What Is Deep Packet Inspection (DPI)? How Does It Work?

By Staff Contributor on December 6, 2021

Learn how deep packet inspection can offer immediate insights into network latency issues, slowdowns, packet sniffing, and more in this comprehensive guide.

  • What Is Deep Packet Inspection (DPI)?
  • How Deep Packet Inspection Works
  • What Is Deep Packet Inspection Used For?
  • What Are Deep Packet Inspection Techniques?
  • Benefits of Using Deep Packet Inspection Software
  • Leverage a Tool Built for DPI 
  • What Is Deep Packet Inspection (DPI)?

    Deep packet inspection is a process of analyzing packets used by enterprises and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to detect and prevent security threats, analyze user behavior, and optimize servers to enhance efficiency.

    How Deep Packet Inspection Works

    Deep packet inspection (DPI) is an advanced method of evaluating, managing, and inspecting network traffic. It provides a complete inspection of data packets flowing from checkpoints.

    DPI relies on sensors installed on servers to gather data like response time, interactions between clients and servers, connectivity-level and application-level transactions, and more.

    This information helps admins view performance insights across networks and identify issues instantly.

    It can detect non-compliance with protocols, filter spam, viruses, or malware, and block or re-route packets based on the results.

    What Is Deep Packet Inspection Used For?

    Deep packet inspection is used to determine whether a particular packet is moving towards the right destination. Unlike packet filtering, in which packets are sorted based on the source and its destination, deep packet inspection goes beyond examining the packets to detect, analyze, locate, and block the packets as and when required.

    DPI offers packet-level analysis to identify the root-cause of network or application performance issues. It’s one of the most accurate techniques to monitor and analyze application behavior, network usage issues, and more. Additionally, deep packet analysis also helps you:

    • Measure business-critical applications with high network latency
    • Improve application availability and meet SLAs
    • Generate reports on historic data and perform forensics

    It can be used for different purposes such as:

    Blocking malware: DPI helps block threats and malware before it disrupts network assets. It also provides visibility into network patterns to help you identify anomalies and notify relevant teams to act.

    Preventing data leaks: Deep packet inspection can also be used to analyze data and set filters to avoid application exfiltration attempts and potential data leaks by external threats.

    Policy definition and enforcement: Service providers use DPI in their service-level agreements to implement policies or provide a certain level of service. These policies may cover unfair use of bandwidth or protocols, copyright infringements, or the use of illegal materials. DPI helps service providers know every detail of the packets received online.

    Lawful interception: Government agencies use different types of services to enable lawful interception capabilities. DPI or DPI-enabled products are considered LI or CALEA-compliant (Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act) and are used to access a user’s datastream only with authority permissions.

    Quality of service: Applications based on peer-to-peer (P2P) traffic sharing of larger documents, media, and files increases traffic. Due to the frequent sharing of huge amounts of data, traffic load increases and requires additional network capacity to improve network performance. DPI helps prevent network congestion by allowing operators to oversell their available bandwidth, helping ensure equitable distribution of bandwidth across the network.

    What Are Deep Packet Inspection Techniques?

    Deep packet inspection is used to protect the network rather than just identifying attacks and alerting teams. Firewalls with features like content inspection and Intrusion Detection Systems aim to protect the network using deep packet inspection. The key techniques used for deep packet inspection include:

    Pattern identification or signature matching: Firewalls with adopted IDS features can use pattern identification and signature matching techniques to detect threats from a known database by analyzing each packet. However, the approach only works for known threats and cannot detect threats that haven’t been discovered yet.

    Protocol anomaly: Firewalls with IDS features can use a protocol anomaly approach that works on the key security principle. It uses a default-deny approach and protocol definitions to determine which content can pass. This approach is different from signature matching as it offers protection against unknown anomalies or threats.

    IPS solutions: An intrusion prevention system is a network security protocol that detects and prevents identified or known threats. IPS solutions with DPI techniques possess similar functionalities as IDS.

    Benefits of Using Deep Packet Inspection Software (DPI Tools)

    • Detects and resolves end-user slowdowns: Deep packet inspection software is designed to measure and monitor network response time, network latency, applications, and more. It helps determine the time taken to reach the packet to its destination from the source. This information allows administrators to find the root cause of issues, impacted applications, traffic volume, traffic count, and more.
    • Analyzes applications instantly: With deep packet inspection implementation, it becomes easier to analyze a large number of applications and their response times. It can monitor several metrics and help you focus on the meta values of the applications.
    • Classifies network traffic: With deep packet inspection software, users or IT organizations can identify, filter, and remove non-business traffic. It detects traffic flowing on specific servers, over a network, or applications to help users with capacity management.
    • Improves Quality of Experience: Deep packet inspection software offers Quality of Experience dashboards to help monitor critical application performance factors. The dashboard provides the top performance metrics to help users filter the results as needed.
    • Configure alerts: Deep packet inspection tools can be integrated with network monitoring tools to receive automated alerts and updates on issues, network performance, and more. DPI helps analyze the changes in application performance based on which relevant teams can get alerted and take quick actions.

    Leverage a Tool Built for DPI

    Organizations must use deep packet inspection software to ensure their system uses minimal bandwidth with low overhead on nodes. DPI software helps you view high-level metrics, configure security metrics, deploy sensors, and more.

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