What is an Intrusion Prevention System (IPS)? In-Depth Guide

By Tibor Moes / Updated: June 2023

What is an Intrusion Prevention System (IPS)? In-Depth Guide<br />

What is an Intrusion Prevention System (IPS)?

Picture this: Your organization’s network is constantly under attack by cybercriminals, and your existing security measures struggle to keep up. It’s a nightmare scenario that no one wants to face. So what is an intrusion prevention system (IPS)? IPS is a proactive network security technology designed to detect and prevent malicious traffic in real-time.

In this blog post, we’ll dive deep into the world of intrusion prevention systems, exploring their components, types, benefits, and much more, to help you make informed decisions about your organization’s network security.

Summary

  • Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS) are network security appliances that monitor network activities to detect and prevent potential threats.

  • They identify malicious activity, log the activity, attempt to block it, and then report it. Types include Network-based, Wireless, Host-based & Network Behavior Analysis.

  • IPS can be used to identify exploits in applications, malicious code, and even unauthorized data transfers, thereby protecting network integrity.

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Understanding Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS)

An Intrusion Prevention System (IPS) is like a high-tech, vigilant security guard that constantly monitors your network traffic and takes swift action against any malicious activity. It analyzes network traffic by comparing it to a signature database, searching for attack patterns. Upon spotting something suspicious, the IPS drops the packet and blocks any future traffic from the offending source IP address or port. This proactive approach ensures that threats are detected and stopped before they cause any damage to your network.

But that’s not all an IPS can do. Apart from detecting suspicious traffic patterns or packets, it can also log relevant information, take automated actions when necessary, and even help enforce the use of secure protocols. Positioned right behind the firewall, an IPS serves as a vital component of your network security, working round the clock to identify and mitigate threats.

Key Components of an IPS

An effective IPS comprises various components, including anti-virus/anti-malware software, firewalls, anti-spoofing software, and network traffic monitoring. To spot malicious activity, an IPS can utilize signature-based detection or statistical anomaly-based detection. While signature-based detection is effective in blocking known threats, it may struggle to catch new threats. That’s where anomaly-based detection comes in, complemented by AI and machine learning to enhance monitoring capabilities.

Another key aspect of an IPS is policy-based monitoring, which ensures adherence to an organization’s security policies and prevents any behavior that contravenes those standards. Administrators play a crucial role in setting up and configuring these security policies. In essence, the IPS serves as a comprehensive security solution that combines advanced detection methods, policy enforcement, and real-time monitoring to keep your network safe from evolving threats.

Types of Intrusion Prevention Systems

There are four major types of intrusion prevention systems, each designed to cater to specific security needs: Network-based (NIPS), Wireless (WIPS), Host-based (HIPS), and Network Behavior Analysis (NBA).

In the following subsections, we’ll explore the distinct roles and functions of each type, helping you understand the differences and choose the right IPS solution for your organization.

Network-based Intrusion Prevention System (NIPS)

A Network-based Intrusion Prevention System (NIPS) serves as a watchful eye over your entire network, monitoring and analyzing network traffic for malicious activity. Installed at strategic points within your network infrastructure, a NIPS examines protocol activity to detect potential threats. By detecting and blocking malicious traffic before it can wreak havoc, NIPS helps reduce the risk of data loss or theft and identifies potential threats for administrators to take necessary action.

NIPS solutions are especially useful in today’s complex network environments, where organizations face myriad network threats that traditional security infrastructure cannot effectively handle. By providing real-time threat detection and response, NIPS offers a robust security solution that proactively protects your network against cyberattacks.

Wireless Intrusion Prevention System (WIPS)

Wireless Intrusion Prevention System (WIPS) focuses specifically on securing Wi-Fi networks by monitoring the radio spectrum within the network’s airspace. Operating at the Layer 2 level of the Open Systems Interconnection model, WIPS scans wireless networking protocols to detect unauthorized devices and malicious activity.

By safeguarding your wireless network from unauthorized access, WIPS helps identify potential security risks and enables system administrators to take appropriate action. This specialized system is particularly significant in today’s world, where wireless networks are commonplace and susceptible to attacks from various sources.

Host-based Intrusion Prevention System (HIPS)

While NIPS and WIPS focus on network-level security, a host-based intrusion prevention system (HIPS) targets individual devices within the network. HIPS software scans events happening within a single host, detecting suspicious activities and providing an additional layer of protection.

HIPS and NIPS can work together to deliver comprehensive security coverage for your organization. While HIPS detects and prevents malicious activity on individual devices, NIPS tackles threats at the network level, ensuring a robust security solution for your entire infrastructure.

Network Behavior Analysis (NBA)

Network Behavior Analysis (NBA) is an intrusion detection and prevention system that focuses on monitoring network traffic for unusual patterns, such as potential DDoS attacks or port scans. By tracking network traffic and identifying deviations from typical functioning, NBA can detect and block threats that cause unusual traffic flows.

The primary advantage of using NBA is its ability to safeguard networks from malicious activities such as DDoS attacks, port scans, and other nefarious activities. By detecting potential security risks and weaknesses in the network, NBA adds an extra layer of protection to your organization’s security infrastructure.

Advantages of Implementing an IPS

Implementing an IPS brings numerous benefits to your organization, including real-time threat detection and response, enhanced security, and better integration with other security controls. It allows you to proactively detect and block various types of attacks that may bypass traditional security measures, thus reducing business risks and bolstering network access protection.

Moreover, using an IPS can help your organization meet compliance requirements, customize security policies, and save time by automating threat detection and response processes. By combining advanced detection methods and policy enforcement with real-time monitoring, an IPS solution provides comprehensive protection against evolving threats and ensures the safety of your valuable data.

IPS vs. IDS: Understanding the Differences

While both Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS) and Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS) play crucial roles in network security, they differ in their approach to threat detection and response. An IDS passively monitors the network and alerts you to threats, while an active control system like IPS not only detects but also blocks threats in real-time.

Another key difference lies in their deployment methods: an IPS is in the direct path of network traffic between the sender and receiver, while an IDS passively analyzes traffic patterns and reports potential threats. In essence, an IPS proactively stops threats in their tracks, while an IDS serves as an early warning system that alerts administrators to potential network security issues.

Essential Features for Effective IPS Solutions

An effective IPS solution should encompass a range of features that help prevent advanced attacks and ensure optimal performance. These features include detection capabilities, real-time monitoring, automatic blocking of malicious traffic, and the ability to understand network data and perform thorough analysis.

Additional critical features include signature-based and anomaly-based detection, malware detection and prevention, and application identification. By incorporating these essential features, a robust IPS solution can provide comprehensive protection against evolving threats and ensure the safety of your organization’s valuable data.

Investing in an IPS solution with these capabilities will help keep your network secure and enable your organization to stay ahead of emerging threats.

Emerging Trends in IPS Technology

As cyber threats continue to evolve, so do IPS technologies. One notable trend in IPS technology is the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, which can enhance threat detection and response by reducing false positives and increasing the accuracy of threat detection.

Other emerging trends include the adoption of cloud-based IPS solutions, which offer increased scalability, flexibility, and cost-effectiveness compared to on-premise solutions. Additionally, full network security suites provide comprehensive security solutions that guard against a wide range of threats, offering better visibility into the network and simplifying the management of multiple security solutions.

Choosing the Right IPS Solution for Your Organization

Selecting the right IPS solution for your organization involves considering factors such as reputation, service level agreements, customer support, agility, flexibility, and bandwidth availability. Analyzing these factors will help you identify an IPS solution that aligns with your organization’s needs and objectives, ensuring optimal network security.

When evaluating IPS solutions, take the time to research and compare their features, capabilities, and overall performance. By choosing a robust security solution tailored to your organization’s specific requirements, you can effectively protect your network from evolving threats and safeguard your valuable data.

Summary

In today’s rapidly evolving cyber landscape, protecting your organization’s network is more crucial than ever. Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS) offer proactive network security that detects and prevents malicious traffic in real-time. By understanding the various types of IPS, their components, essential features, and emerging trends, you can make informed decisions about your organization’s network security.

Investing in a robust IPS solution tailored to your organization’s needs will not only help safeguard your valuable data, but also give you peace of mind in the face of ever-changing cyber threats. After all, a secure network is the foundation of a successful, thriving organization.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Below are the most frequently asked questions.

What are IPS and how do they work?

IP stands for “Internet Protocol,” which is the set of rules governing the format of data sent via the internet or local network. An IPS (intrusion protection system) works to keep networks secure by monitoring the network activity around the clock and taking steps to shut down suspicious activity.

IP addresses identify devices on the network, allowing information to be sent between them securely.

What does an intrusion detection system do?

An Intrusion Detection System (IDS) is a technology designed to detect suspicious activity on a network or in a system. It uses signatures of known attacks or other anomalies to monitor incoming traffic, alerting administrators if anything potentially malicious is found.

This enables them to take immediate action to mitigate potential threats.

What is an example of an intrusion prevention system?

An example of an intrusion prevention system would be FireEye’s IPS as part of the Trellix Network Security (McAfee + FireEye) package. It is able to protect against various threats, such as bots, DDoS, ransomware and others.

It also blocks malicious sites and downloads while providing cloud and on-premises device security.

What are the three types of IPS?

There are three types of IPS: class A, class B, and class C. These classes use the 32-bit IP address space differently, providing more or fewer bits for the network part of the address.

Each type is designed to serve a different purpose for TCP/IP networks.

Author: Tibor Moes

Author: Tibor Moes

Founder & Chief Editor at SoftwareLab

Tibor has tested 39 antivirus programs and 30 VPN services, and holds a Cybersecurity Graduate Certificate from Stanford University.

He uses Norton to protect his devices, CyberGhost for his privacy, and Dashlane for his passwords.

You can find him on LinkedIn or contact him here.