Farsight's Advanced Exchange Access, part 2 of 3

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This is the second article in a three-part blog series intended to introduce and acquaint the user with Farsight’s AXA suite of tools and library code. This piece introduces sratool and will show useful examples of how to invoke the tool using common use cases. This article is not an exhaustive treatise on sratool. For that, the reader is directed to the man page and the source code.

Farsight Advanced Exchange Access

First, a recap. When we last convened, you learned about Farsight Security’s fabled Security Internet Exchange (SIE) and the arcane magic used to remotely consume it, the Advanced Exchange Access (AXA). Interest piqued, you mused “how can I get me some of that?”. Dear reader, sratool is how you get you some of that. Let’s learn more.

The Swiss Army knife

sratool is the AXA Swiss Army knife. It is a versatile tool used to test, debug, inspect, or stream AXA connections. In its most common invocation, sratool connects to an SRA server, issues a few AXA protocol messages, and displays the responses.

So let’s get to it!

Tutorial 1: Watch Newly Observed Domains

As a stalwart protector of your organization’s network you’ve already contacted Farsight sales and signed up to receive Farsight’s Newly Observed Domains (NOD) datafeed to watch newly active domains and ensure your users don’t visit any newly minted – often malicious – domains. This tutorial will show you, venturesome new Farsight datafeed subscriber, how to examine the Newly Observed Domains (NOD) feed in real time. Commands and their output are listed with discussion below.

    1    $ sratool
    2    > connect  ssh:sra-service@sra-eft.sie-remote.net
    3    * HELLO srad version 0.2.5 sra-eft AXA protocol 1
    4    > 1 watch ch=211
    5    1 OK WATCH started
    6    > count 5
    7    > channel 211 on
    8    * OK CHANNEL ON/OFF channel ch211 on
    9    1 ch211  SIE newdomain 
    10     flyinghorse-colorado.com/A: flyinghorse-colorado.com
    11   1 ch211  SIE newdomain 
    12     treatmentforboils.com/NS: treatmentforboils.com
    13   1 ch211  SIE newdomain 
    14     servicedeck.com/NS: servicedeck.com
    15   1 ch211  SIE newdomain 
    16     www.markenmacher.eu/A: markenmacher.eu
    17   1 ch211  SIE newdomain 
    18     recruitniks.com/NS: recruitniks.com
    19   packet count limit exceeded
    20    > count
    21        packet printing stopped by count 1990 packets ago
  • Lines 1-3: Invoke sratool, and use the connect command to establish a connection to the SRA server. The connection is managed via SSH, meaning all of the benefits conferred by the SSH protocol are available to sratool. Upon success, the client emits the hello string from the AXA_P_OP_HELLO message which was sent by the server and contains the server’s software version, name, and AXA protocol verison.
  • Lines 4-5: Inform the server we want to watch SIE channel 211 traffic (this is the NOD channel). The server responds with the current watch status. The watch is the most fundamental sratool command. This is how sratool “signs up” to receive data from the SRA server. As its name implies, watch sets up a watch which is a low-level primitive that tells the SRA server that the client is interested in nmsg messages or IP packets that meet one of the following criteria:

    • is to, from, or contains the specified address
    • contains the specified domain name
    • arrived on the specified SIE channel
    • are SIE messages that could not be decoded

    A watch is given a tag that is an integer label used to refer to the watch. An SRA server connection or session can have zero or more watches at a time and the user can add or delete watches as needed. Note that sratool allows only a single SRA connection at a time.

  • Line 6: Using the count command, we inform sratool we only want to see 5 packets. After this number is met, sratool will stop emitting packets to the screen (though traffic may still be flowing from server to client).
  • Lines 7-8: With the channel command, enable channel 211 (NOD). The current channel status is printed. Another fundamental command to sratool is channel. Issued alone on the command-line, it will emit the entire list of available SIE channels for which the user is provisioned.
  • Lines 9-19: sratool emits 5 NOD packets as it receives then from the server. Once the packet count limit is reached, emission stops.
  • Lines 20-21: Issuing the count command with no arguments prints the current count status. In this case, we find 1990 NOD packets have been streamed to the client, but since we exceeded our limit, they were not emitted to the screen.
Tutorial 2: counts and limits

Continuing in the session above, let’s tweak a few knobs and press a few buttons.

    22    > list watches
    23    1 ch=ch211
    24    > 1 delete
    25    1 OK STOP watch deleted
    26    > rate
    27    RATE LIMITS
    28        unlimited per second; current value=307
    29        10 seconds between reports
    30    > rate 1
    31    RATE LIMITS
    32        1 per second; current value=2
    33        10 seconds between reports
  • Lines 22-23: The list watches command prints all of the active watches. We’ve still got one going, we’re just not emitting any packets to the screen.
  • Lines 24-25: We delete the watch by referencing its tag with the delete command.
  • Lines 26-29: Another handy command, rate allows us to query the rate limiter and control it. Currently, there is no rate limiting in play – packets will be emitted as quickly as they appear. For lower bandwidth channels, like NOD, this is might not be a problem. For the DNSDB channels, which are much higher bandwidth, we’ll want to limit the rate at which those packets are sent by the server to sratool.
  • Lines 30-33: Using the rate command, we set a rate limit of 1 packet per second. This will come in handy in the last part of the tutorial where we’ll examine DNSDB.
Tutorial 3: watch for a specific domain in Farsight’s passive DNS feed

As a bonus, let’s peek at SIE channel 202 traffic, Farsight’s raw passive DNS feed.

    34    > 2 watch dns=*.github.com
    35    2 OK WATCH started
    36    > channel 202 on
    37    * OK CHANNEL ON/OFF channel ch202 on
    38    2 ch202  base dnsqr response  UDP_QUERY_RESPONSE
    39 >  IP TTL=58 UDP 86 bytes
    40     DNS: raw.github.com IN A   qr aa  NOERROR  1 ans, 0 auth, 0 add RRs
    41    2 ch202  base dnsqr response  UDP_QUERY_RESPONSE
    42 >  IP TTL=56 UDP 153 bytes
    43    DNS: api.github.com IN A   qr aa cd  NOERROR  1 ans, 4 auth, 0 add RRs
    44    2 ch202  base dnsqr response  UDP_QUERY_RESPONSE
    45 >  IP TTL=58 UDP 89 bytes
    46    DNS: malsup.github.com IN A   qr aa  NOERROR  1 ans, 0 auth, 0 add RRs
    47    * MISSED
    48        lost 0 input packets, dropped 0 for congestion,
    49            121 for per sec limit
    50            since 2014/12/08 17:29:38
    51    2 ch202  base dnsqr response  UDP_QUERY_RESPONSE
    52 >  IP TTL=58 UDP 149 bytes
    53    DNS: github.com IN A   qr aa  NOERROR  1 ans, 4 auth, 0 add RRs
  • Lines 34-35: We set another watch, this time we want to watch for the wild card domain “*.github.com”. Anything matching this domain will be emitted, such as www.github.com and github.com itself.
  • Lines 36-37: We turn on channel 202, Farsight’s raw passive DNS channel.
  • Lines 38-53: All domains matching the watch are emitted.

This should be enough to get you started! Next week, we’ll cover sratunnel!


We learned how to invoke sratool, issue some fundamental commands to turn on, off, and control the flow of SIE data.

Our next and final installment in this introductory tutorial will be a discussion of sratunnel.

Mike Schiffman is a Senior Distributed Systems Engineer for Farsight Security, Inc.

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