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What is IPS?

What is IPS?


Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS) play an essential role in safeguarding networks against both known and emerging threats. As such, they are considered an essential part of any modern cybersecurity system. Even so, there are still many people in business who might struggle to answer the question “What is IPS?”. With that in mind, here is a brief guide to what you need to know.

What is IPS? – The answer in brief

A short answer to the question “What is IPS” is that an IPS is a cybersecurity tool that monitors network traffic for indications of potential malicious activity. If it detects any such indicators it can take preventative measures against them and/or alert human agents.

Types of IPS

A longer answer to the question “What is IPS” would address the fact that there are different types of IPS. These all have the same main function but go about it in different ways.

The first distinction is between hardware-based IPS and software-based IPS.

Hardware-based IPS: These are dedicated physical devices with their own, independent resources. They are typically used by enterprises that need to analyze and filter high volumes of network traffic in real-time. Hardware-based IPS are relatively high cost but offer the highest levels of performance and reliability.

Software-based IPS: The software-based IPS model is flexible, scalable and relatively easy to customize to meet specific security requirements. Software-based IPSs also tend to be easier to keep updated than hardware-based IPSs. Software-based IPSs are, therefore, popular with smaller businesses that prioritize cost-effectiveness over raw power.

The second distinction is between the location of the IPS. This can be host-based, network-based or cloud-based. Each of these types of IPS can be used individually or in combination.

Host-based IPS: Installed directly on individual devices, host-based IPS is designed to secure specific host systems, including servers and endpoints. It is therefore highly valued in environments where device-specific protection is paramount.

Network-based IPS: Strategically deployed at crucial network points like routers or switches, network-based IPS monitors and filters network traffic in real-time and hence can block malicious activities promptly. The key advantage of network-based IPS is its ability to neutralize threats before they can reach internal systems.

Cloud-based IPS: The cloud-based IPS model offers much the same benefits as cloud-based technology in general. It is flexible and scalable so it can be easily adapted to changing requirements. It is a natural choice for businesses that already operate in distributed or cloud-centric environments.

How IPS works

IPS uses three main strategies to protect against intrusion. Here is an overview of how they work.

Real-time analysis of network traffic

Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS) continuously monitor and analyze network traffic. In particular, they look at packet headers, content, transmission rates and overall patterns. This ongoing assessment enables IPS to gain an understanding of standard behavior and hence deviations from it that could indicate malicious activities.

Signature-based and anomaly-based detection

Signature-based detection relies on a database of known attack signatures, comparing incoming traffic patterns with predefined malicious patterns. This method effectively identifies recognized threats.

In contrast, anomaly-based detection focuses on deviations from established baselines of normal network behavior. By continuously learning and adapting to the network’s dynamics, IPS can flag unusual activities indicative of novel or evolving threats.

This two-pronged approach to threat detection ensures a robust defense, combining the strength of historical threat knowledge with the adaptability needed to counter emerging cybersecurity challenges.

Proactive blocking of malicious activities

Upon detecting a threat through signature or anomaly analysis, IPS takes immediate action to prevent the intrusion from causing harm. This proactive blocking capability adds a crucial layer of security, minimizing the impact of potential threats before they can compromise the network. By swiftly neutralizing malicious activities, IPS safeguards network integrity, protects sensitive data, and ensures continuous operational resilience.

Deployment and integration

Deploying an Intrusion Prevention System (IPS) requires careful consideration to ensure effective implementation and seamless integration with existing security infrastructure.

Organizations must assess network architecture, bandwidth requirements, and specific security needs. If using hardware-based IPS, they will need to determine their most critical network points, such as entry and exit points or within data centers. These are the locations devices will need to be placed to ensure optimal coverage.

Regular updates and monitoring mechanisms should be established to keep IPS signatures current and fine-tune detection parameters. Additionally, organizations must define response protocols, balancing effective threat mitigation with minimal disruption to legitimate traffic.

Many organizations will need (or want) to integrate their IPS with other security tools especially firewalls and Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) systems. This ensures a more holistic (and hence effective) approach to security. Organizations may also need to organize training for their IT teams and, potentially, other stakeholders as well.

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