First Commercial 'Suricata' IDS/IPS Product Debuts

nPulse's new multigigabit-speed appliance based on a DHS-backed open-source IDS/IPS project technology
SAN FRANCISCO, CA -- RSA Conference -- A U.S. Department of Homeland Security-funded open-source project to build a new IDS/IPS architecture has emerged from the labs and yielded its first-ever commercial offering, a 10-gigabit-per-second IDS/IPS product from nPulse Technologies.

The new ThreatMeter appliance, rolled out today at the RSA Conference, is based on the so-called Suricata open-source IDS/IPS platform developed by the Open Information Security Foundation (OISF) Consortium, of which nPulse is a member. Suricata, funded by the DHS, aims to create a next-generation, high-speed IDS/IPS platform via an open community, much like the original Snort model.

"We're not trying to compete with or replace Snort. The issue was that DHS wanted something new with Snort, but no one can collaborate with it anymore," says Matt Jonkman, an OISF board member.

At the top of the 10-year-old Snort's list of missing elements that DHS and others want in IDS/IPSes is multithreading, which basically divides up the IDS/IPS workload based on where the processing needs are, Jonkman says. Version 1 of Suricata, which nPulse's ThreatMeter uses, includes multithreading as well as automatic protocol recognition.

"We're not trying to influence the direction of the technology, but letting the community [address] the needs they wanted all along," says Jonkman, CEO and founder of Emerging Threats Pro, which provides the rulesets in Suricata. "IDS/IPS is at the point that it solved the needs for a while, but it hasn't moved forward. And there's not the commercial motivation for vendors to dump their [platforms] and rewrite them. That's why there has not been much advancement and innovation."

Peter Shaw, vice president and co-founder of nPulse, says multithreading is a key feature to higher-speed IDS/IPSes. "When we want high-speed with Snort, we have to use multicore processors with a full instance of Snort on each core," he says.

And when multiple versions of an IDS/IPS are running in this fashion, there's more potential for evasion, OISF's Jonkman says. "With Suricata, you don't lose that global state that's very important at high speeds," he says. "When you have 10 instances of Snort all seeing their own traffic, you're not seeing the big picture."

The automatic protocol recognition feature of Suricata and in nPulse's ThreatMeter lets the IDS/IPS recognize an HTTP data stream, for instance, and automatically apply any rules to it. ThreatMeter uses Napatech's 10-Gbps packet capture and acceleration cards.

Another problem many of today's IDS/IPS systems have is they typically generate false-positives. That's even more problematic when the system is running in-line in the network. Suricata's second phase, now in the planning and development process, will include IP and DNS reputation filtering, which could go a long way in eliminating false-ositives as well as false-negatives, Jonkman says. The OISF is holding a brainstorming session this week at RSA to discuss these and other possible features for the upcoming Suricata version 2.

Aside from nPulse, three other IDS/IPS vendors are adopting Suricata in their engines, says Jonkman, who was unable to name names just yet. "The way the consortium was built is so vendors can maintain and preserve their 'secret sauces' while plugging in Suricata," Jonkman says.

nPulse, meanwhile, is currently taking orders for a 4-Gbps version of ThreatMeter, and is working on the 10-Gbps model in its lab. The company plans to ship the new IDS/IPSes in the second quarter.

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