An Intrusion Prevention System (IPS) is a cybersecurity tool that proactively scans network traffic to identify and defend against potential threats. IPSs developed from Intrusion Detection Systems (IDSs). They are now considered an essential part of any robust cybersecurity strategy. Here is a quick guide to what you need to know about them.
Before looking into the details of how an IPS works, it’s helpful to understand why a business might want to use one in the first place. With that in mind, here is an overview of the three main benefits of using an IPS.
Better threat protection: An IPS can identify and neutralize a diverse range of threats, including malware, exploits, and denial-of-service (DoS) attacks. This proactive approach ensures a resilient defense against evolving cyber threats.
Improving network visibility: An IPS enhances network visibility by continuously monitoring and analyzing network traffic. This heightened visibility allows security teams to gain comprehensive insights into the dynamics of the network, identify patterns of normal and abnormal behavior, and promptly respond to emerging security challenges.
Automated monitoring and operational efficiency: An IPS can automate the monitoring of network traffic, enabling real-time threat detection and response. The automated nature of IPS reduces the reliance on manual intervention, enhancing operational efficiency. Security teams can focus on strategic tasks, while IPS efficiently handles the identification and prevention of potential security breaches.
Here is a quick overview of the four main types of IPS and their use cases.
Network-Based IPS (NIPS): Monitors inbound and outbound network traffic at strategic points, often behind firewalls, to detect and prevent malicious activities.
Host-Based IPS (HIPS): Installs on specific endpoints like servers or laptops, scrutinizing traffic to and from the device, providing an additional layer of protection.
Wireless IPS (WIPS): Focuses on monitoring wireless network protocols, detecting and preventing unauthorized access or potential threats in a company’s Wi-Fi environment.
Network Behavior Analysis (NBA): Examines network traffic flows, identifying abnormal patterns or behaviors that might indicate threats like DDoS attacks or malware.
Here is a brief overview of the five main functions of an IPS
Monitoring network traffic: By inspecting communication patterns and packet content, IPS identifies anomalies that could signify malicious activities or potential threats.
Automated threat prevention: An IPS can execute automated threat prevention measures such as blocking specific IP addresses, terminating user sessions, or redirecting traffic to secure environments like honeypots.
Network security policy enforcement: One of an IPS’s core functions is to enforce predefined rules and parameters to ensure a secure network environment. An IPS will automatically block actions that violate these policies.
Security team support: An IPS helps security teams in two ways. Firstly, its automated response capability reduces their workload. Secondly, it can generate detailed alerts and reports, enabling security analysts to investigate incidents promptly.
Compliance support: By actively enforcing security policies and generating detailed logs of network activities, IPS contributes essential data for compliance audits. This proactive adherence to regulatory standards ensures that organizations align with industry-specific security mandates and legal frameworks.
As standard, IPSs use three main threat-detection methods. From the macro level to the micro level, these are policy-based detection, signature-based detection, and anomaly-based detection. Here is an overview of each of these methods and their use cases.
Policy-based detection: Policy-based detection allows organizations to define specific security policies tailored to their unique requirements. IPS utilizes these policies to evaluate network traffic and identify deviations from established norms. Customization empowers organizations to align the IPS with their security objectives and compliance mandates.
Signature-based detection: Signature-based detection involves matching known attack patterns, or signatures, against the incoming network traffic. These signatures are predefined sets of characteristics that correspond to identified threats. The mechanism relies on pattern recognition to pinpoint and block recognized malicious activities.
Anomaly-based detection: Anomaly-based detection requires the IPS to establish a baseline of normal network behavior. This enables it to identify deviations from the usual behavior patterns that may be indicative of potential threats. This makes IPSs effective against evolving attack techniques and novel threats such as zero-day exploits (attacks exploiting vulnerabilities unknown to security experts).
There are also two other threat-detection methods that are beginning to be deployed more frequently. These are reputation-based detection and stateful protocol analysis.
Reputation-based detection: This relies on assessing the reputation or trustworthiness of entities to identify potential threats. It evaluates historical behavior and associations to determine the likelihood of malicious activity.
Stateful protocol analysis: This involves examining the context and state of network protocols during communication. Instead of solely focusing on individual packets, the IPS considers the overall flow of communication and the expected protocol states. Deviations from normal protocol behavior can indicate potential threats.
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