Design Alternatives for a High-Performance Self-Securing Ethernet Network Interface

Derek L. Schuff, Purdue University
Vijay S. Pai, Purdue University

Document Type Article


This paper presents and evaluates a strategy for integrating the Snort network intrusion detection system into a high-performance programmable Ethernet network interface card (NIC), considering the impact of several possible hardware and software design choices. While currently proposed ASIC, FPGA, and TCAM systems can match incoming string content in real-time, the system proposed also supports the stream reassembly and HTTP content transformation capabilities of Snort. This system, called LineSnort, parallelizes Snort using concurrency across TCP sessions and executes those parallel tasks on multiple low-frequency pipelined RISC processors embedded in the NIC. LineSnort additionally exploits opportunities for intra-session concurrency. The system also includes dedicated hardware for high-bandwidth data transfers and for high-performance string matching. Detailed results obtained by simulating various software and hardware configurations show that the proposed system can achieve intrusion detection throughputs in excess of 1 Gigabit per second for fairly large rule sets. Such performance requires the system to use hardware-assisted string matching and a small shared data cache. The system can extract performance through increases in processor clock frequency or parallelism, allowing additional flexibility for designers to achieve performance within specified area or power budgets. By efficiently offloading the computationally difficult task of intrusion detection to the network interface, LineSnort enables intrusion detection to run directly on PC-based network servers rather than just at powerful edge-based appliances. As a result, LineSnort has the potential to protect servers against the growing menace of LAN-based attacks, whereas traditional edge-based intrusion detection deployments can only protect against external attacks.