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What You Need To Know About An IDS System

What You Need To Know About An IDS System

As networking has become more ingrained in business activities, so protecting networks has become a more significant consideration for businesses. Modern businesses typically understand clearly that they need robust protection for their networks. This means investing in the right security tools for that job. For many businesses, an IDS system is an essential part of network security. Here is a quick guide to what you need to know about them.

The basics of an IDS system

An IDS system monitors network traffic for signs of concerning behavior. When it detects potential warning signals, it raises an alert. This alert can go to another security tool and/or a human administrator.

The most obvious difference between an IDS system and an IPS system is that an IDS system is only an alert system. An IPS system (intrusion prevention system) both alerts to potential intrusion and takes action to defend against it.

This obvious difference creates a more subtle difference between the two systems. An IDS system is placed out of band on the network infrastructure. In other words, it is sent a copy of the traffic while the actual traffic continues on its way.

This means that an IDS does not slow down a network. By contrast, an IPS system has to be in-band (or in the flow of traffic) so that it can perform its defensive tasks. This means using an IPS system can slow down a network.

How an IDS system works

An IDS system is essentially a digital alarm system. It monitors the volume and content of traffic and looks for signs of unauthorized activity.

Monitoring the volume of traffic simply requires keeping track of the flow rate. Monitoring the content of the traffic requires analyzing the packet headers using a range of detection strategies. The most common three are:

Signature-based detection: This involves comparing observed network traffic or system activity against a database of predefined signatures or patterns associated with known cyber threats.

Anomaly-based detection: This focuses on identifying deviations from established baselines or normal behavior within the network or system.

Heuristic-based detection: This employs general rules and algorithms to analyze patterns or behaviors that may indicate potential threats, allowing for the detection of novel attack patterns without relying on specific signatures.

It’s also becoming more common for IDS systems to use behavior-based detection and network-behavior analysis. Again, these are both methods of identifying threats without relying on prior knowledge of either specific threats or specific network characteristics.

Heuristic- and behavior-based detection and network-behavior analysis are, however, all quite resource-intensive. This is why signature- and anomaly-based detection are likely to remain the mainstays of IDS systems for the foreseeable future.

Types of IDS systems

IDS systems can be hardware- or software-based solutions. Hardware-based solutions offer higher performance at a higher price and with greater maintenance requirements. By contrast, software-based solutions are, generally, slower but more affordable and easier to manage. This is why hardware-based solutions tend to be used by enterprises and software-based solutions by SMBs.

Both hardware-based and software-based IDS systems can be implemented in different ways. Here is an overview of the main ones.

Network-based IDS (NIDS): Deployed strategically at key points such as routers or switches, NIDS provides a holistic view of threats at the network level.

Host-based IDS (HIDS): Installed on individual devices, such as servers or endpoints (including mobile devices) HIDS offers tailored protection for specific hosts.

Cloud-based IDS (CIDS): CIDS provides flexible, scalable, and centralized threat detection, making it suitable for organizations with distributed and/or dynamic infrastructure, particularly cloud infrastructure.

Wireless IDS (WIDS): WIDS specializes in monitoring wireless networks for potential intrusions. It analyzes wireless traffic, detecting unauthorized access or suspicious activities specific to wireless environments.

How IDS systems work with other security tools

In a comprehensive security ecosystem, IDS systems collaborate with various tools to enhance threat detection and response capabilities. Through seamless integration, IDS systems contribute valuable insights to bolster overall security posture.

Security information and event management (SIEM) systems

IDS systems feed real-time data into SIEM platforms, enriching the correlation and analysis of security events. This integration provides a centralized view of threats, aiding in holistic incident response.


Working in tandem with firewalls, IDS systems contribute by identifying potential threats. While firewalls primarily control access based on predetermined rules, IDS complements this by actively monitoring network traffic for signs of malicious activities.

Endpoint protection

Collaboration with endpoint protection solutions ensures a layered defense. IDS systems provide network-level insights, while endpoint protection focuses on individual device security, creating a more robust security posture.

Threat intelligence feeds

Integration with threat intelligence feeds enhances IDS systems’ capabilities to identify known threats. By staying updated on the latest threat intelligence, IDS can proactively detect and respond to emerging security risks.

Automated incident response

Incorporating automated incident response mechanisms allows IDS systems to trigger predefined actions based on identified threats. This collaboration streamlines the response process, enabling rapid mitigation of security incidents.

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