Suricata IPS improvements

January has been a productive month for Suricata, especially for the IPS part of it. I’ve quite some time on adding support to the stream engine to operate differently when running inline. This was needed as dropping attacks found in the reassembled stream or the application layer was not reliable. Up until now the stream engine would offer the reassembled stream to the detection engine as soon as it was ACK’d. This meant that by definition the packets containing the data had already passed the IPS device. Simply switching to sending un-ACK’d data to the detection engine would have it’s own set of issues.

To be able to work with un-ACK’d data, we need to make sure we deal with possible evasions properly. The problem, as extensively documented by Judy Novak and Steven Sturges, is that in TCP streams there can be overlapping packets. Those are being dealt with differently based on the receiving OS. If we would need to account for overlaps in the application layer, we would have to be able to tell the HTTP parser for example: “sorry, that last data is wrong, please revert and use the new packet instead”. A nightmare.

The solution I opted for was to not care about destination OS’ for overlaps and such. The approach is fairly simple: once we have accepted a segment, thats what it’s going to be. This means that if we receive a segment later that (partially) overlaps and has different data, it’s data portion will simply be overwritten to be the same as the original segment. This way, the IPS and not an obscure mix of the sender (attacker?) and destination OS, determines the data the destination will see.

Of course the approach comes with some drawbacks. First, we need to keep segments in memory for a longer period of time. This causes significantly higher memory usage. Secondly, if we rewrite a packet, it needs to be reinjected on the wire. As we modified the packet payload a checksum recalculation is required.

In Suricata’s design the application layer parsers, such as our HTTP parser, run on top of the reassembly engine. After the reassembly engine and the app layer parsers are updated, the packet with the associated stream and app layer state is passed on to the detection engine. In the case where we work with ACK’d data, an ACK packet in the opposite direction triggers the reassembly process. If we detect based on that, and decide we need to drop, all we can do is drop the ACK packet as the actual data segment(s) have already passed. This is not good enough in many cases.

In the new code the data segment itself triggers the reassembly process. In this case, if the detection engine decides a drop is required, the packet containing the data itself can be dropped, not just the ACK. The reason we’re not taking the same approach in IDS mode is that we wouldn’t be able to properly deal with the said evasion/overlap issues. The IPS can exactly control what packets pass Suricata. The IDS, being passive, can not.

You can try this code by checking out the current git master. In the suricata.yaml that lives in our git tree you’ll find a new option in the stream config, “stream.inline”. If you enable this, the code as explained above is activated.

Feedback is very welcome!