The Integral Role of IPS and IDS in Securing Your Network


Network security professionals monitor enterprise environments using sensors placed via hardware or software. When they detect threats, they’re alerted and able to take action. An IPS, on the other hand, goes one step further by autonomously stopping attacks. Doing so takes various activities, including closing sessions and reconfiguring firewalls to shun traffic that appears malicious.

Detecting Threats

Regarding digital threats, it’s important to know the difference between Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS) and Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS). What is the difference between IDS and IPS? IDS successful guards look for anything unusual in the network’s traffic flow and alert defenders to investigate potential threats. IPS is more proactive, immediately shutting down any suspicious activity and preventing it from causing damage. Both systems are important for network security, with IDS providing foresight to anticipate attacks and IPS offering a rapid response to neutralize them before they can breach the network’s defenses. In addition to monitoring traffic, IPS and IDS help detect potential threats and alert security teams. Unlike a firewall that sits between devices, a network IDS system is typically placed at the point of entry and exit for the protected network. This provides a deeper insight into how data moves within the organization and can be leveraged to protect servers’ networks such as DNS hijacking, packet fragmentation and buffer overflows. Once a threat is detected, IPS can take action in real-time to halt it and prevent it from entering the system. This may involve dropping suspect packets or blocking unauthorized traffic. It can also include reestablishing connections and changing security settings to limit damage. 

Taking Action

As network security tools, IPS and IDS help to identify and alert you of cyberattacks within your organization. In addition, IPSs can take control of threats and prevent them from entering your network to reduce the risk of damage. IPSs provide greater network visibility than IDSs, scanning every packet of traffic and monitoring the behavior of every host. This helps to identify potential threats, including distributed denial of service attacks, specific forms of malware and policy violations. IPSs can also be configured to operate in different ways. Signature-based IPSs use a database of attack patterns compared against each packet. If a box matches one of the predetermined attack patterns, it is considered malicious and stopped from entering the network. Signature databases must be updated regularly as new attack patterns emerge, however. Anomaly-based IPSs use artificial intelligence and machine learning to create a model of normal network activity and compare ongoing activities against it. They detect abnormalities, like a host using more bandwidth than usual or an open port typically closed. This helps minimize the number of false positives, which trigger an alarm but do not represent a true threat. Lastly, policy-based IPSs use security policies configured by the enterprise to determine whether an activity is malicious. If it is, they will automatically take action, such as alerting administrators, dropping the packets or blocking traffic from the source address.

Performing Remediation

IPSs use their built-in knowledge of the typical network traffic behavior to scan and identify deviations. They can then take action to stop threats and prevent any damage from being done. These actions can include triggering the shutdown of devices performing unauthorized functions like port scanning or opening ports that are typically closed. Depending on the type of attack detected, IPSs can alert human security personnel for further investigation and take steps to block the activity in question. IPS solutions are host- or network-based and can operate as standalone hardware devices or come built into software applications or next-generation firewalls. Some IPSs have signature-based detection methods that look for bit patterns in affected files and network packets and compare them against a database of known threats. This method was a major component of the earliest IDSs but was eventually replaced by anomaly-based detection techniques. Using artificial intelligence and machine learning to create a baseline model of normal network activity, these systems monitor ongoing traffic for any deviations that could indicate a cyberattack in progress. Unlike IDS tools that identify malicious activity and create notifications, an IPS can block network packets from entering the system altogether. Its control-based solution works proactively to keep threats out of the enterprise by accepting or rejecting network packets based on a specific ruleset. Most IPS solutions are positioned in the same network location as firewalls so they can intercept and analyze traffic at the juncture where the internal network meets the internet at large.

Preventing Future Attacks

IPS works in real-time to detect and take action on cyber threats. Because it can stop attacks, IPS helps to protect your organization from damage by preventing future breaches. It can also prevent attackers from gaining access to your critical systems. Unlike IDS, which merely scans for known threats and malware, IPS is more proactive and can take action to prevent them before they cause harm. It can take several automated responses, such as sending an alert to security teams, blocking traffic from the source, dropping packets, or even resetting connections. Depending on your network configuration and configured security policies, an IPS can also use a honeypot (a collection of fake high-value data) to lure attackers into the system and away from your legitimate assets. Typically, an IPS is deployed on a network router or as a standalone solution behind your firewall to work with your existing security architecture. This way, it can provide additional protection by analyzing every packet that goes into and out of the network. It can also help improve performance for other security controls on the web by filtering out malicious traffic before it reaches them. This is one of the reasons IPS is increasingly replacing IDS solutions in enterprises. Its ability to thwart cyberattacks by taking action on the spot reduces the strain on IT teams to respond to security incidents.