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Next generation intrusion detection: an update on Cloudflare’s IDS capabilities


4 min read

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Next generation intrusion detection: an update on Cloudflare’s IDS capabilities

In an ideal world, intrusion detection would apply across your entire network - data centers, cloud properties, and branch locations. It wouldn’t impact the performance of your traffic. And there’d be no capacity constraints. Today, we’re excited to bring this one step closer to reality by announcing the private beta of Cloudflare’s intrusion detection capabilities: live monitoring for threats across all of your network traffic, delivered as-a-service — with none of the constraints of legacy hardware approaches.

Cloudflare’s Network Services, part of Cloudflare One, help you connect and secure your entire corporate network — data center, cloud, or hybrid — from DDoS attacks and other malicious traffic. You can apply Firewall rules to keep unwanted traffic out or enforce a positive security model, and integrate custom or managed IP lists into your firewall policies to block traffic associated with known malware, bots, or anonymizers. Our new Intrusion Detection System (IDS) capabilities expand on these critical security controls by actively monitoring for a wide range of known threat signatures in your traffic.

What is an IDS?

Intrusion Detection Systems are traditionally deployed as standalone appliances but often incorporated as features in more modern or higher end firewalls. They expand the security coverage of traditional firewalls - which focus on blocking traffic you know you don’t want in your network - to analyze traffic against a broader threat database, detecting a variety of sophisticated attacks such as ransomware, data exfiltration, and network scanning based on signatures or “fingerprints” in network traffic. Many IDSs also incorporate anomaly detection, monitoring activity against a baseline to identify unexpected traffic patterns that could indicate malicious activity. (If you’re interested in the evolution of network firewall capabilities, we recommend this where we’ve dived deeper on the topic).

What problems have users encountered with existing IDS solutions?

We’ve interviewed tons of customers about their experiences deploying IDS and the pain points they’re hoping we can solve. Customers have mentioned the full list of historical problems we hear frequently with other hardware-based security solutions, including capacity planning, location planning and back hauling traffic through a central location for monitoring, downtime for installation, maintenance, and upgrades, and vulnerability to congestion or failure with large volumes of traffic (e.g. DDoS attacks).

Customers we talked to also consistently cited challenges making trade off decisions between security and performance for their network traffic. One network engineer explained:

“I know my security team hates me for this, but I can’t let them enable the IDS function on our on-prem firewalls - in the tests my team ran, it cut my throughput by almost a third. I know we have this gap in our security now, and we’re looking for an alternative way to get IDS coverage for our traffic, but I can’t justify slowing down the network for everyone in order to catch some theoretical bad traffic.”

Finally, customers who did choose to take the performance hit and invest in an IDS appliance reported that they often mute or ignore the feed of alerts coming into their SOC after turning it on. With the amount of noise on the Internet and the potential risk of missing an important signal, IDSs can end up generating a lot of false positives or non-actionable notifications. This volume can lead busy SOC teams to get alert fatigue and end up silencing potentially important signals buried in the noise.

How is Cloudflare tackling these problems?

We believe there’s a more elegant, efficient, and effective way to monitor all of your network traffic for threats without introducing performance bottlenecks or burning your team out with non-actionable alerts. Over the past year and a half, we’ve learned from your feedback, experimented with different technology approaches, and developed a solution to take those tough trade off decisions out of the picture.

One interface across all your traffic

Cloudflare’s IDS capabilities operate across all of your network traffic - any IP port or protocol — whether it flows to your IPs that we advertise on your behalf, IPs we lease to you, or soon, traffic within your private network. You can enforce consistent monitoring and security control across your entire network in one place.

No more hardware headaches

Like all of our security functions, we built our IDS from scratch in software, and it is deployed across every server on Cloudflare’s global Anycast network. This means:

  • No more capacity planning: Cloudflare’s entire global network capacity is now the capacity of your IDS - currently 142 Tbps and counting.
  • No more location planning: No more picking regions, backhauling traffic to central locations, or deploying primary and backup appliances - because every server runs our IDS software and traffic is automatically attracted to the closest network location to its source, redundancy and failover are built in.
  • No maintenance downtime: Improvements to Cloudflare’s IDS capabilities, like all of our products, are deployed continuously across our global network.

Threat intelligence from across our interconnected global network

The attack landscape is constantly evolving, and you need an IDS that stays ahead of it. Because Cloudflare’s IDS is delivered in software we wrote from the ground up and maintain, we’re able to continuously feed threat intelligence from the 20+ million Internet properties on Cloudflare back into our policies, keeping you protected from both known and new attack patterns.

Our threat intelligence combines open-source feeds that are maintained and trusted by the security community - like Suricata threat signatures - with information collected from our unique vantage point as an incredibly interconnected network carrying a significant percentage of all Internet traffic. Not only do we share these insights publicly through tools like Cloudflare Radar; we also feed them back into our security tools including IDS so that our customers are protected as quickly as possible from emerging threats. Cloudflare’s newly announced Threat Intel team will augment these capabilities even further, applying additional expertise to understanding and deriving insights from our network data.

Excited to get started?

If you’re an Advanced Magic Firewall customer, you can get access to these features in private beta starting now. You can reach out to your account team to learn more or get started now - we can’t wait to hear your feedback as we continue to develop these capabilities!

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Annika Garbers|@annikagarbers

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