Chapter 19. Intrusion Detection Systems

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Intrusion detection systems (IDSs) provide an additional level of security for your network. It is worth noting that unlike firewalls and VPNs, which attempt to prevent attacks, IDSs provide security by arming you with critical information about attacks. Thus, an IDS can satisfy your demand for extra security by notifying you of suspected attacks (and, sometimes, of perfectly normal events, through "false positives").

IDSs, in general, do not actively block attacks or prevent exploits from succeeding; however, the newest outgrowth from network IDSs ”the intrusion prevention systems (an unfortunate marketing term ) ”strive to play a more active role and to block attacks as they happen.

Defining an IDS is harder than it sounds. Early on, IDSs were viewed as burglar alarms that told you when you were being hacked. However, the modern IDS world is much more complex, and few would agree that IDSs (at least, network IDSs) are at the same level of reliability as conventional burglar alarms. If improper analogies are to be employed, network IDSs are more akin to security cameras than to alarms ”a competent human being should watch them and respond to incoming threats.

Indeed, IDSs sometimes might only tell you that your network has just been trashed. The important thing to realize is that few hacked networks get this luxury in the absence of an IDS. As we have seen, a network might become a haven for hackers for years without the owners knowing about it.

The main value of an IDS, in our opinion, is in knowing what is really going on. Yes, an IDS also helps with post-incident forensics, provides network and host troubleshooting, and even serves as a burglar alarm (with the corresponding limitations). However, its primary function is telling you what security-relevant activities are going on inside the network and systems you control.

This chapter gives an overview of IDSs, including their strengths and weaknesses. We will cover network IDSs (sometimes referred to as "sniffers") and host IDSs (log analyzers, integrity checkers, and others).

The main difference between host and network intrusion detection systems is in where they look for data to detect. A network IDS (NIDS) looks at the network traffic, while a host IDS looks at various host, OS, and application activities. Indeed, there are certain areas where those intersect, such as a host IDS blocking malicious network accesses and a network IDS trying to guess what is going on inside the host. Some of these boundaries blur as the technology continues to develop.

What are some of the advantages of host-based intrusion detection products? The key difference is that while a network IDS detects potential attacks (which are being sent to the target), a host IDS detects attacks that succeeded, resulting in a lower false-positive rate. Some might say that a network IDS is thus more "proactive." However, a host IDS will be effective in the switched, encrypted, and high-traffic environment, which presents certain difficulties to NIDSs. Host IDSs are challenged by scalability issues, higher exposure to attackers ' actions, and host performance overhead.

On the other hand, network IDSs see a greater part of the total environment ”i.e., the entire network. Thus, NIDSs can make meaningful observations about attack patterns involving multiple hosts . They are challenged with high-speed switched networks, end-to-end encryption, and the complexities of modern application protocols, thus resulting in "false alarms" of various kinds.

We therefore provide some novel suggestions for choosing an IDS technology and implementing it into your network with a statistical concept known as Bayesian analysis . We also take a look at what future changes in IDS technology may bring. Finally, we describe a complete open source implementation on Linux.

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Security Warrior
Security Warrior
ISBN: 0596005458
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2004
Pages: 211

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