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Suricata Pushing Intrusion Detection Evolution

Advances in intrusion detection systems (IDS) and intrusion prevention systems (IPS) have stayed fairly stagnant, with the exception of the signatures that must change daily to meet current threats. The Suricata project from the Open Information Security Foundation (OISF) looks to change that and bring forth the evolution of the IDS.
Advances in intrusion detection systems (IDS) and intrusion prevention systems (IPS) have stayed fairly stagnant, with the exception of the signatures that must change daily to meet current threats. The Suricata project from the Open Information Security Foundation (OISF) looks to change that and bring forth the evolution of the IDS.I spend a good deal of time digging through IDS data. It's surprisingly a lot of fun provided that you've actually tuned your IDS and aren't stuck sifting through meaningless alerts. If you don't have an IDS, thrn you should set one up with the rules from the Emerging Threats community and let it watch your egress traffic as it leaves your network. You'll be amazed at what you find.

But before I get sidetracked about traffic monitoring in general, let's dig into Suricata. I can think of one word that describes it: awesome. I'm not kidding. I've been a long-time user of Snort, the de facto open-source IDS engine that Sourcefire (and others) have based their commercial businesses on. It's a great tool, but there are many limitations that have led the OISF to develop Suricata from scratch.

The primary limitation with Snort that surprises people and kills sensors on high-speed networks is that it is single-threaded. In other words, even if you have a 16-core monster server, Snort is going to use only one of those cores. Not cool if you have a fast link with lots of traffic flowing out of your network. Your IDS simply isn't going to be effective if it's dropping packets. However, this isn't a limitation by just Snort, but pretty much every IDS/IPS vendor out there.

What's coming from OISF will turn the industry on its ear because Suricata is not only introducing multicore support, but also CUDA GPU acceleration. What that means is that Suricata can take advantage of all the processors in a system and use CUDA-enabled NVIDIA video cards to accelerate network parsing. It's terribly exciting for us dealing with 10-Gb networks.

There are loads of other features, like inline mode so it can be used as an IPS, IPv6 support, Snort rule syntax support, and a specialized HTTP parsing library. Suricata RC1 is currently available for download and the first "stable" release is scheduled for July 1.

I highly recommend you take a look at Suricata if you're involved with IDS in any way or if you're looking to see what the future holds. It's an exciting project that holds a lot of potential for those of us facing the problems of monitoring faster and faster networks.

John H. Sawyer is a senior security engineer on the IT Security Team at the University of Florida. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are his own and do not represent the views and opinions of the UF IT Security Team or the University of Florida. When John's not fighting flaming, malware-infested machines or performing autopsies on blitzed boxes, he can usually be found hanging with his family, bouncing a baby on one knee and balancing a laptop on the other. Special to Dark Reading.

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