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What Is An IPS (Definition)?

What Is An IPS (Definition)?

Cybersecurity is no longer just a concern for specialist professionals or even broader IT staff. It is, or should be, a concern for everyone. With that in mind, here is a simple answer to the common question “What is an IPS (definition)?”

What is an IPS (definition)?

The simplest answer to the question “What is an IPS (definition)?” is that IPS stands for Intrusion Prevention System. A more complete answer to the question “What is an IPS (definition)?” is that an IPS is a security tool that monitors internal network traffic.

If an IPS detects concerning activity, it can autonomously take defensive action. This is the key difference between an IPS and an IDS (Intrusion Detection System). An IDS simply raises an alert about the issue. Other security tools, or human administrators, need to deal with it.

IPS detection methods

An IPS monitors the volume and content of traffic. Monitoring the volume simply requires it to keep track of the number of data packets passing through the system. Monitoring the content of the traffic requires the IPS to analyze the packet headers. The primary IPS detection methods are signature-based detection and anomaly-based detection.

Signature-based detection: This method involves comparing observed network traffic against a database of predefined signatures or patterns associated with known cyber threats. It effectively detects known threats with established signatures, providing a robust defense against well-known attack vectors.

Anomaly-based detection: This method focuses on identifying deviations from established baselines or normal behavior within the network. It is capable of detecting previously unknown or zero-day attacks by recognizing abnormal patterns or behaviors.

There are many other detection methodologies an IPS can potentially use. These include:

Heuristic-based detection: This method involves identifying patterns or behaviors that may indicate a potential threat based on general rules and algorithms. It enables the detection of novel attack patterns without relying on specific signatures, offering flexibility in identifying emerging threats.

Behavioral-based detection: This method observes the typical behavior of users, systems, or networks and triggers alerts when deviations from the norm are detected. It is effective in identifying subtle and persistent threats that may not be apparent through other detection methods.

Reputation-based detection: This method evaluates the reputation of IP addresses, domains, or files to assess the likelihood of malicious intent based on historical behavior. It enhances the accuracy of threat detection by considering the reputation of external entities interacting with the network.

Protocol analysis: This method analyzes network traffic at the protocol level to identify anomalies or malicious patterns within specific communication protocols. It allows for a deeper inspection of communication protocols, uncovering subtle indicators of compromise.

Encrypted traffic analysis: This method focuses on inspecting encrypted traffic to identify potential threats hidden within secure communications. It addresses the challenge of threats leveraging encryption for evasion by ensuring visibility into encrypted content.

The problem with expanding the range of detection methods used by an IPS is that it increases the length of time it takes for an IPS to process data. This in turn increases the length of time it takes for traffic to reach its destination. Organizations therefore have to balance security concerns with latency concerns.

Many organizations resolve this issue by using an IPS and an IDS together. The IPS does a fairly basic level of processing that is enough to detect common threats. The IDS does the more complicated processing that detects more sophisticated threats.

The reason this works effectively is that an IPS has to sit in the path of the traffic so that it can block suspicious data packets. An IDS, by contrast, sits outside the path of the traffic as it does not directly act on the data. It therefore does not need to touch the original data. It just needs a copy of it for analysis.

Types of IPS

A full answer to the question “What is an IPS (definition)?” needs to cover the various types of IPS. These are defined by their deployment model and their location.

IPS deployment models

Hardware-based IPS: Hardware-based IPS involves the use of dedicated physical appliances to perform intrusion prevention. These appliances are designed to analyze network traffic, detect potential threats, and take preventive actions.

Software-based IPS: Software-based IPS is implemented through software applications, providing flexibility in deployment. It runs on general-purpose hardware and offers intrusion-prevention capabilities through the installed software.

Cloud-based IPS: Cloud-based IPS delivers security services through the cloud, providing centralized management and real-time updates. It leverages cloud infrastructure to analyze and prevent intrusions.

IPS deployment locations

Network-based IPS: Deployed at key network points to provide comprehensive defense against intrusions.
Wireless IPS: Specialized protection designed for wireless networks, monitoring and preventing intrusions in Wi-Fi environments.
Host-based IPS: Tailored protection for individual devices, such as servers or endpoints.

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