Wednesday, April 06, 2011

log classification with liblognorm

Today, I have added support for so-called "tags" to liblognorm (and it's base library libee). This new capabilities permits very easy classification of syslog message and log records in general. So you can not only extract data from your various log source, you can also classify events, for example, as being a "login", a "logout" or a firewall "denied access". This makes it very easy to look at specific subsets of messages and process them in ways specific to the information being conveyed.

To see how it works, let's first define what a tag is: A tag is a simple alphanumeric string that identifies a specific type of object, action, status, etc. For example, we can have object tags for firewalls and servers. For simplicity, let's call them "firewall" and "server". Then, we can have action tags like "login", "logout" and "connectionOpen". Status tags could include "success" or "fail", among others. The idea of tags is based on early CEE concepts. I will try to keep consistent with whatever CEE heads to. Tags form a flat space, there is no inherent relationship between then (but this may be added later on top of the current implementation). Think of tags like the tag cloud in a blogging system. Tags can be defined for any reason and need (though obviously we must strive to get to a standard set, something I hope CEE will provide in the not too distant future). A single event can be associated with as many tags as required.

Assigning tags to messages is simple. A rule contains both the sample of the message (including the extracted fields) as well as -now- the tags. Have a look at this sample, taken from liblognorm 0.2.0:

rule=:sshd[%pid:number%]: Invalid user %user:word% from %src-ip:ipv4%

Here, we have a rule that shows an invalid ssh login request. The various field are used to extract information into a well-defined structure. Have you ever wondered why every rule starts with a colon? Now, here is the answer: the colon separates the tag part from the actual sample part. Starting with liblognorm 0.3.0, you can create a rule like this:

rule=ssh,user,login,fail:sshd[%pid:number%]: Invalid user %user:word% from %src-ip:ipv4%

Note the "ssh,user,login,fail" part in front of the colon. These are the four tags the user has decided to assign to this event. What now happens is that the normalizer does not only extract the information from the message if it finds a match, but it also adds the tags as metadata. Once normalization is done, one can not only query the individual fields, but also query if a specific tag is associated with this event. For example, to find all ssh-related events (provided the rules are built that way), you can normalize a large log and select only that subset of the normalized log that contains the tag "ssh".

Note that versions of liblognorm 0.2.0 simply ignore the tag part, so old versions of the library are capable of working with new rule bases.

This is pretty cool and has ample potential. Just think about creating firewall reports: if you have different firewalls, you only need to have different rule bases to normalize these events all into the same format. Even more now, you can process the logs based on the classification assigned during the normalization process. For example, a "failed connection request" report may ignore everything that is not tagged as "connection, fail".

That probably sounds pretty good to you, but how to actually use it? Right now, the core functionality is available inside the libraries (more precisely in the git version, I will do an official release very soon but wanted to spread word). That means developers have the necessary API to integrate with their programs. End user tools do not yet exist (what is not too surprisingly for a library). Integration of the new functionality is very easy. Classification is available without need to change anything in existing applications. A single new simple API ee_EventHasTag() has been added, which needs to be called to see if an event is associated with the given tag. [side-note: the current API is NOT guaranteed to be stable, even though I try not to break things without need]

In hope that developers will play with the new functionality, so that it will be available in end-user tools soon as well. I myself plan to enhance the normalizer tool very soon to support selecting subsets based on tags (this can also serve as an example for other developers). Also, I plan to add classification support to rsyslog very, very soon. So stay tuned to what's coming up -- it's exciting ;)
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