Consistent logging – good separators

After posting my paper about Remote log injection, most of the feedback I received was regarding how “bad” these tools (e.g. DenyHosts, BlockHosts, etc) are and how bad the idea of log-based automatic response is.

Some people even said that the best approach is to just ignore these logs, since they are just noise. Yes, ignore their sshd/ftpd logs… Of course that I don’t share this opinion. SSH/FTP scans are real attacks and some systems can end up being compromised because of them (well, if they had good passwords, they wouldn’t, but that’s another discussion). Not only we should monitor for failed password attempts, but also for failed passwords followed by success, every success login, etc. Again, that’s another discussion.

Anyway, instead of blaming these tools, I would also put the “blame” on the applications that generate log messages without any good formatting or consistency. In the case of ssh, it uses spaces as a “field separator”, while the user name itself can have spaces. Not a good choice at all. The same applies for Vsftp that uses a bracket as a separator while, again, user names can have brackets.

Logs are there for a reason: to be analyzed, monitored, etc. If they are not consistent or can easily be modified based on remote log injection, they lose their value. That’s why a lot of people just ignore them…

What do I mean by consistent logging? I mean a log that is well defined and uses good separators making it easy for anyone to parse and automatic analyze them. A good example is the ProFTPD logs:

proftpd[12564]: test (hostname[192.168.1.1]) – USER xx: Login successful

Why do I think it is well formatted? Well, it starts with the hostname, followed by IP. These are not user provided input, so they can not influentiate the other fields. The second good point is that the user name separator is a “:” (colon) which is a not valid character for user names. Because of that, log analysis tools can use a simple regex looking for “:” as the end of the user name. Third, it has a descriptive message of the event (in this case, login success)…

There is a lot more on consistent logging that I would like to talk. Hopefully when CEE is really out it will address some of these issues. Comments?

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