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What Is An IPS?

What Is An IPS?


Cyberthreats are in a continual process of development. Old threats become neutralized to the point where they are barely a concern. New threats emerge and demand the full attention of cybersecurity professionals.

These new threats require old tools to be updated and new tools to be developed. This in turn requires people to update their skills. With that in mind, here is a simple answer to the common question “What is an IPS”.

What is an IPS?

The simplest answer to the question “What is an IPS?” is that it is an intrusion prevention system. A more complete answer to the question “What is an IPS” is that it is a system for monitoring network traffic and taking defensive action if it detects a threat.

Types of IPS

To be complete, an answer to the question “What is an IPS?” would need to cover the different types of IPS.

The two main types of IPS are hardware-based IPS and software-based IPS.

Hardware-based IPS: These are dedicated physical appliances designed for robust intrusion prevention. They function as standalone devices, examining and filtering network traffic in real-time. Their primary advantages lie in high performance and reliability, making them well-suited for enterprise-level security where consistent and powerful protection is essential.

Software-based IPS: In this implementation, IPS functionality is delivered through software applications, offering flexibility and scalability. Software-based IPS can integrate with existing hardware infrastructure, providing cost-effective solutions, particularly for smaller organizations. Additionally, it allows for easier updates and customization based on the specific needs of the network.

IPSs can also be categorized by their deployment location.

Host-based IPS: Installed on individual devices such as servers or endpoints, host-based IPS focuses on the security of specific hosts. It monitors activities on a single device, preventing unauthorized access and providing tailored protection crucial for securing endpoints and servers.

Network-based IPS: Deployed at key network points like routers or switches, network-based IPS monitors and filters network traffic, blocking malicious activities in real time. It provides comprehensive network protection, capable of intercepting threats before they reach internal systems.

Cloud-based IPS: IPS services delivered and managed through cloud platforms offer scalable, real-time updates, and are well-suited for organizations with cloud-centric operations. This approach provides centralized security for distributed environments and cloud-based infrastructures.

How an IPS works

An IPS operates by continuously monitoring network traffic in real-time. It scrutinizes data packets crossing the network, assessing them for signs of malicious activity. This real-time analysis allows IPS to promptly identify potential threats as they emerge.

Detection methods

An IPS evaluates both the volume and the content of traffic. The volume is measured by tracking the number of packets sent per second. The content is evaluated by checking the packet headers. IPS uses two main detection methods for this.

Signature-based detection involves comparing network traffic patterns and characteristics against a database of known threat signatures. This approach is effective in identifying recognized patterns associated with known malware or attack techniques.

Anomaly-based detection, on the other hand, focuses on deviations from established baselines of normal behavior. It flags activities that diverge from the expected, helping identify previously unknown or zero-day threats. The combination of these detection methods enhances IPS’s ability to detect a wide range of security threats and vulnerabilities in real time.

Prompt threat response

Upon detecting malicious activities, the system automatically implements predefined security measures to neutralize the threat. Since an IPS is an automated defense, it can generally respond much more quickly than human administrators. This is a significant benefit as speed is usually vital in responding to cyberattacks.

Benefits of IPS

There are three main benefits of using an IPS. Two of them are shared with an IDS (intrusion detection system). The other is unique to IPS.

The two shared benefits are:

Swift response to potential threats: One of the primary advantages of Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS) is their ability to provide real-time analysis of network traffic. This enables immediate identification of potential threats, allowing for swift and proactive responses to prevent security incidents.

Mitigation of various cyberattack types: IPS employs a range of detection methods, including signature-based and anomaly-based detection, to identify and block various cyberattack types. Whether it’s known threats with established patterns or novel, sophisticated attacks, IPS acts as a robust defense mechanism, contributing to the overall cybersecurity posture of an organization.

The benefit that is unique to an IPS is:

Prevention of unauthorized access: An IPS can block malicious activities in real-time, thwarting attempts at unauthorized access and safeguarding sensitive data. By contrast, an IDS can only raise an alarm to alert another tool or human administrator to the problem. It cannot take immediate defensive action.

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