An Intrusion Prevention System (IPS) is a security mechanism that detects and prevents threats to networks. In this article, we’d take a look at what IPS patching entails, why it’s important, and more.
An IPS system helps prevent and detect threats to networks by scanning network traffics for identified threats. Once the system detects a threat in the intrusion data, it stalls development and bars it from entry. Elements are broadly considered as threats based on three criteria. They could be signature-based. In this case, vendors feed the IPS with info and patterns of well-known cyber threats. Upon recognizing such a pattern, the IPS will swing to action. They could also be anomaly-based, in the sense that the IPS will consider any unrecognizable element as a threat. Thirdly, they could be policy-based. Most organizations have security policies, and they configure their IPS to block any activity that violates them.
Why should you care about a data breach?
The importance of cyber security cannot be overemphasized. A data breach would not only damage a company’s reputation, but it would also, by extension, cripple its finances. Setting up an IPS is only the first step. Cybercriminals are creative, and they work long hours in the comfort of their homes to devise threats that could bypass some of the most rigorous defense systems. This is where patching comes to play.
What is IPS Patching?
As its name implies, patching is the process of mending or covering a known vulnerability in the Intrusion Prevention System. An average computer user would have come across a patch request by network providers in the past. Those “annoying” software updates that appear on-screen periodically are warnings that the software has detected a newly-created threat. Once the user consents to the fix, the system is updated to prevent the exploitation of such vulnerability in a process called IPS patching.
If an organization takes too long to patch a vulnerability, it would have provided criminals with the opportunity to exploit them. However, IPS patching sometimes proves to be challenging to implement.
Patching could be disruptive to the business flow and costly, discouraging the organizations from taking prompt action. Because of this, some organizations invest in virtual patching.
Introducing Virtual Patching
Virtual patching is a multilayered security system that prevents cybercriminals from exploiting known and unknown vulnerabilities. The virtual patch intercepts threats in transit and bars them from ever getting to the web application. Interestingly, the virtual patch functions even when the actual source codes of the application have not been modified. The virtual patch prevents the exploit from reaching the web application, so virtual patching is referred to as an external patch. Virtual patching is often considered a Web Application Firewall, but it also functions on other kinds of software infrastructure.
Virtual patching operates on a network level and not on the device itself. This way, a virtual patch can modify the network path to thwart the progress of an exploit. Due to its multilayered form, an excellent virtual patch can deeply inspect network traffic for malicious packets. It also prevents it from moving anywhere close to the vulnerability.
Virtual patching has proven to be valuable to organizations. It is well-known that the best security measure for an organization would be to fix the vulnerabilities in the source code. However, as previously stated, such fixes pose some challenges to individual users and companies alike. Should a vulnerability be identified in software, an average user would not patch the source code. They would have to wait for an extended period – usually months – until the software vendor releases an official patch. For organizations, installation processes are time-consuming due to the extensive testing required. Besides that, fixing an application’s source code can be very costly, especially after its completion. Virtual patching has proven to be a solid alternative (or substitute) because it is quicker and more flexible. It adds layers of security to a company’s IT infrastructure, sustains the business flow, and works comfortably in physical and cloud environments.
Without virtual patching, organizations also leave themselves vulnerable to Zero Day Threats. Zero-day threats are exploits developed by cybercriminals to access unknown vulnerabilities. A zero-day is a vulnerability that has been disclosed but has yet to be patched. Because it takes a lot more time for patches to be developed and tested and less time for criminals to design exploits, zero-day attacks pose a severe threat to user data. Even when the vendor has developed the patch, most of the users do not adopt it promptly.
Remediation by fixing the source codes or other traditional IPS patching methods would only widen the window of vulnerability and may even be ineffective. Regular patch management depends heavily on closing off the vulnerability, but this would not be possible as patches are not readily available to mitigate the threat of zero-day malware. A signature-based detection system would also be ineffective because the vendors would not have had enough time to study the zero-day malware pattern.
Elements of IPS Patching
Network: A Network Intrusion Prevention System is operated on a network level to monitor network traffic for suspicious activity, analyzes inbound and outbound data, and prevents the network interface from attack. A virtual patch falls under this category. The IPS can shield its package from threat by modifying its network path or preventing access from specified IP addresses. An organization can patch its network by maintaining a regular inventory of unauthorized devices to access its network.
Endpoint security: An IPS can also be deployed to monitor the integrity of a computer system. It can detect whether programs are running according to their design and inspect each program’s resources. If a program is accessing a resource outside its specifications, then it may have been corrupted. Through this, the IPS can determine whether intruders have attempted to breach the computer’s security wall and proceed to avert it.
How important is Machine Learning to Intrusion Prevention Systems
Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence play an essential role in the modern world. IPS is primarily a hands-off system, and that’s due in part to Machine Learning. An IPS flags suspicious activity through different detection techniques. Through Machine Learning, an IPS can memorize regular network activity and detect abnormal behavior by implication. If a user has already clicked on a malicious link, the system alerts them of the danger. However, this sometimes results in the IPS detecting false positives.
TippingPoint TPS uses statistical models developed with machine learning techniques to deliver the ability to detect and mitigate threats in real-time.
Importance of Communicating With Software Vendors
Apart from giving the go-ahead to patch requests, users or organizations must keep in touch with the vendors. In some cases, vendors go out of the business, leaving their software unsupported. When this happens, users would no longer receive updates, and whatsoever vulnerability that surfaces after that would be left unattended. Once a user knows that their vendors are no longer in control of the software, it is advisable to stop using them because they would be vulnerable to exploits.
Data breaches can be financially damming; with cybercriminals’ rate and sophistication of attacks, the importance of having an IPS cannot be overstated.
IPS patching serves as the first line of defense that protects networks from identified threats. It prevents malware from exploiting vulnerabilities whilst also allowing organizations to maintain their patching cycles.