Crossing the Streams in Suricata

At it’s core, Suricata is a packet processor. It reads packets and pushes them through a configurable pipeline. The 2nd most important processing unit in Suricata is the flow. In Suricata we use the term flow for the bidirectional flows of packets with the same 5 tuple (proto, src ip, dst ip, sp, dp. Vlans can be added as well). In fact, much of Suricata’s threading effort revolves around the flow. In the 2 main runmodes, autofp and workers, flow based load balancing makes sure that a all packets of a single flow always go through the same threading pipeline. In workers this means one single thread, in autofp 2: the capture thread and a stream/detect/output thread.

Flows are the central unit for out ‘app layer’ parsing. Protocol parsers like HTTP don’t even have access to the original packet. It all runs on top of the stream engine, which tracks TCP flows in … our flow structure.

Another place where the flow is crucial is in many of the rules. Rules extensively use the concept of ‘flowbits’. This allows one rule to ‘flag’ a flow, and then another to check this flag. In Emerging Threats many hundreds of rules use this logic.

Ever since we started Suricata, we’ve been talking about what some called ‘global flowbits’. A bit of a strange and contradictory name, but pretty much rule writers wanted the logic of flowbits, but then applied to other units as well. So a few weeks ago I (finally) decided to check if I could quickly implement ‘hostbits’. As Suricata already has a scalable ‘host table’, it was easy add the storage of ‘bits’ there. In a few hours I had the basics working and made it public: see this pull request.

Although I got some nice feedback, I was mostly interested in what the ET folks would think, since they would be the main consumers. While presenting the work I also mentioned the xbits ideas by Michael Rash and the response was “wow, do we have ip_pair tracking now?”. Ehh, no, just ip/host based… “Ah well, I guess that is nice too”. Not exactly the response I hoped for 🙂

IP pair tracking is not something Suricata already did. But as the need was clear I decided to have a look at it. Turned out it was quite simple to do. The IPPair tracker is much like the Host tracking. It’s only done on demand, which sets it apart from the Flow tracking which is done unconditionally. In this case only the new keyword is making use of the IP Pair storage.

So, what I have implemented is pretty much ‘xbits’. It supports tracking by ‘ip_src’, ‘ip_dst’ and ‘ip_pair’. It uses the syntax as suggested by Michael Rash:

      track <ip_src|ip_dst|ip_pair>,expire <seconds>

It’s only lightly tested, so I would appreciate testing feedback!

You’ll find the code here in PR 1275 at github. This should normally end up in Suricata 2.1, which will come out early next year.

One thought on “Crossing the Streams in Suricata

  1. Hello, now I know xbits is global flowbits. However, I read the official doc about flowint, and it said flowint is a precursor to the Global Variables. Is it added in newest suricata version? Thanks very much!

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