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A Quick Guide To IDS vs IPS

A Quick Guide To IDS vs IPS

It’s indisputable that networks must be secured against cyberthreats. The only question is how best to go about doing it. The answer to this question will depend on your individual situation. For example, some businesses may need an IDS, others may need an IPS, and others may need both. With that in mind, here is a quick guide to IDS vs IPS.

IDS and IPS: key similarities

IDS and IPS are very similar tools. They are both designed to monitor network traffic for any signs of concerning behavior and respond to any concerning behavior they identify. IDS and IPS are deployed in exactly the same way. The vast majority of their functionality is identical. Here is a quick overview of what that means in practice.


Both IDS and IPS can be deployed either through stand-alone hardware devices or through software. Hardware-based solutions offer the highest levels of performance and reliability but at the highest price. Also, they are often more challenging to update than software-based solutions. Hardware-based solutions are therefore generally used by larger companies that process high volumes of traffic on stable infrastructure.

Software-based solutions use the existing resources. They are hence unlikely to be able to offer the same level of performance as dedicated hardware. On the other hand, they are both much more affordable and much easier to update. Software-based solutions are therefore generally used by smaller companies with more dynamic infrastructure.

Additionally, both IDS and IPS can be deployed in the same range of environments.

Cloud-based: This approach leverages cloud platforms for intrusion detection, and analyzing network traffic in the cloud. This approach provides centralized security management, making it scalable and well-suited for organizations with distributed or cloud-centric operations.

Network-based: This approach monitors network traffic as it touches strategic locations such as routers or switches, NIDS offers a holistic view of network threats, making it suitable for large-scale monitoring.

Host-based: This approach provides tailored protection for individual devices. It has long been seen as crucial for protecting servers and is now often used on endpoints, particularly mobile devices.

Wireless: This approach ensures that wireless networks get additional protection that reflects their higher level of vulnerability compared to regular cabled networks. WIDS focuses on monitoring wireless network traffic and addressing threats specific to wireless environments.

Method of operation

Continuing in the vein of IDS and IPS rather than IDS vs IPS, both IDS and IPS use the same range of detection methods. The core detection methods are:

Signature-based detection: Identifying known threats through predefined patterns.
Anomaly-based detection: Detecting deviations from established baselines.
Heuristic-based detection: Analyzing behavioral patterns using general rules and algorithms.

There is also growing use of:

Behavioral-based detection: Observing deviations from typical behavior.
Network behavior analysis (NBA): Monitoring and analyzing patterns in network traffic.

Heuristics, behavioral-based detection, and network-behavior analysis are all much more resource-intensive than signature-based and anomaly-based detection. As such, they are more suited to hardware-based solutions than software-based solutions. Even then, they are generally used after signature- and anomaly-based detection. With that said, as IDS and IPS technology continues to develop, it is likely that these approaches will be used more.

IDS vs. IPS: the key difference

Where the issue of IDS vs IPS does occur is at the point where a potential threat is detected. IDS stands for intrusion detection system. As its name suggests, IDS is purely used to monitor for threats. It is not directly used to respond to them. IPS stands for Intrusion Prevention System. As its name suggests, this actively works to prevent intrusion. In other words, it can directly respond to threats without human intervention.

IDS vs. IPS which one is right for you?

Ultimately, your choice of IDS vs IPS boils down to your priorities. If your top priority is to maximize business continuity, then IDS is the better choice. If your top priority is to minimize the risk of a successful attack, then IPS is the better choice.

The main reason for this is the issue of false positives. This affects both IDS and IPS. With IDS, however, a human administrator can step in and confirm the activity is safe. This will prevent any defensive action from being taken unnecessarily. It will therefore minimize the likelihood of unwarranted business disruption.

By contrast, with an IPS, the system will act without direct human intervention. This means that false positives can trigger responses that block legitimate business activities. A human administrator can step in later and confirm the defensive action was not required. By that point, however, the disruption will already have occurred.

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