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Examining Different Types of Intrusion Detection Systems

Intrusion detection is defined as real-time monitoring and analysis of network activity and data for potential vulnerabilities and attacks in progress. One major limitation of current intrusion detection system (IDS) technologies is the requirement to filter false alarms lest the operator (system or security administrator) be overwhelmed with data. IDSes are classified in many different ways, including active and passive, network-based and host-based, and knowledge-based and behavior-based:

Active and passive IDS

An active IDS (now more commonly known as an intrusion prevention system — IPS) is a system that's configured to automatically block suspected attacks in progress without any intervention required by an operator. IPS has the advantage of providing real-time corrective action in response to an attack but has many disadvantages as well. An IPS must be placed in-line along a network boundary; thus, the IPS itself is susceptible to attack. Also, if false alarms and legitimate traffic haven't been properly identified and filtered, authorized users and applications may be improperly denied access. Finally, the IPS itself may be used to effect a Denial of Service (DoS) attack by intentionally flooding the system with alarms that cause it to block connections until no connections or bandwidth are available.

A passive IDS is a system that's configured only to monitor and analyze network traffic activity and alert an operator to potential vulnerabilities and attacks. It isn't capable of performing any protective or corrective functions on its own. The major advantages of passive IDSes are that these systems can be easily and rapidly deployed and are not normally susceptible to attack themselves.

Network-based and host-based IDS

A network-based IDS usually consists of a network appliance (or sensor) with a Network Interface Card (NIC) operating in promiscuous mode and a separate management interface. The IDS is placed along a network segment or boundary and monitors all traffic on that segment.

A host-based IDS requires small programs (or agents) to be installed on individual systems to be monitored. The agents monitor the operating system and write data to log files and/or trigger alarms. A host-based IDS can only monitor the individual host systems on which the agents are installed; it doesn't monitor the entire network.

Knowledge-based and behavior-based IDS

A knowledge-based (or signature-based) IDS references a database of previous attack profiles and known system vulnerabilities to identify active intrusion attempts. Knowledge-based IDS is currently more common than behavior-based IDS. Advantages of knowledge-based systems include the following:

  • It has lower false alarm rates than behavior-based IDS.
  • Alarms are more standardized and more easily understood than behavior-based IDS.

Disadvantages of knowledge-based systems include these:

  • Signature database must be continually updated and maintained.
  • New, unique, or original attacks may not be detected or may be improperly classified.

A behavior-based (or statistical anomaly–based) IDS references a baseline or learned pattern of normal system activity to identify active intrusion attempts. Deviations from this baseline or pattern cause an alarm to be triggered. Advantages of behavior-based systems include that they

  • Dynamically adapt to new, unique, or original attacks.
  • Are less dependent on identifying specific operating system vulnerabilities.

Disadvantages of behavior-based systems include

  • Higher false alarm rates than knowledge-based IDSes.
  • Usage patterns that may change often and may not be static enough to implement an effective behavior-based IDS.
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