Security Honey Pots May Snare Private Details

By inviting attackers to infect an unprotected server or network, honey pots serve as "an incredibly valuable tool" for fighting hackers and viruses. But the more data a company pulls, such as IM conversations, the more potential privacy issue

Though some legal issues still surround "honey pots," their use within the security industry is fairly common and is considered a critical weapon in fighting malicious hackers and viruses.

"Theyre an incredibly valuable tool," said Rich Mogull, research director at analyst firm Gartner Inc. of Stamford, Conn. "You cant really know whats happening without monitoring whats going on in the world. Honey pots and honey nets do a good job of this."

Setting up an unprotected server or network invites attackers to infect or examine the system. The honey pots are then used to track the hackers and collect data on the way the intruders operate. Information collected in honey pots is typically used to power early warning and prediction systems.

"Its not something every organization needs, but I expect all security vendors to do be doing something [like this]," Mogull said. "Thats how youre going to find out what the new threats are, without compromising your real systems."

IMlogic Inc. of Waltham, Mass., told it would use IM honey pots to drive its Threat Center initiative, which will warn vendors of new spam and malware attacks.

/zimages/2/28571.gifRead more here about honey pots and how they work.

Though Gartners Mogull wasnt at all surprised that IMlogic would employ this technique, legal issues still can arise from honey pots if security vendors and enterprises arent careful.

For one, enterprises could be found liable if hackers were to use honey pots as a launching pad to harm another entity.

"If youve created a dangerous, open resource, youve created a tool for hackers to use," said Benjamin Wright, an attorney and instructor at the SANS Institute. "You need to avoid anything that encourages damage to a third party."

One way to avoid that, he said, is to label the honey pot as off limits, or a resource that is private property, which outsiders are not authorized to use. Such labeling also would help ward off the common defense tactic of citing "entrapment" in the case of prosecution.

"Entrapment is when somebody induces the criminal to do something he was not otherwise imposed to do," Wright said. He explained that its a common misconception that organizations can be sued for entrapment, when in reality, its used only to defend the accused and should not be a concern for enterprises.

Next Page: Overstepping the bounds of privacy?