Understanding the Role of an IPS: Unveiling Common Attacks Detected by an IPS

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Intrusion Detection Systems IDS 800x448 - Understanding the Role of an IPS: Unveiling Common Attacks Detected by an IPS

An IPS is a vital part of any network security solution. These automated systems help filter out malicious activity before reaching other security solutions or impacting the enterprise.

IPS solutions monitor network traffic in real-time to identify threats and stop them from doing damage. They can use signature-based detection, which operates packets to look for exploit patterns, or statistical anomaly-based detection. In this article, you will learn what attacks are detected by an IPS and how they can harm your network.

Vulnerability Exploits

Unlike an intrusion detection system (IDS), which only alerts to the presence of a threat, an IPS takes action on behalf of the network to thwart it. IPS solutions typically operate in the exact network location as a firewall, intercepting traffic at the juncture between internal and external networks.

The IPS observes normal network behavior and compares it to an expected behavior pattern established in advance. This enables it to identify threats without slowing network traffic or causing false alarms.

Known attacks can be detected by matching the patterns of incoming packets to signatures of known malicious behaviors such as phishing attempts, port scanning, malware, ransomware, man-in-the-middle attack, zero-day exploits, DDoS attacks, and more. An IPS can also use reputation-based detection to flag a traffic stream as suspicious based on the previous activity of attackers in the same network or using the SOC’s security information and event management (SIEM) solution.

Once a threat has been detected, the IPS may notify IT or the SOC via a log file, pager, or console alert or communicate a command to other security devices, such as routers and firewalls, to act in response to the event. It can also drop or block malicious packets, reset connections, redirect traffic to a honeypot to misdirect attackers and perform other actions.


Malware, whether a ransomware attack or a data breach attempt, can be detected by an IPS. These tools are deployed as physical or virtual appliances at the network perimeter and work “in line” with the traffic flows, intercepting packets before they reach their destination online.

An IPS can prevent attacks that are in progress by blocking malicious traffic or by redirecting it to a honeypot. It can also update router, firewall, and server policies to stop threats from recurring. An IPS can also log the activity, which helps security operations teams analyze successful exploits.

A modern IPS solution is built to incorporate threat intelligence, automating the translation of this information into protection. This makes it faster and easier for IT teams to create more robust security policies for applications, users, and networks.

IPS solutions include three primary threat detection methods, which can be used individually or in combination: signature-based detection (analyzing network packets for patterns that indicate vulnerabilities and exploitation attempts), anomaly detection (identifying performance abnormalities on the network), and network behavior analysis (analyzing the behaviors of network traffic to identify problems like DDoS attacks and malware). In addition to these basic capabilities, many IPS security solutions can be configured with custom security policies to meet the specific needs of each enterprise. This allows an IPS to protect against both known and unknown threats without putting extra strain on IT teams that have already been overwhelmed by constant cyberattacks.

Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) Attacks

A DDoS attack can flood a network with traffic that overwhelms its capacity, rendering systems unusable. An IPS can detect these attacks by monitoring network activity and looking for atypical behavior, like the sudden use of a lot of bandwidth or opening ports that shouldn’t be open. The IPS then responds with automated measures to block traffic from the source or reset the connection, making it impossible for attackers to continue their exploits.

An IPS tool can be software deployed on endpoints, dedicated hardware devices connected to the network, or delivered as a cloud service. Some IPS tools, such as a host-based intrusion prevention system (HIDS), monitor traffic coming in and out of individual devices and can track running processes and examine security logs. Other IPS tools, such as a wireless intrusion prevention system (WIPS), monitor all traffic on a network and are designed to protect wireless networks from threats like DDoS attacks and malware.

An IPS goes one step further than an IDS and takes action when it detects a threat, stopping malicious packets and alerting IT teams. It can do so by blocking traffic from a particular source, limiting the number of connections per device, or dropping the packets altogether. It can also report detected threats to a security information and event management (SIEM) tool, allowing IT teams to manage the system from a single console.

IoT Attacks

IoT attacks have soared in number and intensity, and the damage they can cause is significant. For example, the malware enslaved 400,000 interconnected IoT devices such as routers, cameras, and video recorders to form a massive botnet, which was then used in the first 1Tbps Distributed Denial of Service attack against servers in September 2016.

An IPS can detect this attack by profiling all unmanaged and IoT hardware on a network and flagging any anomalous traffic from those profiles. It can also scan TLS-encrypted traffic flows for patterns that may indicate an IoT attack and use Netflow and SPAN configuration on switches to identify those anomalies.

IPS solutions can be software applications installed on endpoints, dedicated hardware devices connected to the network, or delivered as cloud services. They’re usually set to operate “inline” on the web, monitoring all data in a complete enterprise network infrastructure and thwarting threats as they penetrate it. Once an IPS detects a threat, it can log the event, send a warning to a pager or console, or communicate with routers, firewalls, and servers to stop such attacks from recurring.

An IPS’s ability to detect and prevent attacks offers several advantages over other security solutions. For one, it reduces the workload for additional security controls, which can then focus on more critical threats. Additionally, its automated responses to security incidents save time and effort for IT teams, which can focus more on closing vulnerabilities in the system that might be exploited in the future.

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