19.3. Sagan 1.0.0 log analysis engine released!

Posted by Champ Clark on October 23, 2015

In June 2010, we completed initial work on Sagan 0.0.1 which was a very basic outline of what we thought a real-time log analysis engine should be. Historically, people treated logs as an archive of only the past activities, and in 2010, many solutions for “log analysis” were based on command line tools and concepts like grep. This approach is fine and certainly useful, but why was real-time log analysis not really a “thing?” We never suggested getting rid of historical log search functionality, but the lack of “real time” detection was troubling; we expect some security software, like Intrusion Detections Systems (IDS) to be “real time,” so why was log analysis not treated the same way? After all, if someone told you that their solution to packet inspection was to “look at all the packets via a 'grep' every Friday,” you would laugh at them. We decided to tackle this problem because of our own selfish needs.

When we started developing Sagan, we naturally focused on our own needs at Quadrant Information Security. Since we are an MSSP (Managed Security Service Provider), we needed to be able to monitor security appliances and software similarly to how we monitored our “Snort” instances. Back in 2010, pre-Cisco/Sourcefire buy-out, not all companies were interested in Snort. They “trusted” more “mainstream” products from companies like Cisco, Sonicwall, Fortinet, etc. As much as we argued that Snort was a better IDS/IPS solution, many potential customers simply were not interested; “we're a Cisco shop, that's the way it is,” we heard this a lot.

Initial development began so that we, as an MSSP, could say “yes, we can monitor that.” At the time, that was our primary need, which meant that Sagan had to be 100% real time. It would not be reasonable for our analysts to have to “grep” logs daily in order to search for possible malicious activity. Software should be able to provide this data and do it better. To be real-time in environments with mass amounts of log data, Sagan needed to be multi-CPU aware and memory-efficient. Therefore, we designed Sagan in C using threading (pthreads). If your analysis platform has multiple CPUs and/or cores, Sagan would need to “spread” the log analysis load across them. Since our analysts already understood packet analysis via Snort rules, it made sense to have Sagan use a similar syntax, which also meant that Snort rule management software like “pulledpork” would inherently work with Sagan.

Since we were already traveling down the “very much like” Snort path in terms of design, we decided that we might as well adopt the Snort “unified2” output format, which means that Sagan can store its data in the same place that Snort does. This also meant that we can correlate log events to our packet events, and that we are out-of-the-box compatible with Snorby, BASE, Squil, etc.

Overall, those were the basic milestones we wanted to get to. As time went on, Sagan required more complexity that was not foreseen at the time of its inception (i.e., flowbits). In August of 2015, after 5 years of development, we put Sagan into a “code freeze” which means that rather than trying to add complex new features to Sagan, we focus on stability. And although Sagan has always been pretty stable, we started testing across a lot of platforms that varied in log data flow, rules enabled, and environmental complexity. In August of 2015 released “RC1” (Release candidate #1) to the public to help us test Sagan. We made it up to “RC5”, and today, October 23rd, 2015, we're proud to call this Sagan 1.0.0.

Today, Sagan is used around the world by medical companies, hospitals, banks, credit unions, financial institutions, petroleum companies, law firms, supermarket chains, telecommunications companies, accounting firms, manufacturers, hosting providers, insurance companies, colleges, universities and various law enforcement agencies. It is even used by other network and computer security companies, and these are just the organizations that we know use Sagan!

We are very proud of how far Sagan has come since its inception. Sagan is a complex piece of software that required the input and help from many people. I like to highlight that fact since Sagan would not be where it is today had it not been for all of these people willing to spend time deep in the Sagan code, and developing rules. If you have a moment, please check out the contributors via the “sagan –credits” flag or https://github.com/beave/sagan/blob/master/src/sagan-credits.c

Now that 1.0.0 is behind us, we look forward to adding some new “killer” functionality. It is going to be a really fun ride. Check out the open source version of Sagan at http://sagan.io