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Intrusion Prevention System (IPS)

Table of Content

What is an Intrusion Prevention System (IPS)?

An Intrusion Prevention System (IPS) is a security technology designed to monitor network and/or system activities for malicious or unwanted behavior and take action to block or prevent such activities.

IPS operates by analyzing network traffic in real-time, looking for patterns, signatures, or anomalies that indicate potential security threats such as malware infections, denial-of-service (DoS) attacks, unauthorized access attempts, and other malicious activities.

Once a potential threat is identified, an IPS can take proactive measures to block or prevent the threat from reaching its target.

Forms/Types of IPS

Intrusion prevention systems can take different forms, including: 

Network-based IPS (NIPS)

This type of IPS monitors network traffic at the network perimeter or within internal network segments. NIPS is typically deployed at strategic points within the network infrastructure, like network gateways, switches, or routers. It analyzes network packets in real-time to detect and prevent malicious activities.

Host-based IPS (HIPS)

HIPS operates on individual endpoints, like servers, workstations, and mobile phones and laptops. It monitors system-level activities and processes, including file system changes, registry modifications, and application behaviors. HIPS is particularly useful for protecting against attacks that target specific hosts or exploit vulnerabilities in applications running on those hosts.

Wireless IPS (WIPS)

WIPS is specifically designed to protect wireless networks against security threats. It monitors wireless traffic, detects unauthorized access points, rogue devices, and other wireless security vulnerabilities. WIPS can help organizations secure their Wi-Fi networks and enforce wireless security policies.

Inline IPS

Inline IPS is positioned directly in the data path of network traffic, allowing it to inspect and filter packets in real-time. Inline IPS systems can block or allow traffic based on predefined security policies. They are often used for high-speed networks where real-time threat prevention is critical.

Think of IPS like bouncers at a party. They check everyone’s ID. They have a list of prohibited items and guests on hand to deny entry to troublemakers. They also likely have security cameras monitoring the floor for any signs of suspicious activity. If anyone behaves badly, they intervene and remove them. If they overhear anything offensive or threatening, they alert the team. That’s IPS in a nutshell- it’s constantly looking for signs of trouble. 

Why Should Businesses Care About an Intrusion Prevention System? 

There are a few reasons why you may want to investigate adopting an intrusion prevention system:

Reason #1: If You Have Sensitive Data To Protect

Businesses often handle sensitive information such as customer data, financial records, and proprietary intellectual property. An IPS helps safeguard this data by preventing unauthorized access, data breaches, and theft of sensitive information.

Reason #2: To Protect Against Disruption 

Cyberattacks can disrupt business operations, leading to downtime, loss of productivity, and revenue loss. An IPS helps mitigate the impact of cyber threats by detecting and blocking malicious activities before they can compromise critical systems and disrupt business continuity.

Reason #3: If You’re Required By Law

Many industries are subject to regulatory requirements and compliance standards governing data security and privacy, such as GDPR, HIPAA, PCI DSS, and SOX (which are discussed further down in this article.) Implementing an IPS helps businesses meet these compliance obligations by enforcing security controls and protecting sensitive data from unauthorized access or disclosure.

Reason #4: To Detect Advanced Threats

Traditional security measures such as firewalls and antivirus software may not be sufficient to defend against advanced and sophisticated cyber threats. An IPS employs advanced detection techniques, including signature-based detection, anomaly detection, and behavioral analysis, to identify and block evolving threats in real-time.

Reason #5: To Enhance Your Overall Security 

An IPS is an essential component of a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy that includes multiple layers of defense. By complementing other security measures such as firewalls, antivirus software, and security awareness training, an IPS strengthens the overall security posture of the business and reduces the likelihood of successful cyberattacks.

IPS and Your Broader Cybersecurity Program

You can incorporate your IPS into your broader cybersecurity program to align with common cybersecurity frameworks, including: 

NIST Cybersecurity Framework

IPS fits neatly within the NIST Cybersecurity Framework and its key steps: 

  • Identify: Understand the organization’s risk posture, assets, and vulnerabilities. Determine where IPS fits within the network architecture and its role in threat detection and prevention.
  • Protect: Implement safeguards to protect against threats. IPS serves as a critical defense mechanism by monitoring and blocking malicious activities in real-time.
  • Detect: Implement capabilities to identify cybersecurity events promptly. IPS contributes to the detection process by analyzing network traffic for signs of unauthorized access or malicious behavior.
  • Respond: Develop and implement response strategies to contain and mitigate cybersecurity incidents. IPS alerts security teams to potential threats, enabling them to respond promptly and mitigate the impact of attacks.
  • Recover: Develop and implement recovery strategies to restore services affected by cybersecurity incidents. IPS helps minimize downtime and data loss by preventing successful intrusions and limiting the spread of malware.

ISO/IEC 27001

IPS can be part of the technical controls implemented to mitigate risks identified during the risk assessment process. It helps enforce access controls, detect unauthorized activities, and protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of information assets.

IPS logs and alerts can contribute to monitoring and review activities, providing insights into network security incidents and compliance with security policies.

CIS Controls

IPS supports several CIS Controls, including Continuous Vulnerability Management, Secure Configuration for Hardware and Software, and Boundary Defense. It helps organizations establish and enforce network security policies, monitor network traffic for suspicious activities, and block unauthorized access attempts. IPS contributes to the detection and response capabilities necessary for effective cybersecurity defense, aligning with the principles outlined in the CIS Controls framework.

COBIT (Control Objectives for Information and Related Technologies)

IPS implementation aligns with COBIT’s objectives related to risk management, incident response, and security controls. IPS assists in identifying, assessing, and mitigating cybersecurity risks, contributing to the achievement of business objectives and compliance requirements. It helps organizations establish a robust cybersecurity posture by implementing preventive, detective, and responsive controls to address emerging threats and vulnerabilities.

Related Systems or Technologies

Your intrusion prevention system complements or maximizes a number of cybersecurity technologies: 

  • Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS): IDS monitors network or system activities for signs of malicious behavior or policy violations. While IDS identifies suspicious activity and generates alerts, IPS goes a step further by actively blocking or preventing identified threats.
  • Firewalls: Firewalls control the flow of traffic between networks based on predetermined security rules. Next-generation firewalls (NGFWs) incorporate IPS functionality to inspect traffic more deeply and block threats based on application-layer information.
  • Security Information and Event Management (SIEM): SIEM systems collect, correlate, and analyze log data from various sources, including IPS, firewalls, servers, and endpoints. IPS logs can provide valuable information to SIEM platforms for threat detection, incident response, and compliance reporting.
  • Network Access Control (NAC): NAC solutions enforce security policies by controlling access to network resources based on user identity, device health, and other attributes. IPS can complement NAC by detecting and blocking unauthorized or suspicious network traffic.
  • Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR): EDR solutions monitor endpoint devices for signs of malicious activity, including malware infections, suspicious processes, and unauthorized changes. IPS and EDR solutions can collaborate to provide comprehensive threat visibility and response capabilities across the network and endpoint environments.
  • Data Loss Prevention (DLP): DLP solutions prevent unauthorized disclosure of sensitive information by monitoring and controlling data transfers across the network. IPS can help enforce DLP policies by blocking attempts to exfiltrate sensitive data or detect malware that attempts to steal confidential information.
  • Vulnerability Management: Vulnerability management solutions identify and prioritize security vulnerabilities within an organization’s network and systems. IPS can help mitigate risks associated with known vulnerabilities by blocking exploit attempts and protecting vulnerable assets from compromise.

Related Regulations and Compliance Goals

Implementing an IPS has a number of benefits, including supporting your compliance goals or meeting regulatory requirements including: 

Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS)

PCI DSS is a set of security standards designed to ensure that companies that accept, process, store, or transmit credit card information maintain a secure environment. Requirement 5.1 of PCI DSS specifically mentions the use of intrusion detection and/or prevention systems to monitor all traffic at the perimeter of the cardholder data environment and alert personnel to suspected compromises.

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)

HIPAA Security Rule requires healthcare organizations to implement security measures to protect electronic protected health information (ePHI). While HIPAA does not specifically mandate the use of IPS, it does require covered entities and business associates to implement security measures to protect against unauthorized access to ePHI, which may include the use of intrusion prevention technologies.

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

GDPR mandates that organizations implement appropriate technical and organizational measures to ensure the security of personal data. While GDPR does not explicitly mention IPS, it requires organizations to implement security measures to protect against unauthorized access, alteration, disclosure, or destruction of personal data, which may include the use of intrusion prevention technologies.

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Cybersecurity Framework

While not a regulatory framework itself, the NIST Cybersecurity Framework provides guidance for organizations to manage and improve their cybersecurity risk management processes. The framework recommends implementing intrusion detection and prevention capabilities as part of the Detect function to identify and respond to cybersecurity threats.

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