Wednesday, November 09, 2011

liblognorm event annotation ... and CEE

As you probably know, CEE is an effort driven by MITRE to support a common event expression format. Liblognorm is a log normalizer library (aka "network event normalizer"). One of its primary target formats is CEE.

For pure normalizing needs, liblognorm extracts data fields from semi-structured log message. The extracted fields are available inside a (basically) name/value property list. Liblognorm also permits to classify messages, e.g. as being a logon or logoff message. For this classification, liblognorm provides so-called "tags". These are simple words (strings of characters) which can be specified by the user. Tags reside in a special property called "tags", but otherwise occupy a flat space (tags can easily be structured via punctuation).

CEE takes a slightly different approach: while it shares the tag concept (actually liblognorm inherited tags from an earlier version of CEE), CEE classifies tags into different tag types. For example, "logon" may be a tag, but can only be used to describe an action(-field). As such, "logon" can not be present by itself in a CEE log record, it must be given as value of the action field ('action="logon"'). Also, CEE requires some other fields which may not be present explicitly from the original message even though the information may implicitly be present inside it. To express such information entities (and tags in the CEE way), liblognorm needs the capability to add additional fields to an  extracted event. Let call these set of fields the "annotation" for easier future reference. Liblognorm needs to annotate the event so that the target format's (CEE) requirements are met. While I was talking about CEE so far, I assume (and know from previous experience) that other formats may have similar requirements, albeit different fields that need to be annotated.

The question is now: how to implement this in liblognorm? The initial idea was to include the annotation inside the normalization rule itself. That has a major drawback: If a rule base is to be used for CEE and some other format, the annotation may be different, and thus the same rule base cannot be used. These two rule bases would differ in just the annotation. So it seems more natural, and easier to maintain, to split the recognition rule from the annotation rule. In that setting, the message is recognized and classified by recognition rules and the annotation is based on (different) annotation rules. So only one set of recognition rules can be used by multiple annotation rules. Only the latter need to be redefined for different target formats (or systems).

This split-rule method is the way I intend to head to. In essence, the current "rule=" rule and its format will remain untouched. It will be augmented by "annotate=" rules, which contain the full annotation. The binding between these two will be done via classification (liblognorm tags): in the first step, the message is recognized, data extracted and tags assigned, just like it is currently done. Then a second step will be added. It traverses through the tags and adds all annotation that are defined for the message's tag set. So the binding is on the tag set. Finally, it is probably necessary to add a third step that can remove unwanted fields. This step is probably target-format specific. For example, this step could eliminate the liblognorm tag set from an event if CEE compliance is desired, because CEE does not support, not even permit, an extra tag set.

Feedback on this approach is appreciated. It is my hope to be able to implement this in the near future.

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