Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Rawbytes is not the modifier you're looking for

I spend a lot of time working with Sourcefire customers and open-source Snort users who write their own custom rules. Many of them are extremely astute, and some of them write rules good enough to be in the official VRT set. Others, well, not so much.

One of the biggest issues I see with custom rules is incorrect use of content modifiers. Missing out on the latest http_* buffer, of course, is totally understandable - the Snort team's constant refinement of that preprocessor has made a lot of things work better, even if it is occasionally a chore to keep up with. Mixing up depth, offset, distance, and within makes sense, too - everyone who writes Snort rules usually takes a little time to sort all those out in their brains. The one I don't understand at all, though, is people's obsession with rawbytes, especially in HTTP rules.

Seriously people, WTF? You're going out of your way to introduce rule evasion cases. The rawbytes modifier only exists because it was useful for some Telnet-related issues back in the day, and there are all of two rules outside the Telnet category that make use of it today - both of which are obscure edge cases where the rule is doing something truly unusual. No respectable Snort rule-writing class teaches you to use it; you've had to invest extra effort to even realize it exists, let alone decide to use it. Worst of all, using it to look at an HTTP header (or, heaven forbid, a URI) undoes all of the useful normalizations and de-obfuscation work done by the http_inspect preprocessor, making your rule "t%72iv%69a%6c" to avoid in the wild. Why waste your already limited time resources on breaking your rules?

So next time you think about including rawbytes in a rule, ask yourself this first: is there absolutely, positively, 100% for sure no other way to write this rule, and no chance I'm introducing an evasion in the process? If you can, without a doubt, answer yes to that question, sure, go right ahead and use rawbytes - we haven't deprecated it because the Internet is a strange place, and every so often you may run into a situation where you need it. If there's a shadow of a doubt in your mind, though, do IDSes around the world a favor, and just say no.


  1. Alex -- IMHO posts like this are great. Unfortunately, they are only great for readers of the blog.
    I think that the entire community could benefit if the official documentation included more practical insight like what you talk about in this post.

    Compare this blog entry with the current rawbytes entry in the manual.

    3.5.3 rawbytes
    The rawbytes keyword allows rules to look at the raw packet data, ignoring any decoding that was done by preprocessors. This acts as a modiļ¬er to the previous content 3.5.1 option.

    While the manual entry does get the point across if you already know the point, it is kind of cryptic for new rule writers.

  2. Seth --

    We have made changes to the Snort Manual for this keyword specifically. The changes will come out in Snort 2.9.1 which is due out soon.


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