Top 10 BEST Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS) [2021 Rankings]

List and Comparison of the TOP Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS). Learn What is an IDS? Select the Best IDS Software Based Features, Pros, & Cons:

Are You Looking For The Best Intrusion Detection System? Read this detailed review of the IDS that is available in today’s market.

An application security practice, Intrusion Detection is employed to minimize cyber-attacks and block new threats, and the system or software that is used to make this happen is an Intrusion Detection System.

Intrusion Detection Systems

What Is An Intrusion Detection System (IDS)?

It is security software that monitors the network environment for suspicious or unusual activity and alerts the administrator if something comes up.

The importance of an Intrusion Detection System cannot be emphasized enough. IT departments in organizations deploy the system to get insights into potentially malicious activities that happen within their technological environments.

Additionally, it allows information to get transferred between departments and organizations in an increasingly safe and trusted way. In many ways, it is an upgrade on other cybersecurity technologies such as Firewalls, Antivirus, Message encryption, etc.

cyber-incident

When it comes to protecting your cyber presence, you cannot afford to be lax about it. According to Cyber Defense Magazine, the average cost of a malware attack in 2017 was $2.4 million. This is a loss that no small or even medium-sized business would be able to sustain.

Unfortunately, Cyber Defense Magazine says that more than 40% of cyber-attacks are targeted towards small businesses. Additionally, the following statistics about cybersecurity provided by Varonis, a data security and analytics company, have us worried even more about the safety and integrity of networks.

Infographic showing cyber security statistics
Infographic Showing the Most Important Cybersecurity Statistics in 2019.

[image source]

The above infographic suggests that you need to be on your guard 24/7 to prevent your network and/or systems from getting compromised. We all know that it is virtually impossible to monitor your network environment 24/7 for malicious or unusual activity unless, of course, you have a system in place to do that for you.

This is where cybersecurity tools such as Firewalls, Antivirus, Message encryption, IPS, and Intrusion Detection System (IDS) comes in to play. Here, we will be discussing IDS including the frequently asked questions about it, along with the size and other key statistics related to the IDS market, and a comparison of the best intrusion detection system.

Let’s get started!!

Frequently Asked Questions About IDS

Q#1) What is an Intrusion Detection System?

Answer: This is the top-most asked question about Intrusion Detection System. A software application or device, an Intrusion Detection System monitors the traffic of a network for usual/suspicious activity or violations of policy.

The system immediately alerts the administrator when an anomaly is detected. This is the primary function of the IDS. However, there are some IDSs that can also respond to malicious activity. For Example, IDS can block traffic coming from suspicious IP addresses that it has detected.

Q#2) What are the different types of Intrusion Detection Systems?

Answer: There are two main types of Intrusion Detection System.

These include:

  1. Network Intrusion Detection System (NIDS)
  2. Host Intrusion Detection System (HIDS)

A system that analyzes a whole subnet’s traffic, NIDS keeps track of both inbound and outbound traffic to and from all the network’s devices.

A system with direct access to both the enterprise internal network and the internet, the HIDS captures a ‘picture’ of the file set of an entire system and then compares it to a previous picture. If the system finds major discrepancies, such as files that are missing, etc, then it immediately alerts the administrator about it.

In addition to the two main types of IDS, there are also two main subsets of these IDS types.

The IDS subsets include:

  1. Signature-based Intrusion Detection System (SBIDS)
  2. Anomaly-based Intrusion Detection System (ABIDS)

An IDS that works like Antivirus software, SBIDS tracks all the packets passing over the network and then compares them to a database containing attributes or signatures of familiar malicious threats.

Lastly, ABIDS tracks the traffic of a network and then compares it to an established measure and this allows the system to find what’s normal for the network in terms of Ports, Protocols, Bandwidth, and other devices. ABIDS can quickly alert administrators about any unusual or potentially malicious activity in the network.

Q#3) What are the capabilities of Intrusion Detection Systems?

Answer: The basic function of IDS is monitoring the traffic of a network to detect any intrusion attempts being made by unauthorized people. However, there are some other functions/capabilities of IDS as well.

They include:

  • Monitoring the operation of files, routers, key management servers, and firewalls that are required by other security control and these are the controls that help to identify, prevent, and recover from cyberattacks.
  • Allowing non-technical staff to manage system security by providing a user-friendly interface.
  • Allowing administrators to adjust, arrange, and understand the key audit trails and other logs of operating systems that are generally hard to dissect and keep track of.
  • Blocking the intruders or the server to respond to an attempted intrusion.
  • Notifying the administrator that the network security has been breached.
  • Detecting altered data files and reporting them.
  • Providing an extensive database of attack signature with which the information from the system can be matched.

Q#4) What are the benefits of IDS?

Answer: There are several benefits of Intrusion Detection software. Firstly, IDS software provides you with the ability to detect unusual or potentially malicious activity in the network.

Another reason for having an IDS at your organization is equipping the relevant people with the ability to analyze not only the number of attempted cyber-attacks occurring in your network but also their types. This will provide your organization with the required information to implement better controls or change existing security systems.

Some other benefits of IDS software are:

  • Detecting problems or bugs within your network device configurations. This will help in better assessing future risks.
  • Attaining regulatory compliance. It is easier to meet security regulations with IDS as it provides your organization with greater visibility across networks.
  • Improving security response. IDS sensors allow you to assess data within the network packets as they are designed to identify network hosts and devices. Additionally, they can detect the operating systems of the services being used.

Q#5) What is the difference between IDS, IPS, and Firewall?

Answer: This is another frequently asked question about IDS. Three essential network components i.e. IDS, IPS, and Firewall help to ensure a network’s security. However, there are differences in how these components function and secure the network.

The biggest difference between Firewall and IPS/IDS is their basic function; while Firewall blocks and filters network traffic, IDS/IPS looks to identify malicious activity and alert an administrator to prevent cyberattacks.

A rules-based engine, Firewall analyzes the source of the traffic, destination address, destination port, source address, and protocol type to determine whether to allow or block the traffic coming in.

An active device, IPS are situated between the Firewall and the rest of the network and the system keeps track of inbound packets and what they are used for before deciding to block or allow the packets into the network.

A passive device, IDS monitors data packets passing over the network and then compares it to patterns in the signature database to decide whether or not to alert the administrator. If the intrusion detection software detects an unusual pattern or a pattern that deviates from what is normal and then reports the activity to the administrator.

Fact Check: According to a recently published report by Global Market Insights Inc., the Intrusion Detection/ Prevention system market is expected to grow from US$3 billion in 2018 to US$8 billion by 2025. The key factors driving the growth of the Intrusion Detection/Prevention system market are unethical practices that occur both internally and externally, and the massive increase in cyberattacks.

In addition to the above, the GMI report also reveals that network-based IDS accounts for more than 20% of the share in the global intrusion detection/prevention system market. Furthermore, the Intrusion Detection System market study by Future Market Insights (FMI) says that the global IDS market is segmented based on type, services, and deployment model.

HIDS and NIDS are the two types that are based on how the market is segmented.

Services that the IDS market can be categorized into are Managed Services, design and Integration Services, Consultancy Services, and Training & Education. Lastly, the two deployment models which can be used to segment the IDS market are On-premises deployment and Cloud deployment.

Following is a flowchart by Global Market Insights (GMI) that shows the global IDS/IPS market based on Type, Component, Deployment Model, Application, and Region.

flowchart showing the global IDS-IPS market
Flowchart showing the global IDS/IPS Market by Type, Component, Deployment Model, Application, and Region.

[image source]

Pro-Tip: There are many Intrusion Detection Systems to choose from. Therefore, it can get difficult to find the best Intrusion Detection System software for your unique needs.

However, we would recommend you to choose an IDS software that:

  • Meets your unique needs.
  • It can be supported by your network.
  • Fits your budget.
  • It is compatible with both wired and wireless systems.
  • It can be scaled.
  • Enables increased interoperability.
  • Includes signature updates.
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List Of The Best Intrusion Detection Software

Enlisted below are the best Intrusion Detection Systems available in today’s world.

Comparison Of The Top 5 Intrusion Detection Systems

Tool NamePlatformType of IDSOur Ratings
*****
Features
Bro

Bro logo
Unix, Linux, Mac-OSNIDS4/5Traffic logging and analysis,
Provides visibility across packets, Event engine,
Policy scripts,
Ability to monitor SNMP traffic,
Ability to track FTP, DNS, and HTTP activity.
OSSEC

OSSEC logo
Unix, Linux, Windows, Mac-OSHIDS4/5Free to use open-source HIDS security,
Ability to detect any alterations to the registry on Windows,
Ability to monitor any attempts to get to the root account on Mac-OS,
Log files covered include mail, FTP, and web server data.
Snort

Snort logo
Unix, Linux, WindowsNIDS5/5Packet sniffer,
Packet logger,
Threat intelligence, Signature blocking,
Real-time updates for security signatures,
In-depth reporting,
Ability to detect a variety of events including OS fingerprinting, SMB probes, CGI attacks, buffer overflow attacks, and stealth port scans.
Suricata

Suricata logo
Unix, Linux, Windows, Mac-OSNIDS4/5Collects data at the application layer,
Ability to monitor protocol activity at lower levels such as TCP, IP, UDP, ICMP, and TLS, real-time tracking for network applications such as SMB, HTTP, and FTP,
Integration with third-party tools such as Anaval, Squil, BASE, and Snorby, built-in scripting module, uses both signature and anomaly-based methods,
Clever processing architecture.
Security Onion

Security Onion logo
Linux, Mac-OSHIDS, NIDS4/5Complete Linux distribution with focus on log management,
Enterprise security monitoring, and intrusion detection, Runs on Ubuntu, integrates elements from several analysis and front-end tools including NetworkMiner, Snorby, Xplico, Sguil, ELSA, and Kibana,
Includes HIDS functions as well, a packet sniffer performs network analysis,
Includes nice graphs and charts.

Let’s Move On!!

#1) SolarWinds Security Event Manager

Best For large businesses.
SolarWinds Security Event Manager Pricing: Starting at $4,585

SolarWinds Security Event Manager

An IDS that runs on Windows, the SolarWinds Event Manager can log messages generated by not just Windows PCs, but also by Mac-OS, Linux, and Unix computers. As it is concerned with the management of the files on the system, we can categorize SolarWinds Event Manager as HIDS.

However, it can also be regarded as NIDS as it manages data gathered by Snort.

In SolarWinds, traffic data is inspected using network intrusion detection as it passes over the network. Here, the tool to capture packet is Snort while SolarWinds is employed for analysis. Additionally, this IDS can receive network data in real-time from Snort which is a NIDS activity.

The system is configured with over 700 rules for event correlation. This allows it to not just detect suspicious activities, but also implement remediation activities automatically. Overall, SolarWinds Event Manager is a comprehensive network security tool.

Features: 

Runs on Windows, can log messages generated by Windows PCs and by Mac-OS, Linux, and Unix computers, manages data gathered by snort, traffic data is inspected using network intrusion detection, and can receive network data in real-time from Snort. It is configured with over 700 rules for event correlation

Cons:

  • Daunting reports customization.
  • A low frequency of version updates.

Our Review: A comprehensive network security tool, SolarWinds Event Manager can help you to instantly shut down malicious activity in your network. This is a great IDS if you can afford to spend at least $4,585 on it.


#2) Bro

Pricing: Free.
Best For all businesses that rely on networking.

Bro IDS Software

A free Network Intrusion Detection System, Bro can do more than just detect intrusion. It can also perform a signature analysis. In other words, there are two stages of Intrusion Detection in Bro i.e. Traffic logging and Analysis.

In addition to the above, the Bro IDS software uses two elements to work i.e. Event engine and Policy scripts. The purpose of the Event engine is to keep track of triggering events such as an HTTP request or a new TCP connection. On the other hand, Policy scripts are used to mine the event data.

You can install this Intrusion Detection System software on Unix, Linux, and Mac-OS.

Features: 

Traffic logging and analysis, provides visibility across packets, event engine, policy scripts, ability to monitor SNMP traffic, ability to track FTP, DNS, and HTTP activity.

Cons:

  • A challenging learning curve for non-analyst.
  • Little focus on ease of installation, usability, and GUIs.

Our Review: Bro shows a good degree of readiness i.e. it is a great tool for anyone looking for an IDS to ensure long-term success.

Website: Bro


#3) OSSEC

Pricing: Free
Best For medium and large businesses.

OSSEC

Short for Open Source Security, OSSEC is arguably the leading open-source HIDS tool available today. It includes a client/server-based logging architecture and management and runs on all major operating systems.

The OSSEC tool is efficient at creating checklists of important files and validating them from time to time. This allows the tool to immediately alert the network administrator if something suspicious comes up.

The IDS software can monitor unauthorized registry modifications on Windows and any attempts on Mac-OS to get to the root account. To make Intrusion Detection management easier, OSSEC consolidates information from all the network computers in a single console. An alert is displayed on this console when the IDS detects something.

Features: 

Free to use open-source HIDS security, ability to detect any alterations to the registry on Windows, ability to monitor any attempts to get to the root account on Mac-OS, log files covered include mail, FTP, and web server data.

Cons:

  • Problematic pre-sharing keys.
  • Support for Windows in server-agent mode only.
  • Significant technical prowess needed to set up and manage the system.

Our Review: OSSEC is a great tool for any organization looking for an IDS that can perform rootkit detection and monitor file integrity while providing real-time alerts.

Website: OSSEC


#4) Snort

Pricing: Free
Best For small and medium-sized businesses.

Snort

The leading NIDS tool, Snort is free to use and it is one of the few Intrusion Detection Systems that can be installed on Windows. Snort is not only an intrusion detector, but it is also a Packet logger and a Packet sniffer. However, the most important feature of this tool is intrusion detection.

Like Firewall, Snort has a rules-based configuration. You can download the base rules from the snort website and then customize it according to your specific needs. Snort performs intrusion detection using both Anomaly-based and Signature-based methods.

Additionally, the basic rules of Snort can be used to detect a wide variety of events including OS fingerprinting, SMB probes, CGI attacks, Buffer overflow attacks, and Stealth port scans.

Features: 

Packet sniffer, packet logger, threat intelligence, signature blocking, real-time updates for security signatures, in-depth reporting, ability to detect a variety of events including OS fingerprinting, SMB probes, CGI attacks, buffer overflow attacks, and stealth port scans.

Cons:

  • Upgrades are often hazardous.
  • Unstable with Cisco bugs.

Our Review: Snort is a good tool for anyone looking for an IDS with a user-friendly interface. It is also useful for its deep analysis of the data that it collects.

Website: Snort


#5) Suricata

Pricing: Free
Best For medium and large businesses.

Suricata

A robust network threat detection engine, Suricata is one of the main alternatives to Snort. However, what makes this tool better than snort is that it performs data collection at the application layer. Additionally, this IDS can perform intrusion detection, network security monitoring, and inline intrusion prevention in real-time.

The Suricata tool understands higher-level protocols such as SMB, FTP, and HTTP and can monitor lower-level protocols like UDP, TLS, TCP, and ICMP. Lastly, this IDS provides network administrators with file extraction capability to allow them to inspect suspicious files on their own.

Features: 

Collects data at the application layer, ability to monitor protocol activity at lower levels such as TCP, IP, UDP, ICMP, and TLS, real-time tracking for network applications such as SMB, HTTP, and FTP, integration with third-party tools such as Anaval, Squil, BASE, and Snorby, built-in scripting module, uses both signature and anomaly-based methods, clever processing architecture.

Cons:

  • Complicated installation process.
  • Smaller community than Snort.

Our Review: Suricata is a great tool if you’re looking for an alternative to Snort that relies on signatures and can run on an enterprise network.

Website: Suricata


#6) Security Onion

Pricing: Free
Best For medium and large businesses.

Security Onion

An IDS that can save you a lot of time, Security Onion isn’t just useful for intrusion detection. It is also useful for Linux distribution with a focus on Log management, Enterprise security monitoring, and intrusion detection.

Written to operate on Ubuntu, Security Onion integrates elements from analysis tools and front-end systems. These include NetworkMiner, Snorby, Xplico, Sguil, ELSA, and Kibana. While it is categorized as NIDS, Security Onion includes many HIDS functions as well.

Features:

Complete Linux distribution with focus on log management, enterprise security monitoring, and intrusion detection, runs on Ubuntu, integrates elements from several front-end analysis tools including NetworkMiner, Snorby, Xplico, Sguil, ELSA, and Kibana. It includes HIDS functions as well, a packet sniffer performs network analysis, including nice graphs and charts.

Cons:

  • High knowledge overhead.
  • Complicated approach to network monitoring.
  • Administrators must learn how to use the tool to get the full benefit.

Our Review: Security Onion is ideal for any organization that is looking for an IDS that allows building several distributed sensors for enterprise in minutes.

Website: Security Onion


#7) Open WIPS-NG

Pricing: Free
Best For small and medium-sized businesses.

Open WIPS-NG

An IDS meant specifically for wireless networks, Open WIPS-NG in an open-source tool comprising of three main components i.e. sensor, server, and interface component. Each WIPS-NG installation can include only one sensor and this is a packet sniffer that can maneuver wireless transmissions in mid-flow.

The intrusion patterns are detected by the server program suite that contains the engine for analysis. The system’s interface module is a dashboard showcasing alerts and events to the administrator of the system.

Features: 

Meant specifically for wireless networks, this open-source tool consisting of a sensor, server, and interface component, captures wireless traffic and directs it to the server for analysis, GUI for displaying information and managing the server

Cons:

  • NIDS has some limitations.
  • Each installation contains only one sensor.

Our Review: This is a good choice if you’re looking for an IDS that can work as both an intrusion detector and a Wi-Fi packet sniffer.

Website: Open WIPS-NG


#8) Sagan

Pricing: Free
Best For all businesses.

Sagan

Sagan is a free-to-use HIDS and is one of the best alternatives to OSSEC. A great thing about this IDS is that it is compatible with data collected by a NIDS like Snort. Although it has several IDS-like features, Sagan is more of a log analysis system than an IDS.

The compatibility of Sagan is not limited to Snort; instead, it extends to all the tools that can be integrated with Snort including Anaval, Squil, BASE, and Snorby. Additionally, you can install the tool on Linux, Unix, and Mac-OS. Moreover, you can feed it with Windows event logs.

Last but not least, it can implement IP bans by working with Firewalls when suspicious activity from a specific source is detected.

Features: 

Compatible with data collected from Snort, compatible with data from tools like Anaval, Squil, BASE, and Snorby, it can be installed on Linux, Unix, and Mac-OS. It can be fed with Windows event logs, and it includes a log analysis tool, an IP locator, and can implement IP bans by working with Firewall tables.

Cons:

  • Not a true IDS.
  • Difficult installation process.

Our Review: Sagan is a good choice for anyone looking for a HIDS tool with an element for NIDS.

Website: Sagan


#9) McAfee Network Security Platform

Pricing: Starting at $10,995
Best For large businesses.

McAfee Network Security Platform

The McAfee Network Security Platform allows you to integrate your network protection. With this IDS, you can block more intrusions than ever before, unify cloud and on-premise security, and get access to flexible deployment options.

The McAfee IDS works by blocking any download that would expose the network to harmful or malicious software. It can also block user access to a site that is harmful to a computer on the network. By doing these things, the McAfee Network Security Platform keeps your sensitive data and information safe from attackers.

Features: 

Download protection, DDoS attack prevention, computer data encryption, blocks access to harmful sites, etc.

Cons:

  • May block a site that isn’t malicious or harmful.
  • It can slow down the internet/network speed.

Our Review: If you’re looking for an IDS that can easily integrate with other McAfee services, then the McAfee Network Security Platform is a good choice. It is also a good choice for any organization that is willing to compromise system speed for increased network security.

Website: McAfee Network Security Platform


#10) Palo Alto Networks

Pricing: Starting at $9,509.50
Best For large businesses.

Palo Alto Networks

One of the best things about Palo Alto Networks is that it has active threat policies for protection from malware and malicious sites. Additionally, the developers of the system are continually looking to improve its threat protection capabilities.

Features: 

Threat engine that constantly updates about important threats, active threat policies for protection, supplemented by Wildfire to protect against threats, etc.

Cons:

  • Lack of customizability.
  • No visibility into signatures.

Our Review: Great for threat prevention to a certain level in a network of large businesses that are willing to pay over $9,500 for this IDS.

Website: Palo Alto Networks


Conclusion

All the Intrusion Detection Systems that we have listed above come with their fair share of pros and cons. Therefore, the best Intrusion Detection System for you will vary based on your needs and circumstances.

For Example, Bro is a good choice for its readiness. OSSEC is a great tool for any organization looking for an IDS that can perform rootkit detection and monitor file integrity while providing real-time alerts. Snort is a good tool for anyone looking for an IDS with a user-friendly interface.

It is also useful for its deep analysis of the data it collects. Suricata is a great tool if you’re looking for an alternative to Snort that relies on signatures and can run on an enterprise network.

Security Onion is ideal for any organization that is looking for an IDS that allows building several distributed sensors for enterprise in minutes. Sagan is a good choice for anyone looking for a HIDS tool with an element for NIDS. Open WIPS-NG is a good choice if you’re looking for an IDS that can work as both an intrusion detector and a Wi-Fi packet sniffer.

Sagan is a good choice for anyone looking for a HIDS tool with an element for NIDS. A comprehensive network security tool, SolarWinds Event Manager can help you to instantly shut down malicious activity in your network. This is a great IDS if you can afford to spend at least $4,585 on it.

If you’re looking for an IDS that can easily integrate with other McAfee services, then the McAfee Network Security Platform is a good choice. However, like SolarWinds, it has a high starting price.

Last but not least, Palo Alto Networks is great for threat prevention to a certain level in a network of large businesses that are willing to pay over $9,500 for this IDS.

Our Review Process

Our writers have spent more than 7 hours in researching the most popular Intrusion Detection Systems with the highest ratings on the customer- review sites.

To come up with the final list of the best Intrusion Detection Systems, they have considered and vetted 20 different IDS and read over 20 customer reviews. This research process, in turn, makes our recommendations trustworthy.

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