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This is a quite interesting article about honeypot awareness copied from cryptostorm's forum. "We" and "our" express the opinions of cryptostorm.

 

 

 

    “Weird heroes and mould-breaking champions exist as living proof to those who need it that the tyranny of the 'rat race' is not yet final.”

    ~ Hunter S. Thompson

 

What is a honeypot? A honeypot is a security resource set up specifically to draw in unsuspecting visitors and thereby compromise their security. The classic honeypot example in the "VPN industry" is that run by CumbaJohnny. This "VPN service" was set up, operated, and designed solely to gather information on 'carders' using it, and thereby prosecute them. There are others, although none as well-documented publicly and as bright-line in their goals as that one (we have found a honeypot VPN service run by a... an entity, and have been tracking it for more than a year - that story will continue elsewhere).

But apart from pure-form honeypots there's a sliding scale down from there. How about the "VPN service" that uses such badly designed encryption that it is effectively useless against even the most minimal surveillance effort? Customers pay to use it, largely unaware that this "private network" is cryptographically useless. The classic case of this was iPredator in its early years. As a reseller of Relakks' PPTP-based "VPN service," iPredator was offering a security tool that was functionally useless in securing anything. Eventually, when confronted, Peter Sunde admitted the tool was useful only to make a "political statement" and not as a security technique. Today, iPredator offers more competent service - although at last check, they still supported PPTP, as well.
 

Is that old-form iPredator a honeypot? The usage of honeypot usually suggests some sense of intentional setup: a trap. In that sense, it's a bad match. All evidence suggests iPredator offered only PPTP because it was cheap, easy to deploy, built-in to most client OSes, and what Relakks had already used. That's poor security procedures, but not a honeypot.

How about a "VPN service" that advertises itself aggressively as "secure" and "private" with "no logs," but privately acknowledges that it hands over dockets on its customers to LEO dozens of times a month, on an "unofficial" basis - no warrants required? In this case, the company is actively marketing itself as "secure" and its marketing emphasizes the "no logging" element - which, of course, is total nonsense. This is much closer to a honeypot: there's an intentional misrepresentation, an effort to make visitors feel safe while knowing they're anything but.

So how do you know if a security service you are using is a honeypot?

We get asked this question alot. Often, it's from "trolls" or paid shills for other "VPN services" who are looking to limit competent competition. It's the nature of the business that such things happen; we take it in stride. Sometimes, smart members or prospective members ask about honeypot concerns, and we point them to that CumbaJohnny article and encourage them to do their own digging and research, and make their own decisions. That's all well and good, but there's not much out there worth reading on this subject, unfortunately. What is there usually has that kind of linear, overly-simplistic "don't get caught in honeypots!!" sort of useless advice that has nothing to say in terms of specifics.

So we've been kicking around our in-house views and advice on this topic. This article summarises what we know.

First off, talking about - and asking about honeypots and honeypotting and general trust in technology is good. Without discussion and questions being asked, this whole topic gets shrouded in FUD and whispered nonsense - that doesn't improve security and it doesn't keep people safe. On the flipside, talking about honeypotting and honeypot awareness will inevitably result in more accusations of being a honeypot - once folks realise this is an important topic with few cut-and-dried answers, they start to see honeypots everywhere. The pendulum swings. We are used to this, and on balance it works out ok,

But the real question is: how can someone determine whether a given service is a honeypot, or not? What's the punchlist to make that determination with confidence? And, in short, there is no such punchlist and no way to answer definitively. Sorry. That's reality.

So the first lesson is this: anyone who tells you they can prove they aren't a honeypot is, at best, not credible in their expertise and, at worst, has something overt they are trying to hide (like being a honeypot). There's things we might feel help gain confidence in a resource, but nothing to prove it's solid.
 

The flipside is that it is possible - on very rare occasions - to prove that something is a honeypot. Listen to those warnings, of they come! In the CumbaJohnny case, one researcher (Max Vision) noted that the server sometimes leaked IP addresses directly tied to the FBI. That's pretty much solid proof, by anyone's definition. He was largely ignored, under the assumption he was just a jealous admin of a competing site (which was true) and that his evidence was faked (which was not true - it was real). "I heard from this guy who heard from this guy" isn't hard evidence; nor, sadly, is the much-loved screenshot. It is very easy to fake most any screenshot, sorry but true. If you are experienced enough to understand the details of this sort of thing, you'll know if a service leaks a proof-positive instance of honeypotting. Watch for those, although they're quite rare.

That leaves us with a very large middle ground - not proved honeypots, but also no way to prove them 100% secure. Here's our rules of thumb, that we as a team use personally and have developed over decades of life out in the digital wilds...
 

    1. Something looks too good to be true? That's a concern. The honeypot service we mentioned, that we've been tracking for a while, gives away their service. That makes you wonder, doesn't it? Note: this is not to say any free service is a honeypot, so just stop ok? We're saying that too good to be true is a possible red flag. Same goes for ridiculous claims of magical crypto or whatnot: if it sounds fishy, check deeper.

    2. If it's too shiny and perfect, think twice. This one is really subjective, but we stand by it. Real life has bumps and scratches and bits of chuff sitting around. That's life. Real teams, working hard and under pressure and tight on cash, miss stuff like that sometimes - it happens. Broken link on a website, etc. In contrast, things that are so perfect they just sparkle make us nervous. There's a certain twitter account, and "he" seems to be available 24/7. Every link is perfect. Every page has Excellent Graphics. Each post is without typo, every blog entry formatted to spec. This is totally, wildly unrealistic for anyone who actually lives in tech. For the general public, it seems an image they love: the Super Hacker Elite, no mistakes. Hoo-rah! But in reality, that's not how it is. What such perfection suggests is a great team: PR flack, a few interns, steely-eyed ops managers, etc. Think of those rooms of spooky-good workers in the Bourne movies. They don't have many typos, their blog posts go out on time, they don't drunk-tweet. Watch for a drunk-tweet now and again... a sign of mortal humans, not honeypots run by efficient LEO.
 

    3. If the people associated with the project do strange and organic things, that's a good sign. Some projects have had coders who embodied nasty, ugly ideologies regarding racial topics. That's sad... but also not likely to happen in a well-run honeypot, is it? Not impossible of course - an existing project that gets "turned" could have all these little rough corners... but on balance, strangely discongruent stuff helps build confidence. No governmental agency or competent LEO operation is going to put a hard-drinking racist slob in charge of the servers... even if she's the best in the world at that particular job. Too risky, not their style.

    4. Idiosyncratic tech choices can go either way. LEO and honeypots in general are going to go for low-risk, boring tools with licensing agreements and sales reps, on average. Wild-eyed, loopy, big-dreaming crypto tech teams usually have at least one erratic tech choice in the mix, and often more than one. We only communicate by... Pond! Or: our servers all run... whonix! You get the point. Real technologists develop fetish-like obsessions with weird areas of tech, often somewhat impractical and difficult to understand from the outside. This is a badge of authenticity, however, frustrating it may be otherwise. A tech team with no such fascinations? Again, just a bit too white-gloved and perhaps worth a second look.
 

    5. Backstory. This is a big one, a very big one. Every tech team - every man or woman in the security tech world - has a backstory. Some really don't want to share those backstories, for any of a host of reasons. Fair enough. Some want to splash their PR pictures all over the website. Again: fair enough. Some are shy, some introverted, some loud-mouth braggarts. They're all, unquestionably, people: human people, with flaws and history and strange quirks and dark corners and, as often as not, more than a few scuffed spots somewhere in the past. Few will post all that on the project blog... not unheard-of, but rare. More common, folks will suggest that they're "known in the community." A bit of asking around, someone who knows someone who knows someone... and there's likely someone who got drunk with that person at some con a decade ago and ended up in a public restroom singing marching tunes. Or whatever. Point being: this is a very, very small world - the security tech world. Everyone knows everyone, everyone has history... and if people show up (or personas, really) that nobody knows firsthand? That's odd. No dirty stories of old days gone bad? A little odd, unless they're academics who tend to be more white-gloved (not always!). No fingerprints left anywhere in terms of past projects, failed startups, burned colleagues, jilted lovers, embarrassing rap sheets? Suspicious as fuck. Sorry, that's how we call it.

    6. Shifty about discussing honeypots, snitching, LEO, and in general questions of trust? That's a concern, right there. Some folks get furious when accused of snitchy honeypotting. Some ignore it as beneath them, snooty and contemptuous. Some try to argue the trolls to a standstill when such questions come up, and some fume and vow revenge. All are, in a sense, valid replies - human replies. Honeypots seem to float above this fray, often as not. A shiny, teflon veneer. No response if questioned about such things: no emotion. This isn't a 100% rule, and indeed no honeypot rules are (see above). Some honeypots in other areas have been super-aggressive in attacking anyone who questioned them. That can be a red flag, too. Responding with indignation is one thing; going all red-hot-vengeance is sort of over the top. Mostly, look for a human, imperfect, varied, erratic, slightly ragged response... that's how reality often is. Good days, bad days... variation. And variation among the team. Some might be dismissive, some steely-eyed angry. Variation makes sense, for a real team.
 

    7. Weird, unexplained absences that never really get folded into the narrative are a huuuuuge red flag. LEO seems to do these sorts of days-long absences - for training, for meetings, for whatever - far more than do real tech ops teams. Real teams are used to being paged 24/7, pinged by phones, tweeted at in the shower, called, jabbered, IM'd... the works. We might vanish for a few days due to exhaustion, personal crusades, whatever - but usually these vanishments fit in somehow, even if in only a jagged and weird way for folks watching from a distance. But the LEO vanishments, they seem to happen unannounced - and remain unexplained later, A drunk reply from an overworked sysadmin is really human and not totally uncommon, nor is a frazzled tech support staffer being needlessly crabby. Robotic drones that vanish for days, and then show back up as if nothing happened? That's a big read flag. Unless they were in jail, in which case... well, could go either way tbh. :-)

    8, Finally, and somewhat in summary, watch for gloves too white. This is security tech. It's not golf course management. That's not to say everyone in the infosec world is secretly a black hat rooting servers at night - obviously that's both silly and disrespectful and we make no such intimation. However, really.. if someone is so spooked by any rub-up with the seedier elements then that's a bit of a flag. Yes, the outfits selling 0days to spooky govs are less likely to be mixing with the hacker rabble... but not really, in fact. Where to the 0days come from? Where do they hire their analysts? Even those shops rarely have pure-white gloves. So if you see shiny-white gloves, what's that about?


Security tech and trust are intertwined. They always will be. Inside this little bubble of reality, many such decisions are made based on personal relationships and personal trust. We know someone, who knows someone, who has known someone for a very long time and trusts them - technically, personally, whatever. And we do make decisions about tech like this, often. Why use that OS, or that tool, or that parameter set? We know this gal, she's best-in-class. She is the uber-expert on that particular thing. And she says it's the bee's knees. She will talk your ear off for hours explaining why, and likely has. That - that matters. Listen to that, in our world.

Same goes for honeypot awareness. The deep tech people, the ones with roots and history and old feuds and scars and blurred memories and stories they'd rather not tell about mistakes they wish they didn't make? Ask them. They may have an ugly feud with a team or a person... but they'll likely know if that's a legit project or not. If nobody knows a team, nobody can say good or bad? That's a big flag.
 

To wrap it up, scars and rough edges prove a real existence. Nobody gets far in this space without racking up a good bit of both. Enemies, failures, embarrassing episodes. Broken tech. Also of course smashing victories, brilliant code, vibrant github porftolios... it's all part of being genuine, the good and the bad. If you winnow out anyone and any project with any "bad," what you're doing is ensuring that real teams are out of the running - for any real team has scars as well as plaudits. If you do that, what's left is basically the fake - and a good-sized chunk of those are honeypots.

That's our view of the terrain, take from it what you will.

 


» I am not an AirVPN team member. All opinions are my own and are not official. Refer to Staff postings for the official word.

» These are the community forums, not the support portal. You're writing with other users here.

» New here? LZ1's New User Guide to AirVPN. Use the search function, Luke!

» Tor exits behind a VPN connection are discouraged. Using Tor on the other hand is not.

 

» Privacy is like alcohol: Drink a little and it can help you stay unnoticed. Drink a lot and everyone will notice you.

» I cannot give you the solution to all your issues. But I can guide you to it. The rest is up to you.

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These types of threads always "start me thinking".  My reliance is then deflected to a significant partition of trust with respect to connectivity.  There will never be 100% comfort even here with Air.  Its just unsafe to ever go with "certain" as your mental posture because it will cause you to drop your guard.

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I must admit I own a tinfoil hat.

 

By that I mean that I believe in redundant security tools, practices and methods.


Debugging is at least twice as hard as writing the program in the first place.

So if you write your code as clever as you can possibly make it, then by definition you are not smart enough to debug it.

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Oh, now this is delicious. Cryptostorm on trust and honeypots? Well they would know, that's for sure. Let's do some investigatory journalism googling.

 

1. Who's behind CryptoStorm?

 

CryptoStorm is a reincarnation of VPN service CryptoCloud, a subsidiary (or possibly close working partner) of Baneki Privacy Computing

source

 

2. Any interesting people @ Baneki? Let's ask Bloomberg:

 

Baneki Privacy Computing, Inc.

Mr. Douglas Spink

Chief Technology Officer

source

3. Spink, Spink, I've heard that funny name before...

 

Spink was arrested in 2005 after investigators pulled him over with a load of nearly 375 pounds of cocaine, valued at $34 million. He was given a lenient, three-year sentence because of his extensive cooperation with investigators.

source


4. But wait, there's more:
 

In April 2010, ex-cocaine smuggler Douglas Spink briefly dominated headlines when police raided his property in Whatcom County, Washington. Inside, they found a Welsh tourist making use of what the press has since described as an animal brothel, replete with tail-less mice covered in Vaseline. Overnight, Spink became the poster boy for the bizarre, brutal world of bestiality.

source

5. Fast forward to that 2014 CryptoStorm post:
 

Backstory. This is a big one, a very big one. Every tech team - every man or woman in the security tech world - has a backstory. Some really don't want to share those backstories, for any of a host of reasons.

 

If the people associated with the project do strange and organic things, that's a good sign.

 

 

People "associated with CryptoCloud/CryptoStorm" have been up to strange things indeed, wouldn't you say?


Postscript

My post is, I hope that's obvious, polemical. I don't claim that Spink still pulls the strings over there (which would be difficult anyway because I think he is, once more, back in jail).

 

However, these are my serious points:

 

  • Considering Baneki's "backstory", any serious person would run for the hills. Yet, CryptoStorm is still a thing. That should make you wonder about those who willingly associate themselves with such a tarnished project.

 

  • CryptoStorm try to up their "street cred" by talking some "real shit" about "LEOs", "spooks", "paid shills", and who to trust. They want to teach you how to spot dodgy people. For me, that itself is the biggest warning sign of all. That's exactly how I would advertise my own honeypots.

all of my content is released under CC-BY-SA 2.0

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Cryptostorm is not a honeypot.  They have no association with Spink (they used to, but don't any more).  I know the whole story behind this.  To sum it up, his dumb ass got arrested for something completely unrelated, and the remaining show-runners revoked all access of his to everything in the system and have severed all ties with him.  If you are looking on the Cryptostorm forums,  any posts by "Pattern_Juggled" were Spink. He's gone and has been for a number of months now. Spink is/was an eccentric character, but that doesn't really have anything to do with Cryptostorm or who is running it at this point.  It also has nothing to do with the amazing infrastructure that was set up, and how every single thing that company does revolves around them having no ability to discern who you are.  Not even AirVPN is as good at anonymizing us as they are.

 

Besides AirVPN, Cryptostorm is the only other VPN provider I trust to maintain my privacy/anonymity.  They literally have no way of knowing who is connecting to their network, and they don't care.  If you have a token, you can connect.  You can buy a token anonymously with any cryptocurrency you want, either directly from them, or from a reseller.  Hell, they prefer that you DO NOT buy it from them.  That would be odd if they were a honeypot.  I could buy a token and sell it to you, and they'd have no freaking clue who you are. There's no connection logs or logs of any other kind.  You can jump on through TOR if you are that paranoid.  Or use TOR once you are on there.  They don't care.  If anything they are way too inattentive to their network.  

 

Take off the tin foil.  Cryptostorm is fine.  I understand that it's fun to fill unknowns with paranoia, and to jump to ridiculous conclusions based on our gaps in our personal knowledge, but in this case, just because some dude likes to screw animals doesn't mean a website is a government honeypot.  You just can't stretch that far.  Sorry.

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severed all ties with him.  If you are looking on the Cryptostorm forums,  any posts by "Pattern_Juggled" were Spink.

 

Thanks for pointing that out, because the Cryptostorm people certainly didn't:

Pattern_Juggled still holds the title Site Admin. Forums usually allow you to ban accounts or change at least their title, but apparently Cryptostorm don't think it's necessary to visibly distance themselves from their former admin, now convicted zoophilic, snitching drug-smuggler. Is that how you handle this correctly? Really?

 

 

in this case, just because some dude likes to screw animals doesn't mean a website is a government honeypot.  You just can't stretch that far.  Sorry.

 

Now you're the one stretching and reaching. Read my post, I don't claim CS to be a honeypot. I'm expressing how CS excude a terribly seedy atmosphere, underlined not only by Spink's prior involvement, but (more importantly even) also the ridiculous amount of gobbledegook and hot air. All of their material reads like it's written by 15-year olds.

 

For example, first, they don't even think about declaring their software license. Then, they pick a non-free license. Seriously? Who approaches software development like that?

 

 

If anything they are way too inattentive to their network.

 

Yeah, I think they are inattentive to a lot of things. Like proper, clear documentation. Is their forum section "how it works | guides, whitepapers, tech details [cryptostorm.org/howto]" the right place to look for whitepapers and tech details? Because all I see are connection howtos and a lot of hot air. Please, point me to whitepapers, audit reports, or at least server-side tech details. I'm happy that you're confident in their network but I can't find anything that would convince me. Their pompous forum posts are void of any technical information.

 

This is the "best" description of their token system I could dig up. They're rambling and rambling and spewing gobbledegook. Nothing of substance, no specification, no server-side code, nothing.

 

Whitepapers? Specs? Implementation details about their their "darknet"? Anything remotely like this or this?

 

 

Take off the tin foil.

 

I'm not wearing any: My disdain for CS is not fueled by paranoia, but lack of credible information that would support anything CS do. All there is to be found is evidence to the contrary: a poorly run project with a dubious past.


all of my content is released under CC-BY-SA 2.0

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I gently remind you that this topic is about honeypots and honeypot awareness. The article has been solely posted to give a few starting arguments and I thought we'd have a small discussion about that. Source has been given for the sake of completeness and because it's good practice, not for the sake of digging deeper into it, Mr. sheivoko, even if your findings could explain some of the points in the article.

 

But then again, we are NOT going to work out pros and cons of cryptostorm as a VPN provider, please stop discussions about them. I suppose, we're not going to leave AirVPN, anyway, so why evaluating other VPN providers, and why here?

 

(Sent via Tapatalk - this generally means I'm not sitting in front of my PC)


» I am not an AirVPN team member. All opinions are my own and are not official. Refer to Staff postings for the official word.

» These are the community forums, not the support portal. You're writing with other users here.

» New here? LZ1's New User Guide to AirVPN. Use the search function, Luke!

» Tor exits behind a VPN connection are discouraged. Using Tor on the other hand is not.

 

» Privacy is like alcohol: Drink a little and it can help you stay unnoticed. Drink a lot and everyone will notice you.

» I cannot give you the solution to all your issues. But I can guide you to it. The rest is up to you.

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True. Thanks for the redirection, Giga. There is indeed a reason why I spend 10 times more of my time at AirVPN than I do at Cryptostorm. I just trust AirVPN more. But I'm always going to keep a token over there, just in case.

 

I suppose I don't have anything constructive to add to the discussion about honeypots themselves at this time, so I'll respectful bow out.

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I suppose I don't have anything constructive to add to the discussion about honeypots themselves at this time, so I'll respectful bow out.

 

Your choice, of course.

 

I'm thinking about a "trust test", kind of. Between you and the "test subject" you set up a VPN server or some kind of proxy you control. Then you start doing things and wait for the VPN provider to react to it (how does provider XYZ react to people doing this and that on their network?). If they react to whatever you've done, you can be sure this provider knows something he shouldn't know. Kill the proxy, create a new one and do this again with some other provider. Trust test.

The proxy is necessary for your security - if you are torrenting using a direct connection, the VPN provider will know your real IP and if they log or save info about you in any way, you're toast.

 

This will not directly flag the provider as a honeypot, but it might be a step in this direction.


» I am not an AirVPN team member. All opinions are my own and are not official. Refer to Staff postings for the official word.

» These are the community forums, not the support portal. You're writing with other users here.

» New here? LZ1's New User Guide to AirVPN. Use the search function, Luke!

» Tor exits behind a VPN connection are discouraged. Using Tor on the other hand is not.

 

» Privacy is like alcohol: Drink a little and it can help you stay unnoticed. Drink a lot and everyone will notice you.

» I cannot give you the solution to all your issues. But I can guide you to it. The rest is up to you.

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I must admit I own a tinfoil hat.

 

By that I mean that I believe in redundant security tools, practices and methods.

i watched that movie too

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I must admit I own a tinfoil hat.

 

By that I mean that I believe in redundant security tools, practices and methods.

i watched that movie too

I honestly have no idea what movie that would be. I am being totally serious.


Debugging is at least twice as hard as writing the program in the first place.

So if you write your code as clever as you can possibly make it, then by definition you are not smart enough to debug it.

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I must admit I own a tinfoil hat.

 

By that I mean that I believe in redundant security tools, practices and methods.

i watched that movie too

I honestly have no idea what movie that would be. I am being totally serious.

 

 

Signs. Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix. 

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I have nothing to hide, but that's nobody's business!

Our society is run by insane people for insane objectives. I think we're being run by maniacs for maniacal ends and I think I'm liable to be put away as insane for expressing that. That's what's insane about it.
John Lennon
The further a society drift from truth the more it will hate those that speak it.
George Orwell

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