Saturday, July 26, 2008


Realeyes was planned with the intention of supporting IPv6, and now that the basic functionality is in place and (mostly) working, I am adding full support for it. This means several things, including:

  • Deploying a Realeyes IDS sensor on an IPv6 network

  • Analysis of IPv6 packets by the IDS application

  • Inserting IPv6 addresses and data in the Realeyes database

  • Defining rules for IPv6 addresses

  • Displaying IPv6 addresses and headers from the user interface

I will describe this in more detail in a later post, but for the moment, I need a motivational boost, so I decided to give myself a pat on the back.

The way that IDS functionality is added is through plugins that perform specific functions. At this point, data collection and high level analysis are essentially complete. I am adding a few new features in the IDS only to the session handler and low level analysis plugins. In Realeyes terminology, this is the Stream Handler and the Stream Analyzers.

The Stream Handler parses the IP header to find the session ID, and set the location of the payload, such as TCP or UDP headers and their data. I set up two hosts on my local network for IPv6 connections. On a Linux system, this is as simple as issuing an ifconfig command on both systems and, for ease of use, adding the remote host to the /etc/hosts file:

    host100> ifconfig eth0 inet6 add fec0:0:0:1::100/64
      fec0:0:0:1::200 host200

    host200> ifconfig eth0 inet6 add fec0:0:0:1::200/64
      fec0:0:0:1::100 host100

Next, I established SSH and FTP sessions between them. I had the code to find the payload written, but this was the first time I had tested it. It took a couple of tries to get it right because the way IPv6 extension headers work is a bit tricky. But when I actually captured some sessions, they were displayed correctly in the user interface.

I then added the code to display the IPv6 headers in the user interface. This formats the main header and each extension header using human readable field names followed by the actual values. Because the header type of each extension header is in the previous header, this was also a little tricky to get working.

The IDS Stream Handler is also where IP fragments must be reassembled. I was really happy that after copying the IPv4 reassembly code and changing all instances of "v4" to "v6" and handling a couple of variables differently, the IPv6 reassembly worked. This is an example of the value of modularity and the use of variables in code.

As an aside, I learned this lesson in my first year of Computer Science. The grad student instructor had us program an assembler that could handle about 8 operations, each with one operand of 6 characters. The next assignment was to modify the assembler to add a couple of operations, some of which took two operands, and the length of operands increased to 8 characters. Those who hard coded the original assignment had a lot of work to do (I had hard coded some things, but not all). And yes, the third assignment was more of the same.

I hated that guy (as did most of my classmates), because while the lesson was legitimate, laboratory exercises are not applications that will grow in the real world. As first year students, most of us did not have enough experience to develop programs with even that level of sophistication, and he did not recommend that we incorporate it in the assignment. And with other classes to deal with, getting a single program to work at all took time that was in limited supply. His excuse was, in the real world we would constantly be faced with changing requirements at a moments notice, and thus he was doing us a favor.

Having been out here for over 20 years, I have yet to run into anything remotely like what he described, although I do make it a point to be anal about getting adequate requirements descriptions up front. The people I have worked for wanted me to succeed, because it reflected on them. Some were more helpful than others, but I have never worked on a task where the requirements changed wildly, making it impossible to complete. Maybe I'm just lucky.

Incidentally, the way I tested reassembly was to use the latest version of netcat, which supports IPv6 sessions. I created a file that had over 8K of test data, and then sent it over a UDP session, which tried to send the entire file in a single datagram, and forced the TCP/IP stack to fragment it:
    server> nc -6 -u -l -p 2000 fec0:0:0:1::100

    client> nc -6 -u fec0:0:0:1::200 2000 <

Anyhow, I am now working on analyzing the IPv6 extension headers and expect that to be done within a week. After some tidying up, I will be building a new package for download with IPv6 and several other new features. So, back to work.

Later . . . Jim

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Introducing, Your Network

For the first three months after I started working on a government network security team I had nightmares. Then I decided that the grunts on the other side were probably in the same boat as we were--undermanned, underfunded, and misunderstood. Whether it's true or not, it let me sleep at night.

But the reasons I was so unsettled didn't go away. I tell people that most security analysts (and I include system and network admins who take responsibility for security in this group) are very good at the easy attacks, probably catching close to 100% of them quickly. They are pretty good at the moderately sophisticated ones--I would guess that well over 50% are eventually caught, although there is a fair amount of luck involved in a lot of those.

But what has always bothered me is that we don't have any idea of how much we don't know. Honeynets are easily avoided by the most sophisticated attackers, especially since they are focused on specific targets in the first place. What makes a target specific? Look at brick-and-mortar crime to get a sense of the possibilities. Based on this, I am guessing that because of the skills required, the problem is not rampant but is still significant.

So one of my goals in developing Realeyes was to provide a tool for security analysts to dig into the goings on in their networks. Those who are familiar with a network can tell when conditions just don't feel right, but what can they do with limited time and resources? After running Realeyes in a pilot program for over six months, it is beginning to deliver on its potential to be that tool.

The site's network admin had periodically seen large bursts of outbound traffic from several EMail servers in the early morning and suspected that there were some hosts being used to send spam. I defined rules to report all of the EMail server traffic between midnight and 6:00 am. Unfortunately, the school year ended shortly after the monitoring was set up and there has not been any of the traffic that it was defined to capture. However, there have been some interesting results.

Initially, there were a lot of reports of automatic software updates, so I used the exclude rule to prevent certain host or network addresses from being reported. It turned out that a couple of these servers were also listening on port 80, so there were a lot of reports of search engine web crawlers. These were eliminated by defining rules with keywords found in those sessions with the NOT flag set to cause the sessions to be ignored.

There were several 'Invalid Relay' errors issued by EMail servers, and some of the emails causing them were sent from and to the same address. At first I created a rule to monitor for the invalid relay message from the server. This captured a lot of simple mistakes, so I have started defining rules to capture email addresses that are used more than once. What I am trying to do is refine the definition of 'probes' which can then be used for further monitoring.

The further monitoring is accomplished using the 'Hot IP' rule. When a Hot IP is defined for an event, all sessions of the IP address (source, destination, or both) specified are captured for a defined time period after the event is detected, 24 hours for example. Using this technique, I have recently seen one of the probing hosts send an HTTP GET request to port 25, as well as some other apparent exploits.

This process is more interactive than the method used by most security tools. But by giving more control over what is monitored to those who know the environment best, I am trying to help build a better understanding of how much we don't know. And I hope that lets more good grunts sleep better at night.

Later . . . Jim