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Host IDS vs. network IDS: Which is better?

Compare host IDS vs. network IDS through the pros and cons of each, and learn how more modern systems may be better suited to ensure effective enterprise security.

Admins must know the difference between a host-based intrusion detection system and a network-based IDS, as well...

as the best scenarios to deploy each -- and when newer technologies might be better to prevent intrusions in the first place.

Host IDS benefits and challenges

Host-based IDSes protect just that: the host or endpoint. This includes workstations, servers and mobile devices. They can also perform file integrity monitoring to detect and alert on important files that are improperly accessed or modified. Host IDSes are one of the last layers of defense. They're also one of the best security controls because they can be fine-tuned to the specific workstation, application, user role or workflow required.

Over the years, there has been a level of complexity and frustration involved with traditional host intrusion prevention system (IPS) software, in that users were often in control of their local security policies, which enabled them to disable protection negating any perceived benefits of the host IPS.

Originally stand-alone products, host IPSes are now often part of an overall endpoint protection system, such as endpoint detection and response (EDR).

Network IDS benefits and challenges

A network-based IDS often sits on the ingress or egress point(s) of the network to monitor what's coming and going. Given that a network-based IDS often sits further out on the network, it may not provide enough granular protection to keep everything in check -- especially for network traffic that's encrypted by Transport Layer Security or SSH.

IDS technology is relatively old. The newer IPS is often a better enterprise fit. IPS, be it at the host or network level, can actively stop an attack rather than merely report on it.

Host IDS vs. network IDS: Choosing the best option for your enterprise

In the end, it's up to the individual enterprise to determine what's best, given its technologies, business needs and risk tolerance. Proactive protection available from IPS is usually the best way to go; both host and network IPS can provide high levels of security if designed, implemented and managed properly. Other technologies, including the aforementioned EDR tools, as well as data loss prevention and SIEM systems, should also be considered.

The important thing is to ensure that the system can properly facilitate business rather than getting in the way of it.

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This was last published in December 2019

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Does your enterprise use a host-based IDS or network-based IDS? Why?
Our enterprise uses host-based IDS for the main reason that we use our workstations and tablets often and like that we can fine tune the security controls. Being on the host-based IDS works the best for us knowing that our server is safe  bringing us peace of mind. We at times get frustrated because of configuration problems, but feel it's worth it to be in control of our own local security policies.
Agreed, CCL36744 - it's often the best to control the data where it lies most often: on the endpoints.
Kevin, great article. However I think it is important to realize that in an increasingly IoT world the endpoint can be many different things, not just end user systems. Although you make a good point with regards to host based IDS for end user systems like workstations and laptops, I think it is quite a different story when you look at enterprise infrastructure. Host based IDS in the form of file integrity monitoring and security configuration management is widely adopted as a best practice and is actually baked into pretty much all security compliance and framework initiatives from NIST 800-53, PCI DSS just to name a few. 

When it comes to network based IDS vs. host based IDS, I don't think it is an either or scenario, as you actually need both, they are really different tools and utilized in different places. The real power comes when you are able to utilize both and orchestrate them to work together through correlation, automation and security analytics. 

Although you mention that host based IDS is old, I would prefer to say it is battle hardened :-)

I think a combination of these two would be good which we call it Distributed IDS or DIDS.