WoO Day 6 : Layin’ Down The Law

In a previous entry we discussed OSSEC Decoders and how they work. Decoders are only the first step in the log analysis train, though. Once log entries have been decoded, we need to do something with the results. That something is to match them up with rules so that OSSEC sends alerts and/or provides the proper response.

OSSEC rules ultimately determine what log entries will be reported and what entries will trigger active responses. And, as with decoders, rules can build upon one another. You can also chain rules together to alter the ultimate response based on conditions such as frequency and time. So let’s take a look at a simple rule.

<rule noalert=”1″ level=”0″ id=”5700″>
<description>SSHD messages grouped.</description>

This is one of the default rules that ships with OSSEC. Each rule is defined with a unique ID. To prevent custom rules from interfering with core rules, the developers have reserved a range of IDs for custom rules. That said, there is nothing preventing you from using whatever ID numbering you desire. Just keep in mind that if you use an ID that is reserved for something else by the developers, new versions of OSSEC may interfere.

Also listed in the rule tag is a level and a noalert attribute. The noalert attribute is pretty straightforward, this rule won’t send an alert when it’s matched. Typically, the noalert tag is used on rules that are designed to be built upon. The level tag determines what level alert this rule will trigger when matched. Because we’re combining it with the noalert tag, the level ends up not meaning a whole lot.

The decoded_as tag identifies the parent decoder for which this rule is written. Only rules with a decoded_as tag matching the decoder used to decode the current log entry will be scanned for a match. This prevents OSSEC from having to scan every rule for a match.

The description tag is a human readable description of what the rule is. When you receive and alert, or when the alert is added to the OSSEC log, this description is added along with it. In the case of this rule, the description identifies its purpose. This rule was defined purely to group together sshd alerts. The intention is that other rules will handle the alerts for any alert-worthy ssh log entries that are detected.

Now let’s look at something that builds on this basic rule. Again, choosing a rule from the default ruleset, we have this:

<rule id=”5702″ level=”5″>
<match>^reverse mapping</match>
<regex>failed – POSSIBLE BREAK</regex>
<description>Reverse lookup error (bad ISP or attack).</description>

The first thing to note about this rule is the if_sid tag. The if_sid tag says if the rule number defined in this tag has already matched the incoming log entry, then we want to see if this rule matches. In other words, this rule is a child of the rule identified in the if_sid tag.

The match tag defines a string we’re looking for within the log entry. The regex tag also defines a string we’re trying to match, but regex can use the full set of regular expressions that OSSEC supports. If both the match and the regex are found in the log entry, then this rule matches and will alert at a level of 5.

Finally, let’s look at a more advanced rule. This rule also builds on the previous rules mentioned, but contains a few extras that make it even more powerful.

<rule timeframe=”360″ frequency=”4″ level=”10″ id=”5703″>
<description>Possible breakin attempt </description>
<description>(high number of reverse lookup errors).</description>

The intention of this rule is to identify repeated log entries that point at a more severe problem than a simple error. In this case we have multiple incoming ssh connections with bad reverse DNS entries. The frequency and timeframe attributes define how many times within a specific timespan a particular rule has to fire before this rule will kick in.

Notice that instead of the if_sid tag, we’re using the if_matched_sid tag. This is because we’re not necessarily making this rule a child of another, but instead making it a composite rule. In other words, this rule is fired if another rule fires multiple times based on the setting within this rule. As a result, this rule fires with a level of 10.

But now that we have rules and alerts being generated, what else can we do? The answer is that we can trigger active responses based on those rules. Generally, an active response fires when an alert comes in with a level equal to or higher than the alert level of the active response definition. There are ways to alter this, but let’s keep things simple for now.

To configure active response, first you need to define the commands that active-response will use. Note: All command and active-response configuration is placed in the ossec.conf on the server.


This snippet defines a command called firewall-drop. The command depends on an executable called firewall-drop.sh. This file must exist on all agents that will run this command. Unfortunately, there is currently no mechanism to push these files out to agents automatically, but perhaps there will be in the future? (*HINT*)

Th expect tag determines what variables are required from the alert in order to fire this command. Since this particular command adds a block rule to the server firewall, the srcip is required. And finally, timeout_allowed tells OSSEC that this command supports a timeout option. In other words, the firewall block is added and then removed after a given timeout.

Once the command is in place you need to set up the active response itself.


The active-response block identifies the command that will be run as well as the level at which it will fire. For this example, the firewall-drop command is run for any alert with a level of 6 or higher. We have also specified a timeout of 3600 which tells OSSEC that the command needs to be run again after 3600 seconds to remove the firewall-drop.

Also included is a location tag. This tells OSSEC where to run the command. Here we have specified local, which may be slightly confusing. This means that firewall-drop is run on the local agent that triggered the alert. So, if agent 002 triggers an ssh alert with a level of 6, then OSSEC tells agent 002 to run the firewall-drop command with a timeout of 3600 seconds.

You can also specify other options for location that allow you to run commands on the server or on specific agents. For instance, what if you want to block an IP at the edge whenever you get an alert of level 10 or higher. Perhaps you create a command called edge-block and it connects to your edge router to update an ACL located on the router. Running this on every agent is unwieldy at best and probably constitutes a significant security threat. Instead, you can have this script run on the server, or even a specific agent designed to handle this connection.

And that covers the basics for rules. I encourage you to write your own rules and test them out with the ossec-logtest program located in /var/ossec/bin. Learning to write rules is essential to running and tuning an OSSEC installation.

Tune in tomorrow for the final wrap-up of this year’s Week of OSSEC!

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