What is the Difference Between IDS and IPS?

In the ever changing and always busy field of cybersecurity, it is important to know some of the things that you can leverage to improve your security game. For intrusion detection and prevention in your systems, you should know the difference between IDS and IPS systems.

When it comes to networking and keeping your network secure from hackers and those with malicious intent, being able to detect and prevent network intrusions is a critical factor in your mission to keep your network safe.

What are IDS and IPS?

IDS and IPS systems are two parts of your network infrastructure that can assist in the detection and prevention of intrusions by malicious actors into your network. They work the same in the sense that they both compare your network’s traffic and packets against a database of cyber threats, flagging offending packets as they go.

The difference between the two, however, is that one is a monitoring system while the other is a controlling system.

IDS systems don’t actually change the packets in any way. They just scan the packets and check them against the databases of known threats. IPS systems, however, prevent the delivery of the packet into the network.

So just what are they, and what do these acronyms stand for?

  • Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS): IDS systems monitor and analyze network traffic for packets and other signs that hackers are trying to find their way in. If they are using a known threat or hacking method, the IDS system will flag the event as an intrusion. IDS systems are able to detect port scanners and malware, as well as violations of system security policies.
  • Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS): IPS systems, on the other hand, are based in the same area of the network as a firewall would be, resting between the internal network and the outside internet. If the IDS system flags something as a threat, the IPS system will work to deny the malicious traffic. If the traffic represents anything that is known as a threat in the databases it compares to, the IPS will shut the threat out without delivering any malicious packets to the network.

Some manufacturers of IDS and IPS technologies have begun to merge the two into one solution, known as Unified Threat Management (UTM).

How Do IDS/IPS Work, and Why Are They Important to Cybersecurity?

IDS and IPS systems are important factors in any network. They work in tandem to keep bad actors out of your personal or corporate networks.

IDS systems don’t actually do anything but look for suspicious network traffic and compare it against a database of known threats. If the profiles of some of these suspicious behaviors are similar to known threats on the database, the Intrusion Detection System will flag the traffic as such. IDS systems don’t do anything on their own, however, and require a human or another system application to look over the results of their scans before taking action.

IPS systems, on the other hand, work proactively to make sure these threats stay out of the system. The Intrusion Prevention System accepts and rejects network packets based on a specified rule set. The simplicity behind it is, if the packets are suspicious and go against that specified ruleset, the IPS will reject the packets and ensure that traffic doesn’t actually reach the network. IPS systems also require that the database is consistently updated with new threat profiles to stay up to date with new threats that could make their way to your network.

While the two systems sound remarkably similar in name and how they work, they actually have a few differences. These differences separate the intrusion “detection” from the intrusion “prevention.”

What Are the Differences Between IDS and IPS Systems?

Despite having similar names and fulfilling similar roles, IDS and IPS systems have a few differences that set them apart from one another.

The main similarity between the two systems is that they both read network packets and analyze network traffic, checking it against a database of known cyber threats. The way they handle the threats that are analyzed, however, have some subtle and stark differences.

While they both analyze threats, the steps they take after identifying threats is what sets them apart. When identifying difference IDS and IPS systems, these are the key points to remember:

  • IDS systems require human interaction to deal with threats. IDS systems scan networks for threats, but require human interaction to read through the results of the scans and determine a plan of action on how to deal with any threats identified. Dependent on the amount of traffic normally generated by the network, this could require a full time position for a security researcher to read through scans. IDS systems can make an excellent forensics tool for security researchers investigating a network after a security incident.
  • IPS systems can work on autopilot. The purpose of an IPS system, after all, is to catch traffic identified as a threat and drop it from the network before it can do any damage. IPS systems can work automatically without human interaction, always scanning network traffic and preventing known threats from making their way into the network.

While IDS and IPS systems can both make your system a lot more secure, you can’t just simply “set them and forget them.” It is also important to remember that they are scanning against known security threat databases to identify threats to your network. As such, it is important to remember to keep the databases these tools check up to date. If the databases are up to date, they will contain newer known threats, keeping your system safer from those new known threats.

Remember, a security tool can’t check for threats it doesn’t know exist! That’s the main reason it is vastly important to keep threat databases up to date, so you can ensure that your IDS and IPS systems are able to check traffic for the newest threats and methods that hackers are using to try and get into your network.

What Security Problems Do IDS and IPS Systems Solve?

Network security is one of the most important things for any corporation to keep in mind these days. When a business has a duty to protect sensitive customer information such as names, addresses, and even credit card numbers, it is doubly important. Being able to stay a step ahead of malicious actors and their seemingly never ending Pandora’s Box of hacks is another way IDS and IPS systems help organizations and individuals protect their security every day.

The main security issues these systems solve is detecting and preventing bad actors before they actually make their way into the network. The network’s IDS system is constantly scanning and comparing network traffic, flagging known threats for humans to look over. The IPS works proactively to deny this malicious traffic from entering the network.

Early detection and prevention is essential for system administrators and network managers all over the world. Being one step ahead of hackers is a big leg up in protecting your network, as it can be easier to prevent entry into your network than it is to clean up after the damage is done.

IDS and IPS systems can be a huge help and can boost your cybersecurity intrusion detection and prevention strategy.

  • Automation! In network security, automation is a huge boost. You don’t need to worry about a human having to be present in front of a terminal at all times to detect intrusions. IDS and IPS systems work on autopilot for the most part, scanning and logging and preventing malicious intrusions. This can bring with it huge peace of mind for system administrators all over the world.
  • Hard coded security policy enforcement. IDS and IPS systems are fully configurable and allow for the systems to enforce security policies right down to the network level. If only one approved VPN is used by your company, for example, you will be able to block any other forms of VPN traffic.
  • Security compliance. Compliance is a big thing for network administrators and security professionals everywhere. If a big security incident happens, you will want to be able to show that you adhered to security compliance procedures. Investing in technologies like IDS and IPS systems can show that you have invested in security technologies for your organization, and the data gathered from these systems can help a lot in investigations regarding security incidents.

Being able to automate your security protocols, configure it to exactly what you want based on your organization’s security policies and procedures, as well as having the ability to show compliance for security, IDS and IPS systems cover a lot of ground in cybersecurity.

Not only do these systems aid in the detection and prevention of intrusions by hackers and other unscrupulous characters who wish to cause your organization harm, they give you peace of mind knowing your security systems are doing some of the leg work for you. Not having to sit in front of a terminal and monitor traffic at all times of the day is a great feeling for security professionals, and knowing they have data on their side in the event of a security incident is another great feeling!

BitLyft helps businesses just like yours with risk assessment and putting protocols in place to mitigate risks in the future. We will start with a FREE ASSESSMENT and go from there.

About the Author

Jason Miller

Jason Miller

Jason is a Chief Executive Officer of BitLyft Cyber Security. He has spent the last 19 years of his career focusing on network, system administration, and cloud technologies. He is passionate about helping businesses embrace the next generation of technology including cloud adoption and high performance scaling software.

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