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What is Intrusion Prevention System (IPS)?

What is Intrusion Prevention System (IPS)?

This blog will explore what IPS is, how it works, and its importance in network security.

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What is an Intrusion Prevention System (IPS)?


An  Intrusion Prevention System (IPS) has been developed to actively monitor network traffic to identify and prevent potentially harmful activity. This type of network security focuses on detecting and preventing interception of malicious communication before it can reach its intended destination. IPS plays a vital role in safeguarding networks against a wide range of threats, including malware, viruses, worms, Denial-of-Service (DoS) attacks, and various other forms of cyber assaults. It is essential to have a comprehensive security strategy to protect valuable digital assets.

An IPS’s main job is continuously watching network traffic for suspicious or harmful activity. It examines data packets moving over the network and evaluates each in light of a predetermined set of rules and signatures. IPS is commonly used in enterprise networks, data centers, and other critical infrastructures to provide advanced protection against cyber threats.

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How Does an IPS Work?

How does an IPS work

IPS works by actively monitoring network traffic, analyzing potential threats, and taking appropriate actions to block or mitigate them. Here’s a simplified explanation of how an IPS works:

Traffic Monitoring: The IPS continuously monitors the traffic flowing through it, inspecting data packets as they traverse the network.

Signature-Based Detection: The IPS compares the incoming network traffic against a database of known attack signatures. These signatures are patterns or characteristics associated with specific types of attacks.

Anomaly-Based Detection: The IPS also looks for abnormal or suspicious behavior that deviates from the standard network traffic patterns. It uses statistical models and machine learning algorithms to identify potential threats based on deviations from baseline behavior.

Real-Time Analysis: The IPS analyzes the incoming traffic in real-time, assessing its content, behavior, and other relevant factors to determine if it poses a security risk.

Event Triggering: If the IPS detects a network packet or behavior that matches a known attack signature or deviates from standard patterns, it triggers an alert or immediately blocks the malicious traffic.

Prevention and Mitigation: The IPS can take several actions to prevent or mitigate attacks. It can block or drop suspicious traffic, terminate connections, or apply other security measures to protect the network.

Logging and Reporting: The IPS logs all detected events and activities, providing administrators with detailed information for analysis, incident response, and future security enhancements.

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Types of Intrusion Prevention Systems

Types of Intrusion Prevention Systems

IPSs come in different forms, each with its own characteristics and deployment methods. Understanding the types of IPS can help organizations choose the most suitable solution for their specific security needs. Let us look at the various types of IPS and explore their features and functionalities.

Network-Based IPS (NIPS)
Network-Based IPS (NIPS) operates at the network level to monitor and analyze network traffic to detect and prevent malicious activities. It is typically deployed at strategic points in the network infrastructure, such as the perimeter, data centers, or critical network segments. NIPS inspects all inbound and outbound traffic to search for patterns or signatures of known attacks. When suspicious activity is detected, it can automatically take action to block or mitigate the threat.

Host-Based IPS (HIPS)
Host-Based IPS (HIPS) protects individual host systems like servers or endpoints. It is installed directly on the host to protect the operating system or application level. HIPS monitors system activities, files, and processes to detect unauthorized or malicious actions. It can block suspicious activities, prevent unauthorized access, and enforce security policies specific to the host. HIPS is particularly useful for protecting critical servers or devices with high-value data.

Wireless IPS (WIPS)
Wireless networks present unique security challenges, and Wireless IPS (WIPS) is specifically designed to address these issues. WIPS monitors wireless network traffic to detect and prevent attacks targeted at wireless devices and access points. It can identify unauthorized access attempts, rogue access points, and other wireless security threats. WIPS can also enforce security policies and protect against wireless-specific attacks, such as DoS or Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) attacks.

Virtual IPS (VIPS)
Virtual IPS (VIPS) is a software-based solution that operates within virtualized environments. As organizations increasingly adopt virtualization and cloud computing, it becomes crucial to secure virtualized assets. VIPS integrates with virtualization platforms to monitor and protect virtual machines (VMs) and virtual networks. It provides visibility into virtualized traffic, detects intrusions, and enforces security policies within the virtual environment.

Cloud-Based IPS
Due to the increasing popularity of cloud computing and the acceptance of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions, cloud-based IPSs have become a feasible choice. This form of IPS utilizes cloud infrastructure and resources to examine network traffic, identify potential dangers, and deliver instant protection. Cloud-based IPS provides excellent scalability by efficiently managing network traffic in various locations. It proves especially advantageous for businesses with dispersed networks or extensive dependence on cloud services.

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Benefits of Intrusion Prevention Systems

IPSs offer a range of benefits that help organizations protect their networks, systems, and data from unauthorized access or malicious activities. Understanding these benefits can assist organizations in making informed decisions about implementing IPS solutions. Let’s explore some of the key advantages of IPS.

  • Advanced Threat Detection
    IPS solutions employ sophisticated detection techniques, including signature-based detection, anomaly detection, and behavioral analysis. This enables them to identify known attack patterns, as well as previously unseen or zero-day threats. By continuously monitoring network traffic and analyzing data packets, IPS can swiftly detect and respond to malicious activities to provide real-time threat detection capabilities.
  • Protects Against Known and Unknown Threats
    An IPS is designed to protect against both known and unknown threats. Signature-based detection methods can identify known threats, while behavior-based detection methods can detect unknown threats based on their behavior. This helps ensure that even zero-day attacks can be detected and prevented.
  • Reduces False Positives
    IPS solutions are designed to be more effective than traditional intrusion detection systems (IDS) in reducing false positives. They do this by using a combination of signature-based and anomaly-based detection methods to ensure that only genuine threats are flagged.

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  • Increases Network Visibility
    IPS solutions offer network administrators immediate visibility into network traffic, enabling them to detect and address potential threats promptly. This ensures that malicious activities are identified and mitigated promptly to prevent substantial harm.
  • Provides Proactive Security
    An IPS ensures comprehensive protection for the network to guard against threats originating from both external sources and within the network itself.
  • Reduces Impact of Security Breaches
    An IPS can mitigate the impact of a security violation by detecting and halting the spread of harmful software and thwarting unauthorized individuals from obtaining confidential information. This capability reduces the adverse consequences that result from a security breach.

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Limitations of Intrusion Prevention Systems

Limitations of Intrusion Prevention Systems

IPS plays a crucial role in ensuring network security, although there are certain constraints that require attention. The following are the limitations associated with IPS:

False Positives and False Negatives
One drawback of IPS is the occurrence of false positives and false negatives. False positives happen when the system identifies an action as an attack, even though it is actually a legitimate activity. Conversely, false negatives occur when the system fails to recognize an attack. False positives can disrupt regular traffic by blocking legitimate actions, while false negatives pose a risk as attackers can take advantage of network vulnerabilities.

Limited Coverage
Another drawback of IPS is its restricted scope. IPS is capable of identifying and thwarting only those attacks that it is familiar with. As fresh attacks emerge, the IPS needs to be regularly updated to acknowledge and counter them. This process can consume significant time and resources. Moreover, the IPS might fail to identify attacks that employ evasion methods like fragmentation or encryption.

Resource Intensive
IPSs demand substantial resources and rely on powerful hardware for optimal functionality. Moreover, their operation may impose a significant strain on network bandwidth, which could potentially impact the overall network performance.

Configuring and maintaining IPSs can be challenging. It takes expertise to manage and monitor them effectively. The intricacy of IPSs can lead to occurrences of both false positives and false negatives.

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Future of Intrusion Prevention Systems

IPS technology is continuously evolving to keep up with new and sophisticated cyber threats. Here are some of the future trends of IPS:

  • Artificial Intelligence
    IPS is adopting Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) to improve the detection of new and unknown threats. AI and ML can identify patterns in network traffic and distinguish between legitimate and malicious activity.
  • Cloud-Based IPS
    As more businesses move their infrastructure to the cloud, IPS technology is also moving to the cloud. Cloud-based IPS offers improved coverage, scalability, and flexibility, while also minimizing the necessity for physical hardware on-site.
  • Integration With Other Security Solutions
    IPS is collaborating with various security solutions to enhance its protection against cyber risks. For example, IPS can partner with Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) solutions to promptly identify and address cyber threats.
  • Zero Trust
    IPS is embracing a security model called zero trust. In this model, every network communication is treated as potentially harmful. As a result, IPS will scrutinize all network traffic, irrespective of its origin or intended recipient.

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IPSs are an important component of network security that helps detect and prevent malicious activity from damaging networks. IPSs are effective in detecting known attacks, but they have some limitations. False positives and false negatives, limited coverage, resource-intensive nature, and complexity are some of the limitations of IPS. 

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About the Author

Technical Lead - AWS Solutions Architect

Shivanshu is a Technical Lead and AWS Solutions Architect passionate about utilizing Cloud technology to empower businesses. Proficient in AWS, Terraform, and GCP, he crafts innovative solutions to propel companies forward. As an enthusiastic writer, he shares his expertise to inspire others in this field.