4.20. Differences From Snort

4.20.1. Overview

This document is intended to highlight the major differences between Suricata and Snort that apply to rules and rule writing.

Where not specified, the statements below apply to Suricata. In general, references to Snort refer to the version 2.9 branch.

4.20.3. Automatic Protocol Detection

  • Suricata does automatic protocol detection of the following application layer protocols:

    • dcerpc
    • dnp3
    • dns
    • http
    • imap (detection only by default; no parsing)
    • ftp
    • modbus (disabled by default; minimalist probe parser; can lead to false positives)
    • msn (detection only by default; no parsing)
    • smb
    • smb2 (disabled internally inside the engine)
    • smtp
    • ssh
    • tls (SSLv2, SSLv3, TLSv1, TLSv1.1 and TLSv1.2)
  • In Suricata, protocol detection is port agnostic (in most cases). In Snort, in order for the http_inspect and other preprocessors to be applied to traffic, it has to be over a configured port.

    • Some configurations for app-layer in the Suricata yaml can/do by default specify specific destination ports (e.g. DNS)
    • You can look on ‘any’ port without worrying about the performance impact that you would have to be concerned about with Snort.
  • If the traffic is detected as HTTP by Suricata, the http_* buffers are populated and can be used, regardless of port(s) specified in the rule.

  • You don’t have to check for the http protocol (i.e. alert http ...) to use the http_* buffers although it is recommended.

  • If you are trying to detect legitimate (supported) application layer protocol traffic and don’t want to look on specific port(s), the rule should be written as alert <protocol> ... with any in place of the usual protocol port(s). For example, when you want to detect HTTP traffic and don’t want to limit detection to a particular port or list of ports, the rules should be written as alert http ... with any in place of $HTTP_PORTS.

    • You can also use app-layer-protocol:<protocol>; inside the rule instead.

    So, instead of this Snort rule:

    alert tcp $HOME_NET any -> $EXTERNAL_NET $HTTP_PORTS ...

    Do this for Suricata:

    alert http $HOME_NET -> $EXTERNAL_NET any ...


    alert tcp $HOME_NET any -> $EXTERNAL_NET any (app-layer-protocol:http; ...

4.20.4. urilen Keyword

  • Ranges given in the urilen keyword are inclusive for Snort but not inclusive for Suricata.

    Example: urilen:2<>10

    • Snort interprets this as, “the URI length must be greater than or equal to 2, and less than or equal to 10”.
    • Suricata interprets this as “the URI length must be greater than 2 and less than 10”.
  • By default, with Suricata, urilen applies to the normalized buffer

    • Use ,raw for raw buffer
    • e.g. urilen:>20,raw;
  • By default, with Snort, urilen applies to the raw buffer

    • Use ,norm for normalized buffer
    • e.g. urilen:>20,norm;

4.20.5. http_uri Buffer

4.20.6. http_header Buffer

  • In Snort, the http_header buffer includes the CRLF CRLF (0x0D 0x0A 0x0D 0x0A) that separates the end of the last HTTP header from the beginning of the HTTP body. Suricata includes a CRLF after the last header in the http_header buffer but not an extra one like Snort does. If you want to match the end of the buffer, use either the http_raw_header buffer, a relative isdataat (e.g. isdataat:!1,relative) or a PCRE (although PCRE will be worse on performance).

  • Suricata will include CRLF CRLF at the end of the http_raw_header buffer like Snort does.

  • Snort will include a leading CRLF in the http_header buffer of server responses (but not client requests). Suricata does not have the leading CRLF in the http_header buffer of the server response or client request.

  • In the http_header buffer, Suricata will normalize HTTP header lines such that there is a single space (0x20) after the colon (‘:’) that separates the header name from the header value; this single space replaces zero or more whitespace characters (including tabs) that may be present in the raw HTTP header line immediately after the colon. If the extra whitespace (or lack thereof) is important for matching, use the http_raw_header buffer instead of the http_header buffer.

  • Snort will also normalize superfluous whitespace between the header name and header value like Suricata does but only if there is at least one space character (0x20 only so not 0x90) immediately after the colon. This means that, unlike Suricata, if there is no space (or if there is a tab) immediately after the colon before the header value, the content of the header line will remain unchanged in the http_header buffer.

  • When there are duplicate HTTP headers (referring to the header name only, not the value), the normalized buffer (http_header) will concatenate the values in the order seen (from top to bottom), with a comma and space (”, ”) between each of them. If this hinders detection, use the http_raw_header buffer instead.

    Example request:

    GET /test.html HTTP/1.1
    Content-Length: 44
    Accept: */*
    Content-Length: 55

    The Content-Length header line becomes this in the http_header buffer:

    Content-Length: 44, 55
  • The HTTP ‘Cookie’ and ‘Set-Cookie’ headers are NOT included in the http_header buffer; instead they are extracted and put into their own buffer – http_cookie. See the http_cookie Buffer section.

  • The HTTP ‘Cookie’ and ‘Set-Cookie’ headers ARE included in the http_raw_header buffer so if you are trying to match on something like particular header ordering involving (or not involving) the HTTP Cookie headers, use the http_raw_header buffer.

  • If ‘enable_cookie’ is set for Snort, the HTTP Cookie header names and trailing CRLF (i.e. “Cookie: \r\n” and “Set-Cooke \r\n”) are kept in the http_header buffer. This is not the case for Suricata which removes the entire “Cookie” or “Set-Cookie” line from the http_header buffer.

  • Other HTTP headers that have their own buffer (http_user_agent, http_host) are not removed from the http_header buffer like the Cookie headers are.

  • When inspecting server responses and file_data is used, content matches in http_* buffers should come before file_data unless you use pkt_data to reset the cursor before matching in http_* buffers. Snort will not complain if you use http_* buffers after file_data is set.

4.20.8. New HTTP keywords

Suricata supports several HTTP keywords that Snort doesn’t have.

Examples are http_user_agent, http_host and http_content_type.

See HTTP Keywords for all HTTP keywords.

4.20.9. byte_extract Keyword

  • Suricata supports byte_extract from http_* buffers, including http_header which does not always work as expected in Snort.
  • In Suricata, variables extracted using byte_extract must be used in the same buffer, otherwise they will have the value “0” (zero). Snort does allow cross-buffer byte extraction and usage.
  • Be sure to always positively and negatively test Suricata rules that use byte_extract and byte_test to verify that they work as expected.

4.20.10. isdataat Keyword

  • The rawbytes keyword is supported in the Suricata syntax but doesn’t actually do anything.

  • Absolute isdataat checks will succeed if the offset used is less than the size of the inspection buffer. This is true for Suricata and Snort.

  • For relative isdataat checks, there is a 1 byte difference in the way Snort and Suricata do the comparisons.

    • Suricata will succeed if the relative offset is less than or equal to the size of the inspection buffer. This is different from absolute isdataat checks.
    • Snort will succeed if the relative offset is less than the size of the inspection buffer, just like absolute isdataat checks.
    • Example - to check that there is no data in the inspection buffer after the last content match:
      • Snort: isdataat:!0,relative;
      • Suricata: isdataat:!1,relative;
  • With Snort, the “inspection buffer” used when checking an isdataat keyword is generally the packet/segment with some exceptions:

    • With PAF enabled the PDU is examined instead of the packet/segment. When file_data or base64_data has been set, it is those buffers (unless rawbytes is set).
    • With some preprocessors - modbus, gtp, sip, dce2, and dnp3 - the buffer can be particular portions of those protocols (unless rawbytes is set).
    • With some preprocessors - rpc_decode, ftp_telnet, smtp, and dnp3 - the buffer can be particular decoded portions of those protocols (unless rawbytes is set).
  • With Suricata, the “inspection buffer” used when checking an absolute isdataat keyword is the packet/segment if looking at a packet (e.g. alert tcp-pkt...) or the reassembled stream segments.

  • In Suricata, a relative isdataat keyword will apply to the buffer of the previous content match. So if the previous content match is a http_* buffer, the relative isdataat applies to that buffer, starting from the end of the previous content match in that buffer. Snort does not behave like this!

  • For example, this Suricata rule looks for the string ”.exe” at the end of the URI; to do the same thing in the normalized URI buffer in Snort you would have to use a PCRE – pcre:"/\x2Eexe$/U";

    alert http $HOME_NET any -> $EXTERNAL_NET any (msg:".EXE File Download Request"; flow:established,to_server; content:"GET"; http_method; content:".exe"; http_uri; isdataat:!1,relative; priority:3; sid:18332111;)
  • If you are unclear about behavior in a particular instance, you are encouraged to positively and negatively test your rules that use an isdataat keyword.

4.20.11. Relative PCRE

  • You can do relative PCRE matches in normalized/special buffers with Suricata. Example:

    content:".php?sign="; http_uri; pcre:"/^[a-zA-Z0-9]{8}$/UR";
  • With Snort you can’t combine the “relative” PCRE option (‘R’) with other buffer options like normalized URI (‘U’) – you get a syntax error.

4.20.12. tls* Keywords

In addition to TLS protocol identification, Suricata supports the storing of certificates to disk, verifying the validity dates on certificates, matching against the calculated SHA1 fingerprint of certificates, and matching on certain TLS/SSL certificate fields including the following:

  • Negotiated TLS/SSL version.
  • Certificate Subject field.
  • Certificate Issuer field.
  • Certificate SNI Field

For details see SSL/TLS Keywords.

4.20.13. dns_query Keyword

  • Sets the detection pointer to the DNS query.
  • Works like file_data does (“sticky buffer”) but for a DNS request query.
  • Use pkt_data to reset the detection pointer to the beginning of the packet payload.
  • See DNS Keywords for details.

4.20.14. IP Reputation and iprep Keyword

4.20.15. Flowbits

  • Suricata fully supports the setting and checking of flowbits (including the same flowbit) on the same packet/stream. Snort does not always allow for this.
  • In Suricata, flowbits:isset is checked after the fast pattern match but before other content matches. In Snort, flowbits:isset is checked in the order it appears in the rule, from left to right.
  • If there is a chain of flowbits where multiple rules set flowbits and they are dependent on each other, then the order of the rules or the sid values can make a difference in the rules being evaluated in the proper order and generating alerts as expected. See bug 1399 - https://redmine.openinfosecfoundation.org/issues/1399.
  • Flow Keywords

4.20.16. flowbits:noalert;

A common pattern in existing rules is to use flowbits:noalert; to make sure a rule doesn’t generate an alert if it matches.

Suricata allows using just noalert; as well. Both have an identical meaning in Suricata.

4.20.17. Negated Content Match Special Case

  • For Snort, a negated content match where the starting point for searching is at or beyond the end of the inspection buffer will never return true.

    • For negated matches, you want it to return true if the content is not found.
    • This is believed to be a Snort bug rather than an engine difference but it was reported to Sourcefire and acknowledged many years ago indicating that perhaps it is by design.
    • This is not the case for Suricata which behaves as expected.

    Example HTTP request:

    POST /test.php HTTP/1.1
    Content-Length: 9

    This rule snippet will never return true in Snort but will in Suricata:

    content:!"snort"; offset:10; http_client_body;

4.20.18. File Extraction

  • Suricata has the ability to match on files from HTTP and SMTP streams and log them to disk.
  • Snort has the “file” preprocessor that can do something similar but it is experimental, development of it has been stagnant for years, and it is not something that should be used in a production environment.
  • Files can be matched on using a number of keywords including:
    • filename
    • fileext
    • filemagic
    • filesize
    • filemd5
    • filesha1
    • filesha256
    • filesize
    • See File Keywords for a full list.
  • The filestore keyword tells Suricata to save the file to disk.
  • Extracted files are logged to disk with meta data that includes things like timestamp, src/dst IP, protocol, src/dst port, HTTP URI, HTTP Host, HTTP Referer, filename, file magic, md5sum, size, etc.
  • There are a number of configuration options and considerations (such as stream reassembly depth and libhtp body-limit) that should be understood if you want fully utilize file extraction in Suricata.
  • File Keywords
  • File Extraction
  • http://blog.inliniac.net/2011/11/29/file-extraction-in-suricata/
  • http://blog.inliniac.net/2014/11/11/smtp-file-extraction-in-suricata/

4.20.19. Lua Scripting

  • Suricata has the lua (or luajit) keyword which allows for a rule to reference a Lua script that can access the packet, payload, HTTP buffers, etc.
  • Provides powerful flexibility and capabilities that Snort does not have.
  • Lua Scripting

4.20.20. Fast Pattern

  • Snort’s fast pattern matcher is always case insensitive; Suricata’s is case sensitive unless ‘nocase’ is set on the content match used by the fast pattern matcher.
  • Snort will truncate fast pattern matches based on the max-pattern-len config (default no limit) unless fast_pattern:only is used in the rule. Suricata does not do any automatic fast pattern truncation cannot be configured to do so.
  • Just like in Snort, in Suricata you can specify a substring of the content string to be use as the fast pattern match. e.g. fast_pattern:5,20;
  • In Snort, leading NULL bytes (0x00) will be removed from content matches when determining/using the longest content match unless fast_pattern is explicitly set. Suricata does not truncate anything, including NULL bytes.
  • Snort does not allow for all http_* buffers to be used for the fast pattern match (e.g. http_raw_*, http_method, http_cookie, etc.). Suricata lets you use any ‘http_*’ buffer you want for the fast pattern match, including http_raw_*' and ``http_cookie buffers.
  • Suricata supports the fast_pattern:only syntax but technically it is not really implemented; the only is silently ignored when encountered in a rule. It is still recommended that you use fast_pattern:only where appropriate in case this gets implemented in the future and/or if the rule will be used by Snort as well.
  • With Snort, unless fast_pattern is explicitly set, content matches in normalized HTTP Inspect buffers (e.g. http content modifiers such http_uri, http_header, etc.) take precedence over non-HTTP Inspect content matches, even if they are shorter. Suricata does the same thing and gives a higher ‘priority’ (precedence) to http_* buffers (except for http_method, http_stat_code, and http_stat_msg).
  • See Suricata Fast Pattern Determination Explained for full details on how Suricata automatically determines which content to use as the fast pattern match.
  • When in doubt about what is going to be use as the fast pattern match by Suricata, set fast_pattern explicitly in the rule and/or run Suricata with the --engine-analysis switch and view the generated file (rules_fast_pattern.txt).
  • Like Snort, the fast pattern match is checked before flowbits in Suricata.
  • Using Hyperscan as the MPM matcher (mpm-algo setting) for Suricata can greatly improve performance, especially when it comes to fast pattern matching. Hyperscan will also take in to account depth and offset when doing fast pattern matching, something the other algorithims and Snort do not do.
  • Fast Pattern

4.20.21. Don’t Cross The Streams

Suricata will examine network traffic as individual packets and, in the case of TCP, as part of a (reassembled) stream. However, there are certain rule keywords that only apply to packets only (dsize, flags, ttl) and certain ones that only apply to streams only (http_*) and you can’t mix packet and stream keywords. Rules that use packet keywords will inspect individual packets only and rules that use stream keywords will inspect streams only. Snort is a little more forgiving when you mix these – for example, in Snort you can use dsize (a packet keyword) with http_* (stream keywords) and Snort will allow it although, because of dsize, it will only apply detection to individual packets (unless PAF is enabled then it will apply it to the PDU).

If dsize is in a rule that also looks for a stream-based application layer protocol (e.g. http), Suricata will not match on the first application layer packet since dsize make Suricata evaluate the packet and protocol detection doesn’t happen until after the protocol is checked for that packet; subsequent packets in that flow should have the application protocol set appropriately and will match rules using dsize and a stream-based application layer protocol.

If you need to check sizes on a stream in a rule that uses a stream keyword, or in a rule looking for a stream-based application layer protocol, consider using the stream_size keyword and/or isdataat.

Suricata also supports these protocol values being used in rules and Snort does not:

  • tcp-pkt – example:
    • alert tcp-pkt ...
    • This tells Suricata to only apply the rule to TCP packets and not the (reassembled) stream.
  • tcp-stream – example:
    • alert tcp-stream ...
    • This tells Suricata to inspect the (reassembled) TCP stream only.

4.20.22. Alerts

  • In Snort, the number of alerts generated for a packet/stream can be limited by the event_queue configuration.
  • Suricata has an internal hard-coded limit of 15 alerts per packet/stream (and this cannot be configured); all rules that match on the traffic being analyzed will fire up to that limit.
  • Sometimes Suricata will generate what appears to be two alerts for the same TCP packet. This happens when Suricata evaluates the packet by itself and as part of a (reassembled) stream.

4.20.23. Buffer Reference Chart

Buffer Snort 2.9.x Support? Suricata Support? PCRE flag Can be used as Fast Pattern? Suricata Fast Pattern Priority (lower number is higher priority)
content (no modifier) YES YES <none> YES 3
http_method YES YES M Suricata only 3
http_stat_code YES YES S Suricata only 3
http_stat_msg YES YES Y Suricata only 3
uricontent YES but deprecated, use http_uri instead YES but deprecated, use http_uri instead U YES 2
http_uri YES YES U YES 2
http_raw_uri YES YES I Suricata only 2
http_header YES YES H YES 2
http_raw_header YES YES D Suricata only 2
http_cookie YES YES C Suricata only 2
http_raw_cookie YES NO (use http_raw_header instead) K NO n/a
http_host NO YES W Suricata only 2
http_raw_host NO YES Z Suricata only 2
http_client_body YES YES P YES 2
http_server_body NO YES Q Suricata only 2
http_user_agent NO YES V Suricata only 2
dns_query NO YES n/a* Suricata only 2
tls_sni NO YES n/a* Suricata only 2
tls_cert_issuer NO YES n/a* Suricata only 2
tls_cert_subject NO YES n/a* Suricata only 2
file_data YES YES n/a* YES 2

* Sticky buffer