An intrusion prevention system (IPS) can be either a hardware or software device. They are a type of network security tool that constantly monitors the traffic on a network to detect malicious activity. Once a threat is detected, the intrusion prevention system immediately implements methods to report, block, or drop it.

what is an intrusion prevention system and how do they work

What is the Difference Between an Intrusion Prevention System and an Intrusion Detection System?

Intrusion prevention systems and intrusion detection systems are similar in function. But they differ in how advanced they are as solutions. Both systems operate to detect malicious activity, but whereas intrusion detection systems largely stop here, an intrusion prevention system works to mitigate the threat itself.

In more detail, an intrusion detection system responds by sending out alerts to security information and event management (SIEM) systems. The threats are then analyzed by a security operation center (SOC) analyst or an incident response team.

Conversely, an intrusion prevention system is able to provide an instant reaction. These systems are often included as a component in a next-generation firewall (NGFW) or a unified threat management (UTM) solution.

How Does an Intrusion Prevention System Work?

An intrusion prevention system is designed to observe and monitor all the traffic passing through its network. It is specifically positioned in the middle of the flow of traffic between the source and the destination. This is normally just behind the firewall.

There are several different types of threats an intrusion prevention system is designed to prevent. They include, among others:

To react in a timely and effective manner, intrusion prevention systems conduct constant real-time packet inspections. During this process, they monitor anything and everything that moves across the network.

There are a few different techniques that intrusion prevention systems use to detect malicious activity, including:

  • Signature-based: The activity of previously detected threats is mimicked to weed out new strains that function similarly. Of course, one of the negative aspects of this technique is that it is only able to detect threats that have occurred in the past.
  • Anomaly-based: Anomaly-based systems are slightly more advanced than signature-based ones. They use what is considered a baseline standard of network activity and compare it with random samples of network activity to detect deviations. However, this method has the potential to occasionally bring forth false positives, meaning that it isn’t necessarily the most effective or fool-proof method available. Newer and more effective anomaly-based solutions like NDR use artificial intelligence and machine learning technology to improve reliability and effectiveness.
  • Policy-based: A policy-based approach is less common and requires an administrator to set out predetermined security policies. Once implemented, the system will block any and all activity that violates these policies. This method also has the potential to unfairly block non-threatening activity. However, this can be corrected by updating or reconfiguring the current policies.

If a threat or malicious activity is detected, the intrusion protection system will immediately implement one of the following actions depending on its nature:

  • Reconfigure the system’s firewall to avoid similar attacks from recurring.
  • End the transmission control protocol (TCP) session and block the IP address or user perpetrating the attack from accessing the system.
  • Scanning the system and removing all remaining malicious content that was introduced by hackers.

Types of Intrusion Prevention Systems

Depending on its intended function or purpose, there are several different kinds of intrusion prevention systems available for use.

  • Network Intrusion Prevention System (NIPS). This type of intrusion prevention system is designed to monitor all traffic within a network. It is placed at very specific and strategic points to detect malicious activity within a network.
  • Host Intrusion Prevention System (HIPS). Typically the last line of defense, a host intrusion prevention system is installed on endpoints – any device connected to the network – and it monitors both inbound and outbound traffic. However, this kind of system is only able to operate within the endpoint in which it is installed.
  • Network Behavior Analysis (NBA). This intrusion prevention system monitors network traffic and detects unusual flows – this may include a DDoS attack.
  • Wireless Intrusion Prevention System (WIPS). A wireless intrusion prevention system protects Wi-Fi networks by scanning the active users and getting rid of unauthorized devices.

What are the Benefits of an Intrusion Prevention System? 

Cyber security is an essential component of any organization’s day-to-day operations. But what are the specific benefits of an intrusion prevention system? Here are a few:

  • Compliance: Intrusion prevention systems comply with both the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and, more recently, the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI SS).
  • Time-saving: Intrusion prevention systems are mostly automated and require very little time and effort for maintenance once set up and implemented.
  • Extra security: Intrusion prevention systems operate in addition to existing security measures. This provides added security and can be part of complex and layered cyber security architecture able to detect different types of threats.
  • Customization: Security controls can be implemented in such a way that is specific to the system or network it operates under. This allows it to be far more effective.
  • Increased efficiency for other security controls: An intrusion prevention system acts as a filter, weeding out a suspicious and malicious activity before it is able to cause damage. In doing so, it helps other security measures such as endpoint security, next-generation firewalls and more to operate more effectively. 

Final Thoughts on Intrusion Prevention Systems

Due to the growing size of networks and the increasing complexity of security threats, cyber security solutions like instruction prevention systems are increasingly important. The automated nature of intrusion prevention systems allows enterprises to respond quickly and more effectively to potential security threats. This in turn allows for a safe and stable business environment ripe for growth and success.  Not to mention, an intrusion prevention system has the ability to work well in conjunction with other existing security systems, making it not only effective but easy to implement too.

For any questions about intrusion prevention systems or related cyber security solutions, do not hesitate to get in touch with us.

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