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OSSEC, the free and open source IDS

Intrusion detection software is meant to monitor network traffic or host activities for malicious actions, such as successful or unsuccessful intrusion attempts, hostile traffic (i.e., malicious scans and denials of service), unauthorized configuration changes, malware symptoms, and user policy violations. An intrusion detection system (IDS) typically can produce reports describing the details of the potentially hazardous activity which generated alerts. OSSEC is particularly useful in this context for many reasons. First, it is an established, reputable product with a proven track record (OSSEC was first released in 2004 and has been owned by Trend Micro since 2009). Second, it is free and open source. Third, it is compatible with most modern operating systems such as Linux, Windows (Server 2008, Server 2003, 7, Vista, XP, 2000) BSD (Free/Open/Net), Unix (Solaris, HP-UX, AIX), and MacOS.

One of the key tenets of IT security is to keep intruders from gaining access to your organization’s network. Not only must the network’s edge be hardened to resist a myriad of attacks, but measures must be put into place to detect attackers who have successfully breached the perimeter. These two measures are important steps in achieving a “defense in depth” security posture, and OSSEC is an effective and affordable option to fulfill the IDS role.

OSSEC logo

Intrusion detection systems (IDS) are generally classified as either network-based or host-based in nature. A network-based IDS (NIDS) attempts to discover unauthorized access to a network by analyzing traffic as it flows between nodes for signs of malicious activity. A host-based IDS (HIDS), on the other hand, is designed to detect threats occurring on the hosts where they are installed (on servers, for example). A HIDS monitors local actions and attempts to identify those which could be hazardous. In this way a HIDS is similar to antivirus applications that identify and block certain attack patterns and raise alarms to alert users and administrators.

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Written by Doug Vitale

February 26, 2014 at 4:04 PM

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