Quick Start Guide

Zeek works on most modern Unix-based systems and requires no custom hardware. It can be downloaded in either pre-built binary package or source code forms. See Installing Zeek for instructions on how to install Zeek.

In the examples below, $PREFIX is used to reference the Zeek installation root directory, which by default is /usr/local/zeek if you install from source and /opt/zeek if you install from the pre-built binary packages.

Managing Zeek with ZeekControl

ZeekControl is an interactive shell for easily operating/managing Zeek installations on a single system or even across multiple systems in a traffic-monitoring cluster. This section explains how to use ZeekControl to manage a stand-alone Zeek installation. For a complete reference on ZeekControl, see the ZeekControl documentation. For instructions on how to configure a Zeek cluster, see the Zeek Cluster Setup documentation.

Note

Using the standalone / single process mode of Zeek is not suitable for setups with significant amounts of traffic. In these cases one will almost certainly want to make use of a Zeek cluster, even on a single system.

A Minimal Starting Configuration

These are the basic configuration changes to make for a minimal ZeekControl installation that will manage a single (standalone) Zeek instance on the localhost:

  1. [Required]: In $PREFIX/etc/node.cfg, set the right interface to monitor.

    For example:

    vi $PREFIX/etc/node.cfg
    
    [zeek]
    type=standalone
    host=localhost
    interface=eth0   # change this according to your listening interface in ifconfig
    
  2. [Optional but recommended]: In $PREFIX/etc/networks.cfg, add networks that Zeek will consider local to the monitored environment. More on this below.

  3. [Optional]: In $PREFIX/etc/zeekctl.cfg, change the MailTo email address to a desired recipient and the LogRotationInterval to a desired log archival frequency.

Now start the ZeekControl shell like:

zeekctl

Since this is the first-time use of the shell, perform an initial installation of the ZeekControl configuration:

[ZeekControl] > install

Then start up a Zeek instance:

[ZeekControl] > start

There is another ZeekControl command, deploy, that combines the above two steps and can be run after any changes to Zeek policy scripts or the ZeekControl configuration. Note that the check command is available to validate a modified configuration before installing it.

[ZeekControl] > deploy

If there are errors while trying to start the Zeek instance, you can view the details with the diag command. If started successfully, the Zeek instance will begin analyzing traffic according to a default policy and output the results in $PREFIX/logs/current directory.

Note

The user starting ZeekControl needs permission to capture network traffic. If you are not root, you may need to grant further privileges to the account you’re using; see the FAQ. Also, if it looks like Zeek is not seeing any traffic, check out the FAQ entry on checksum offloading.

You can leave it running for now, but to stop this Zeek instance you would do:

[ZeekControl] > stop

Once Zeek is stopped, the log files in the $PREFIX/logs/current directory are compressed and moved into the current day named folder inside the $PREFIX/logs directory.

Browsing Log Files

By default, logs are written out in human-readable (ASCII) format and data is organized into columns (tab-delimited). Logs that are part of the current rotation interval are accumulated in $PREFIX/logs/current/ (if Zeek is not running, the directory will be empty). For example, the http.log contains the results of Zeek HTTP protocol analysis. Here are the first few columns of http.log:

# ts          uid          orig_h        orig_p  resp_h         resp_p
1311627961.8  HSH4uV8KVJg  192.168.1.100 52303   192.150.187.43 80

Logs that deal with analysis of a network protocol will often start like this: a timestamp, a unique connection identifier (UID), and a connection 4-tuple (originator host/port and responder host/port). The UID can be used to identify and correlate all logged activity (possibly across multiple log files) associated with a given connection 4-tuple over its lifetime.

The remaining columns of protocol-specific logs then detail the protocol-dependent activity that’s occurring. E.g. http.log’s next few columns (shortened for brevity) show a request to the root of Zeek website:

# method   host         uri  referrer  user_agent
GET        zeek.org  /    -         <...>Chrome/12.0.742.122<...>

Apart from the conventional network protocol specific log files, Zeek also generates other important log files based on the network traffic statistics, interesting activity captured in the traffic, and detection focused log files. Some logs that are worth explicit mention:

  • conn.log

    Contains an entry for every connection seen on the wire, with basic properties such as time and duration, originator and responder IP addresses, services and ports, payload size, and much more. This log provides a comprehensive record of the network’s activity.

  • notice.log

    Identifies specific activity that Zeek recognizes as potentially interesting, odd, or bad. In Zeek-speak, such activity is called a “notice”.

  • known_services.log

    This log file contains the services detected on the local network and are known to be actively used by the clients on the network. It helps in enumerating what all services are observed on a local network and if they all are intentional and known to the network administrator.

  • weird.log

    Contains unusual or exceptional activity that can indicate malformed connections, traffic that doesn’t conform to a particular protocol, malfunctioning or misconfigured hardware/services, or even an attacker attempting to avoid/confuse a sensor.

By default, ZeekControl regularly takes all the logs from $PREFIX/logs/current and archives/compresses them to a directory named by date, e.g. $PREFIX/logs/2021-01-01. The frequency at which this is done can be configured via the LogRotationInterval option in $PREFIX/etc/zeekctl.cfg. The default is every hour.

Filesystem Walkthrough

When Zeek is installed on a system, it creates various directories under the default installation path /usr/local/zeek/ or /opt/zeek/. It is useful to know the basic filesystem layout and which directories contain what information. Below is the basic Zeek filesystem layout:

$PREFIX/ (e.g. /opt/zeek/ or /usr/local/zeek/)
|_ bin/
|_ etc/
|_ include/
|_ lib/
|_ logs/
|_ share/
|_ spool/

Some subdirectories worth more explanation are:

  • $PREFIX/bin/

    This directory contains all the binaries that get installed as part of Zeek installation. A few important ones you should know about are:

    • zeek

      Binary to use when running Zeek as a command line utility. More information on using the binary follows in the next section.

    • zeek-cut

      Extracts columns from zeek logs (non-JSON), comes handy for log analysis, and also converts Unix epoch time to human readable format.

    • zeekctl

      Mainly used as a Zeek cluster management tool, it’s an interactive shell to easily operate/manage Zeek installations.

  • $PREFIX/etc/

    This directory contains the important configuration files that need to be modified for the minimal starting configuration as well as for configuring an advanced Zeek cluster installation. This is one of the important directories from the user perspective, and one should be familiar with the files it contains:

    • networks.cfg

      Define your local networks here. Zeek analytics are network aware and it is recommended to use this file to define your local networks for efficient and correct analysis of the network traffic.

    • node.cfg

      Configure a stand-alone node or a Zeek cluster configuration by defining various node types and their corresponding settings. It has examples defined for both stand-alone and clustered configurations for the user to use.

    • zeekctl.cfg

      Configuration file for ZeekControl management. It contains the settings of default logs directory, log rotation time interval and email configuration.

  • $PREFIX/logs/

    As the name suggests it is the default logs directory where Zeek stores the rotated logs from the current directory:

    • current

      It is a symlink to the spool directory that is defined in the zeekctl.cfg configuration file. It contains the active log files that Zeek currently writes to when running via ZeekControl.

  • $PREFIX/share/

    This is the directory containing all the Zeek scripts that are shipped with Zeek, which are highly customizable to support traffic analysis for your specific environment. For the people who are interested in learning more about Zeek scripts and different frameworks, this is a great place to start. The important sub-directories under share are:

    • zeek/base/

      It contains base scripts that are always loaded by Zeek (unless the -b command line option is supplied). These files should never be edited directly as changes will be lost when upgrading to newer versions of Zeek. Base scripts deal either with collecting basic/useful state about network activities or providing frameworks/utilities that extend Zeek’s functionality without any performance cost.

    • zeek/policy/

      Additional policy scripts that zeek ships with. Scripts under the policy/ directory may be more situational or costly, and so users must explicitly choose if they want to load them. By default, Zeek loads a few of the most useful policy scripts, as enabled via the local.zeek file in the site directory. These scripts should likewise never be modified.

    • zeek/site/

      It is the directory where local site-specific files/scripts can be put without fear of being clobbered later (with Zeek upgrades). The main entry point for the default analysis configuration of a Zeek instance managed by ZeekControl is the $PREFIX/share/zeek/site/local.zeek script, which can be used to load additional custom or policy scripts.

Zeek as a Command-Line Utility

If you prefer not to use ZeekControl (e.g., you don’t need its automation and management features), here’s how to directly control Zeek for your analysis activities from the command line for both live traffic and offline working from traces.

Monitoring Live Traffic

Analyzing live traffic from an interface is simple:

zeek -i en0 <list of scripts to load>

en0 should be replaced by the interface on which you want to monitor the traffic. The standard base scripts will be loaded and enabled by default. A list of additional scripts can be provided in the command as indicated above by <list of scripts to load>. Any such scripts supplied as space-separated files or paths will be loaded by Zeek in addition to the standard base scripts.

Zeek will output log files into the current working directory.

Note

The FAQ entries about capturing as an unprivileged user and checksum offloading are particularly relevant at this point.

Reading Packet Capture (pcap) Files

When you want to do offline analysis of already captured pcap files, Zeek is a very handy tool to analyze the pcap and gives a high level holistic view of the traffic captured in the pcap.

If you want to capture packets from an interface and write them to a file to later analyze it with Zeek, then it can be done like this:

sudo tcpdump -i en0 -s 0 -w mypackets.trace

Where en0 should be replaced by the correct interface for your system, for example as shown by the ifconfig command. (The -s 0 argument tells it to capture whole packets; in cases where it’s not supported use -s 65535 instead).

After capturing traffic for a while, kill the tcpdump (with ctrl-c), and tell Zeek to perform all the default analysis on the capture:

zeek -r mypackets.trace

Zeek will output log files into the current working directory. If you want them written into a directory see below.

If no logs are generated for a pcap, try to run the pcap with -C to tell Zeek to ignore invalid IP Checksums:

zeek –C –r mypackets.trace

If you are interested in more detection, you can load the local.zeek script that is included as a suggested configuration:

zeek -r mypackets.trace local

If you want to run a custom or an extra script (assuming it’s in the default search path, more on this in the next section) to detect any particular behavior in the pcap, run Zeek with following command:

zeek –r mypackets.trace my-script.zeek

To specify the output directory for logs, you can set Log::default_logdir on the command line:

mkdir output_directory ; zeek -r mypackets.trace Log::default_logdir=output_directory

Tracing Events

Zeek provides a mechanism for recording the events that occur during an execution run (on live traffic, or from a pcap) in a manner that you can then later replay to get the same effect but without the traffic source. You can also edit the recording to introduce differences between the original, such as introducing corner-cases to aid in testing, or anonymizing sensitive information.

You create a trace using:

zeek --event-trace=mytrace.zeek <traffic-option> <other-options> <scripts...>

or, equivalently:

zeek -E mytrace.zeek <traffic-option> <other-options> <scripts...>

Here, the traffic-option would be -i or -r to arrange for a source of network traffic. The trace will be written to the file mytrace.zeek which, as the extension suggests, is itself a Zeek script. You can then replay the events using:

zeek <other-options> <scripts...> mytrace.zeek

The generated script aims to ensure that event values that were related during the original run stay related when replayed; re-execution should proceed in a manner identical to how it did originally. There are however several considerations:

  • Zeek is unable to trace events that include values that cannot be faithfully recreated in a Zeek script, namely those having types of opaque, file, or any. Rather than produce an incomplete trace, it reports these as errors and refrains from generating any output.

  • Zeek only traces events that reflect traffic processing, i.e., those occurring after network_time is set.

  • The trace does not include events generated by scripts, only those generated by the “event engine”.

  • The trace is generated upon Zeek cleanly exiting, so if Zeek crashes, no trace will be produced. Stopping Zeek via ctrl-c does trigger a clean exit.

  • A subtle issue arises regarding any changes that the scripts in the original execution made to values present in subsequent events. If you re-run using the event trace script as well as those scripts, the changes the scripts make during the re-run will be discarded and instead replaced with the changes made during the original execution. This generally won’t matter if you’re using the exact same scripts for replay as originally, but if you’ve made changes to those scripts, then it could. If you need the replay script to “respond” to changes made during the re-execution, you can delete from the replay script every line marked with the comment # from script.

Note

It’s possible that some timers will behave differently upon replay than originally. If you encounter this and it creates a problem, we would be interested to hear about it so we can consider whether the problem can be remedied.

Telling Zeek Which Scripts to Load

A command-line invocation of Zeek typically looks like:

zeek <options> <scripts...>

Where the last arguments are the specific policy scripts that this Zeek instance will load. These arguments don’t have to include the .zeek file extension, and if the corresponding script resides in the default search path, then it requires no path qualification. The following directories are included in the default search path for Zeek scripts:

./
<prefix>/share/zeek/
<prefix>/share/zeek/policy/
<prefix>/share/zeek/site/

These prefix paths can be used to load scripts like this:

zeek -r mypackets.trace frameworks/files/extract-all-files

This will load the $PREFIX/share/zeek/policy/frameworks/files/extract-all-files.zeek script which will cause Zeek to extract all of the files it discovers in the pcap.

Note

If one wants Zeek to be able to load scripts that live outside the default directories in Zeek’s installation root, the full path to the file(s) must be provided. See the default search path by running zeek --help and look at ZEEKPATH. You can also extend the search path by setting the environment variable ZEEKPATH to additional directories (note that you will need to repeat the original path when setting ZEEKPATH as otherwise Zeek will not find it standard scripts.)

If you take a look inside a Zeek script, you might notice the @load directive in the Zeek language to declare dependence on other scripts. This directive is similar to the #include of C/C++, except the semantics are, “load this script if it hasn’t already been loaded.”

Further, a directory of scripts can also be specified as an argument to be loaded as a “package” if the directory contains a __load__.zeek script that defines the scripts that are part of the package (note the double underscore (_) characters on each end).

For example:

zeek -r mypackets.trace detect-traceroute

This will load the scripts inside the directory “detect-traceroute”, which is under $PREFIX/share/zeek/policy/misc/detect-traceroute and contains a __load__.zeek script telling zeek which scripts to load under that directory to run against the pcap.

Local Site Customization

Zeek ships with one script for local customization: the site-specific local.zeek file. Subsequent upgrades do not overwrite this file, so you can safely edit it. To use, just add it to the command-line or load it through your own scripts via @load. If you use ZeekControl there’s no extra step: it loads it automatically.

zeek -i en0 local

Some of Zeek’s logic distinguishes networks local to your site from ones elsewhere. For such analysis to work correctly, you need to tell Zeek about your network. You do this by configuring the Site::local_nets variable, a set of subnet ranges. By default, Zeek considers IANA-registered private address space such as 10/8 and 192.168/16 site-local, and automatically adds it to Site::local_nets. If your network consists of additional subnets, add them in the local.zeek file or at the command line, for example as follows:

zeek -r mypackets.trace local -e "Site::local_nets += { 1.2.3.0/24, 5.6.7.0/24 }"

When running with ZeekControl, you adjust Site::local_nets by configuring the networks.cfg file.

For additional configurability around site-local networks, see Site::private_address_space and the Site::private_address_space_is_local flag.

Running Zeek Without Installing

For developers that wish to run Zeek directly from the build/ directory (i.e., without performing make install), they will have to first adjust ZEEKPATH to look for scripts and additional files inside the build directory. Sourcing either build/zeek-path-dev.sh or build/zeek-path-dev.csh as appropriate for the current shell accomplishes this and also augments your PATH so you can use the Zeek binary directly:

./configure
make
source build/zeek-path-dev.sh
zeek <options>

Next Steps

By this point, we’ve covered how to set up the most basic Zeek instance, browsing log files and a basic filesystem layout. Here’s some suggestions on what to explore next:

  • Simply continue reading further into this documentation to find out more about the contents of Zeek log files and how to write custom Zeek scripts.

  • Look at the scripts in $PREFIX/share/zeek/policy for further ones you may want to load; you can browse their documentation at the overview of script packages.

  • Reading the code of scripts that ship with Zeek is also a great way to gain further understanding of the language and how scripts tend to be structured.

  • Review the FAQ.

  • Join the Zeek community Slack channel for interacting with the fellow Zeekers and Zeek core developers.

  • Track Zeek code releases by reading the “Release Notes” for each release. The “Get Zeek” web page points to this file for each new version of Zeek. These notes appear as the file NEWS, which summarizes the most important changes in the new version. These same notes are attached to the release page on GitHub for each release. For details on each change, see the separate CHANGES file, also accompanying each release.