We are all painfully aware of the term Fake News. Irrespective of your political leanings, the term has become a mainstream reference for facts, alternative facts, conspiracy theories, and outright lies with which you may disagree. Fake news labels something as “untrue,” and, in the cybersecurity world, it also represents an up-and-coming trend to create a new defensive strategy to detect cyber attacks. But let us first consider an old-school cybersecurity concept called a honeypot.
A honeypot is a computer or network technology implementation designed to detect, deflect, or counteract attempts at unauthorized resource access. It does this by providing a “fake” set of crown jewels or services to lure a threat actor. A typical honeypot consists of data that appears to be a legitimate part of the environment, but is actually isolated and monitored for attacks. Traffic to the honeypot can be IP-based or port routing from many addresses to a single destination. For example, port 25 - SMTP should not be open on client networks. All traffic destined to port 25 on end-user workstation subnets may be rerouted to a honeypot for capturing and investigation and to determine if a host may be acting as a mail relay. Honeypots are essentially a “fake” environment to monitor a threat actor and their activity to learn and craft a defense.
While honeypots are not new, there are enhanced techniques to take them beyond routing network traffic. Consider the premise of deceptive accounts. A deceptive account is a “fake” account that has real privileges to a honeypot or other form of “fake” data. Any attempt to use the account, or rogue activity, is potentially an indicator of compromise. If you monitor all access and usage to the deceptive account (since it should never really be used) then you might be able to entrap a threat actor while they attempt to laterally move and compromise resources within your environment. The deceptive account is essentially being monitored for privileged activity and if you seed that account in potentially known high risk (vulnerable) locations, then you can track how it was compromised in the first place. For example, if a deceptive account is used in cloud resources, potentially enabled as a “fake” admin or database account, any attempts to use it, or identify its presence on the dark web, would indicate a potential attack vector. Thus, any actions taken with the deceptive account would be “fake news” since anything compromised behind it would be fake as well. The concept is a misleading strategy to protect your organization, much like “fake news” itself!
How Privileged Access Management Can Help
If this concept interests you, you should consider privileged access management (PAM). Privileged access management provides an essential layer of security that makes it difficult both for threat actors to gain access and have a persistent presence since all privileged access is gated and passwords are rotated on a periodic basis. The deceptive account is, therefore, a trojan, but its activity should be managed closely to detect when it has been compromised as a part of your honeypot strategy.
- Real accounts should have their credentials placed under management and their activity monitored and managed on a regular basis
- Deceptive accounts should be excluded from privileged access management since their compromise is much more likely if they are unmanaged
Privileged access management then protects all of your real accounts and data from any other potential abuse.
For more on how BeyondTrust can protect your real accounts and design a modern deceptive account strategy to protect your organization, contact us today.
Morey J. Haber, Chief Security Officer, BeyondTrust
Morey J. Haber is the Chief Security Officer at BeyondTrust. He has more than 25 years of IT industry experience and has authored four books: Privileged Attack Vectors, Asset Attack Vectors, Identity Attack Vectors, and Cloud Attack Vectors. He is a founding member of the industry group Transparency in Cyber, and in 2020 was elected to the Identity Defined Security Alliance (IDSA) Executive Advisory Board. Morey currently oversees BeyondTrust security and governance for corporate and cloud based solutions and regularly consults for global periodicals and media. He originally joined BeyondTrust in 2012 as a part of the eEye Digital Security acquisition where he served as a Product Owner and Solutions Engineer since 2004. Prior to eEye, he was Beta Development Manager for Computer Associates, Inc. He began his career as Reliability and Maintainability Engineer for a government contractor building flight and training simulators. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from the State University of New York at Stony Brook.