New third-party test compares Amazon GuardDuty to network intrusion detection systems

A new whitepaper is available that summarizes the results of tests by Foregenix comparing Amazon GuardDuty with network intrusion detection systems (IDS) on threat detection of network layer attacks. GuardDuty is a cloud-centric IDS service that uses Amazon Web Services (AWS) data sources to detect a broad range of threat behaviors. Security engineers need to understand how Amazon GuardDuty compares to traditional solutions for network threat detection. Assessors have also asked for clarity on the effectiveness of GuardDuty for meeting compliance requirements, like Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standard (DSS) requirement 11.4, which requires intrusion detection techniques to be implemented at critical points within a network.

A traditional IDS typically relies on monitoring network traffic at specific network traffic control points, like firewalls and host network interfaces. This allows the IDS to use a set of preconfigured rules to examine incoming data packet information and identify patterns that closely align with network attack types. Traditional IDS have several challenges in the cloud:

  • Networks are virtualized. Data traffic control points are decentralized and traffic flow management is a shared responsibility with the cloud provider. This makes it difficult or impossible to monitor all network traffic for analysis.
  • Cloud applications are dynamic. Features like auto-scaling and load balancing continuously change how a network environment is configured as demand fluctuates.

Most traditional IDS require experienced technicians to maintain their effective operation and avoid the common issue of receiving an overwhelming number of false positive findings. As a compliance assessor, I have often seen IDS intentionally de-tuned to address the false positive finding reporting issue when expert, continuous support isn’t available.

GuardDuty analyzes tens of billions of events across multiple AWS data sources, such as AWS CloudTrail, Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (Amazon VPC) flow logs, and Amazon Route 53 DNS logs. This gives GuardDuty the ability to analyze event data, such as AWS API calls to AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) login events, which is beyond the capabilities of traditional IDS solutions. Monitoring AWS API calls from CloudTrail also enables threat detection for AWS serverless services, which sets it apart from traditional IDS solutions. However, without inspection of packet contents, the question remained, “Is GuardDuty truly effective in detecting network level attacks that more traditional IDS solutions were specifically designed to detect?”

AWS asked Foregenix to conduct a test that would compare GuardDuty to market-leading IDS to help answer this question for us. AWS didn’t specify any specific attacks or architecture to be implemented within their test. It was left up to the independent tester to determine both the threat space covered by market-leading IDS and how to construct a test for determining the effectiveness of threat detection capabilities of GuardDuty and traditional IDS solutions which included open-source and commercial IDS.

Foregenix configured a lab environment to support tests that used extensive and complex attack playbooks. The lab environment simulated a real-world deployment composed of a web server, a bastion host, and an internal server used for centralized event logging. The environment was left running under normal operating conditions for more than 45 days. This allowed all tested solutions to build up a baseline of normal data traffic patterns prior to the anomaly detection testing exercises that followed this activity.

Foregenix determined that GuardDuty is at least as effective at detecting network level attacks as other market-leading IDS. They found GuardDuty to be simple to deploy and required no specialized skills to configure the service to function effectively. Also, with its inherent capability of analyzing DNS requests, VPC flow logs, and CloudTrail events, they concluded that GuardDuty was able to effectively identify threats that other IDS could not natively detect and required extensive manual customization to detect in the test environment. Foregenix recommended that adding a host-based IDS agent on Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instances would provide an enhanced level of threat defense when coupled with Amazon GuardDuty.

As a PCI Qualified Security Assessor (QSA) company, Foregenix states that they consider GuardDuty as a qualifying network intrusion technique for meeting PCI DSS requirement 11.4. This is important for AWS customers whose applications must maintain PCI DSS compliance. Customers should be aware that individual PCI QSAs might have different interpretations of the requirement, and should discuss this with their assessor before a PCI assessment.

Customer PCI QSAs can also speak with AWS Security Assurance Services, an AWS Professional Services team of PCI QSAs, to obtain more information on how customers can leverage AWS services to help them maintain PCI DSS Compliance. Customers can request Security Assurance Services support through their AWS Account Manager, Solutions Architect, or other AWS support.

We invite you to download the Foregenix Amazon GuardDuty Security Review whitepaper to see the details of the testing and the conclusions provided by Foregenix.

If you have feedback about this post, submit comments in the Comments section below. If you have questions about this post, start a new thread on the Amazon GuardDuty forum or contact AWS Support.

Want more AWS Security how-to content, news, and feature announcements? Follow us on Twitter.

Author

Tim Winston

Tim is long-time security and compliance consultant and currently a PCI QSA with AWS Security Assurance Services.