Honeycombing the Internet
Use honeyclient projects to help protect your organization.
Honeyclient research efforts have very practical application for IT and security managers, and can help improve browser and network security practices in everyday corporate use.
A good place to start to understand the scope of honeyclients is to download the German Honeynet Project paper Know Your Enemy: Malicious Web Servers (www.honeynet.org/papers/mws/), along with the data set of suspected URLs and description of mitigation actions you can take to try to avoid Web-based infections. The researchers offer suggestions for creating URL blacklists, what to patch and when, and choosing the right desktop browser software.
One of their recommendations is to use a browser with minimal market share. "The tests we conducted show that a simple but effective way to remove yourself as a targeted user is to use a non-mainstream application, such as Opera. Despite the existence of vulnerabilities, this browser didn't seem to be a target," say the paper's authors. Of course, one problem with picking a less-known browser is that many sites don't work well when viewed with it.
Next, IT managers need to ensure that their users' machines are running with best practices, including personal firewalls and/or host-based intrusion detection software. If you're an IE shop, upgrade to IE 7 and run users in non-administrative modes to prevent possible infections. Unlike earlier versions, IE 7 runs a separate "sandbox" by default to limit its exposure.
Finally, make sure to patch third-party applications and client software, particularly those that make up any supported browser plug-ins, viewers and other secondary pieces that are commonly used along with the main browser software.
"Everyone now should have a pretty good understanding of the Micro-soft patch cycle, but do you also patch all of your Shockwave or Flash clients too?" asks Thorsten Holz of the German Honeynet Project.
Open HoneyClient (www.honeyclient.org/trac) began by extending the original work on the honeynet server-based project. This open source initiative, sponsored by Mitre and researchers from Germany and New Zealand, publishes the code and VMware images that can be used to construct honeyclient systems to seek exploits against IE and Firefox systems.
"We also have different configurations that we are testing, such as ranging from Windows XP with SP2 to XP without any patches," says Kathy Wang, a lead information security engineer at Mitre.