea.

Conclusion

We’ve seen how we can install and configure two honeypots: nepenthes and dionaea. We’ve looked at what these tools can do: they can download malware binary files, send them to various sharing places including IRC and XMPP chat and more.

Posted: January 29, 2021

Uh-oh!

We've encountered a new and totally unexpected error.

Get instant boot camp pricing

Thank you!

A new tab for your requested boot camp pricing will open in 5 seconds. If it doesn't open, click here.

Articles Author
Dejan Lukan
View Profile

Dejan Lukan is a security researcher for InfoSec Institute and penetration tester from Slovenia. He is very interested in finding new bugs in real world software products with source code analysis, fuzzing and reverse engineering. He also has a great passion for developing his own simple scripts for security related problems and learning about new hacking techniques. He knows a great deal about programming languages, as he can write in couple of dozen of them. His passion is also Antivirus bypassing techniques, malware research and operating systems, mainly Linux, Windows and BSD. He also has his own blog available here: http://www.proteansec.com/.