Security

Suricata vs Snort: Which is the best IDS?

Security and network professionals have long trusted a couple of tools in network security. Suricata and Snort are popular choices among security professionals for intrusion detection systems IDS and intrusion prevention system IPS solutions. This post will delve into a detailed comparison between Suricata vs Snort security solutions, looking at their architectures, capabilities, community support, and technical nuances of network intrusion detection and threat detection.

What is Suricata?

Suricata is a solution developed by the Open Information Security Foundation. It has many great features and is known for its multi-threaded architecture, which has existed longer than Snort’s. This enables it to efficiently analyze network traffic and manage rule sets for detecting and mitigating potential threats.

The threaded architecture ensures efficient processing of network packets. It helps the system manage and analyze network traffic with good performance, providing a strong defense against malicious activity using Suricata rules.

Suricata ids ips
Suricata ids ips

Learn more about Suricata here: Home – Suricata.

What is Snort?

Snort, developed by Sourcefire (now a part of Cisco), has been a staple in the network security domain for decades, providing a solid foundation for intrusion detection and prevention in various network environments.

It has a rule-based detection mechanism and extensive protocol support that have enabled businesses to safeguard their networks against known threats effectively.

Snort ids ips solution
Snort ids ips solution

Previously Snort was a single-threaded architecture. However, as of Snort 3.0, they have introduced multi-threading architecture, bringing it on par with Suricata.

Snort rules have been widely adopted and are supported by an active community. However, high-throughput network scenarios have questioned the system’s age and performance.

Learn more about Snort here: Snort – Network Intrusion Detection & Prevention System.

Snort and Suricata as IDS and IPS solutions

Suricata vs Snort are both known for their comprehensive rule set and reliable performance in intrusion detection. It has been a staple in many organizations in existing security systems, helping to mitigate known threats.

Both Snort and Suricata bring unique capabilities to the table and the ability to manage high-throughput traffic with their multi-threaded architecture. Both have free and paid rulesets as well.

Performance

Performance with both are on par with one another. Both now offer multi-threading performance that leads to faster packet processing compared to single-threaded systems. In previous comparisons, with Suricata vs Snort, with Snort versions prior to 3.0, this was a win for the Suricata camp. However, no longer. Single-threaded apps can be limited in performance in high-throughput scenarios.

Both Snort and Suricata are reliable and effective in various environments due to their extensive rule set and protocol analysis capabilities.

Depending on your network traffic and security needs, either solution may perform well in your environment. Extensive testing is needed to understand how each will perform in each case.

Security

With their extensive rulesets for both platforms, Suricata and Snort, both are able to effectively identify and stop modern malware variants.

As mentioned earlier, they both have open source and community rulesets and also paid rulesets that are developed by internal teams. The open rule set of Suricata seems to have an advantage of having more rules available than Snort. However, Snort is widely known for its effectiveness in this area.

Supported Platforms

Suricata and Snort are widely supported, including various UNIX-based systems and Windows. However, due to its modern architecture, some users might find Suricata easier to deploy and manage across different platforms. However, in systems like pfSense, installing and using either is extremely easy as we will see below.

Effectiveness

Both are effective. Each solution features continuous updates to its rule set to address emerging threats. Their ability to integrate with other security tools and adapt to different network environments makes them powerful solutions for network security.

Community and Support: Snort vs Suricata

Snort and Suricata both have strong communities contributing to the rule sets, providing support, and sharing insights on optimizing the respective IDS/IPS for different network scenarios. Snort’s community has been active for a longer period, resulting in a vast repository of Snort rules and community contributions that have enriched its detection capabilities.

Suricata, on the other hand, while being the newcomer between the two, has rapidly gained traction among security professionals and organizations thanks to its multi-threaded architecture. The Suricata community, although younger, is active and continuously contributes to enhancing its rule sets and detection capabilities, making it very effective against evolving threats.

Rule-Based vs Anomaly-Based Detection

Delving deeper into the detection mechanisms, Suricata and Snort offer rule-based detection, which relies on predefined rule sets to identify and mitigate potential threats in network traffic. However, rule implementation can significantly impact how efficient each is in terms of the IDS/IPS capabilities, especially considering the dynamic nature of cyber threats.

Surricata vs Snort: File extraction

Suricata can match on files from FTP, HTTP and SMTP streams and log these to disk for further review. Snort has the “file” preprocessor that is similar, but it is noted to be experimental and development of it has been stagnant for years. This has been noted as something you shouldn’t rely on for a production environment.

Anomaly-Based Detection: Snort vs. Suricata

Both also offer anomaly-based detection, which involves identifying deviations from established network traffic patterns to detect potential threats. Instead of relying on known signatures or patterns of malicious activity, it focuses on deviations from established norms or baselines, which is often a more effective way to spot anomalous traffic.

Both Snort and Suricata incorporate anomaly-based detection, but their approach has distinct differences.

Snort’s Approach to Anomaly-Based Detection

Snort, being one of the earliest and most established intrusion detection systems, has evolved its anomaly-based detection capabilities over time. Note the following:

  1. Baseline Establishment: Snort first establishes a “normal” network behavior baseline over a period. This involves analyzing network traffic, understanding standard protocols used, data transfer rates, connection frequencies, and other relevant metrics.

  2. Threshold-based Alerts: Once the baseline is set, Snort uses threshold-based alerts. Certain activities exceeding or falling below these thresholds trigger an alert. For instance, if there’s a sudden spike in data transfer rates or an unusual number of connection requests, Snort would recognize this as an anomaly.

  3. Protocol Analysis: Snort also employs protocol analysis for anomaly detection. By understanding how specific protocols typically operate, Snort can identify when these protocols behave unexpectedly, indicating potential malicious activity.

Suricata’s Approach to Anomaly-Based Detection

Suricata, the newer of the two has very effective anomaly-based detection as well:

  1. Advanced Baseline Profiling: Suricata establishes a baseline of normal network behavior and continuously updates this profile. This dynamic profiling allows Suricata to adapt to changing network conditions and behaviors, making its anomaly detection more resilient to evolving threats.

  2. Machine Learning Integration: Some implementations of Suricata have experimented with integrating machine learning models. These models can predict and identify anomalies more accurately by learning from vast network data over time.

  3. File Extraction and Analysis: Suricata can extract and analyze files from network flows for anomalies. This feature is handy for detecting threats embedded in files or documents that might be transferred across a network.

  4. Extensive Protocol Support: Suricata supports various protocols and can detect anomalies in various application layers. Its comprehensive protocol support means that it can identify unusual behaviors in more areas of network traffic than systems with limited protocol support

Installing Suricata in pfSense

Let’s look at installing the Suricata module in pfSense as an example of a network solution where you can implement it. It is as simple as navigating to the Package Manager > Available Packages and searching for “suricata. Click Install.

Searching for suricata in pfsense
Searching for suricata in pfsense

Confirm the installation.

Confirm the installation of suricata in pfsense
Confirm the installation of suricata in pfsense

The installation of Suricata is successful.

Suricata installation is successful in pfsense
Suricata installation is successful in pfsense

Looking at generated alerts in pfSense suricata. Below, you see alerts generated in the Suricata alerts tab in pfSense.

Viewing suricata alerts in pfsense
Viewing suricata alerts in pfsense

Installing Snort in pfSense

The process for installing Snort in pfSense is the same. Navigate to Package Manager > Available Packages and searching for “snort”. Click Install.

Searching for and installing snort in pfsense
Searching for and installing snort in pfsense

Confirm the installation.

Confirm the installation of snort
Confirm the installation of snort

The installation of Snort is successful.

Snort installation is successful
Snort installation is successful

You can see the alerts generated in the Alerts tab for Snort in pfSense.

Viewing snort alerts in pfsense
Viewing snort alerts in pfsense

Understanding Intrusion Detection and Prevention Systems

You have undoubtedly heard two terms discussed in network security, including firewall technologies: Intrusion Detection Systems IDS and Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS) that scan at the protocol and application layer.

Both are crucial in managing network traffic and safeguarding systems against malicious traffic and potential threats. What are they exactly?

Intrusion Detection Systems

Intrusion Detection System, or IDS, continuously monitors network traffic, identifying possible threats based on established parameters. IDS primarily focuses on recognizing and generating alerts for administrators about suspicious activities or anomalies in the network. IDS employs two main detection techniques: signature-based detection and anomaly-based detection.

Signature-based IDS uses a specific rule set to scan network traffic, identifying known threats by matching data patterns or signatures.

Anomaly-based IDS, on the other hand, identifies potential threats by detecting unusual or unexpected patterns in network traffic, which could indicate malicious activity. Many of these leverage machine learning and other new technologies for behavior detection.

Intrusion Prevention Systems

Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS) extend the functionality of IDS by not only detecting threats but also taking actions to mitigate them. An IPS actively works to prevent identified threats from infiltrating the network.

This serves to protect the network from intrusion. It uses various detection and prevention techniques to analyze network traffic and enforce policies safeguarding the network’s security and integrity.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do Suricata vs Snort handle high-throughput network traffic?

Previously, if you had an older version of Snort, it was single-threaded. However, as of Snort 3.0, it now sports a multi-threaded architecture, capable of handling high network traffic efficiently. Both Suricata and Snort are multi-threaded for comparison purposes. This architecture allows multiple processes to run concurrently, optimizing the analysis of network packets.

What role does the community play in the development of Snort vs Suricata?

Both Snort and Suricata benefit from active community support. The community contributes to rule sets, offers insights on optimizing the systems, and shares experiences.

For instance, the Snort community has been key to developing and refining the Snort subscriber ruleset, while Suricata’s community continuously enhances its rule management capabilities.

How do these systems manage false positives in threat detection?

Both Snort and Suricata employ a combination of signature-based IDs and anomaly-based detection techniques to minimize false positives. Regular updates to their rule sets, community contributions, and ongoing maintenance help to refine their detection accuracy.

Are there any challenges in integrating Snort vs Suricata with other security tools?

Both Snort and Suricata are designed to work with other security tools. However, like any system integration, challenges can arise based on the specific network environment, depending on the versions and the configurations applied. It is a good idea to refer to the official documentation and community forums for best practices.

How does Suricata and Snort handle file extraction?

Packet capturing is essential for both systems to analyze network traffic. Suricata has an edge in file extraction capabilities since it can match files from FTP, HTTP and SMTP streams and log them to disk. Snort has the “file” preprocessor that has similar functionality, but it is experimental. The development of it has been stagnant for years, and it may not be a feature that organizations will want to rely on for production environments.

Wrapping up

Running intrusion detection systems and intrusion prevention systems IPS solutions are essential to protecting your network from known and unknown vulnerabilities and attacks. Suricata and Snort are two very good IDS IPS solutions well-known and respected in the community for their capabilities and features.

They are both found in solutions like pfSense that allow installing them easily as add-on modules. They have healthy community support, and you will find many great resources for each one around the net. The great thing about pfSense and other firewall solutions is that you can run both and test each one to see which delivers the best results in your environment.

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Brandon Lee

Brandon Lee is the Senior Writer, Engineer and owner at Virtualizationhowto.com and has over two decades of experience in Information Technology. Having worked for numerous Fortune 500 companies as well as in various industries, Brandon has extensive experience in various IT segments and is a strong advocate for open source technologies. Brandon holds many industry certifications, loves the outdoors and spending time with family.

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