Notice Framework

One of the easiest ways to customize Bro is writing a local notice policy. Bro can detect a large number of potentially interesting situations, and the notice policy hook which of them the user wants to be acted upon in some manner. In particular, the notice policy can specify actions to be taken, such as sending an email or compiling regular alarm emails. This page gives an introduction into writing such a notice policy.


Let’s start with a little bit of background on Bro’s philosophy on reporting things. Bro ships with a large number of policy scripts which perform a wide variety of analyses. Most of these scripts monitor for activity which might be of interest for the user. However, none of these scripts determines the importance of what it finds itself. Instead, the scripts only flag situations as potentially interesting, leaving it to the local configuration to define which of them are in fact actionable. This decoupling of detection and reporting allows Bro to address the different needs that sites have. Definitions of what constitutes an attack or even a compromise differ quite a bit between environments, and activity deemed malicious at one site might be fully acceptable at another.

Whenever one of Bro’s analysis scripts sees something potentially interesting it flags the situation by calling the NOTICE function and giving it a single Notice::Info record. A Notice has a Notice::Type, which reflects the kind of activity that has been seen, and it is usually also augmented with further context about the situation.

More information about raising notices can be found in the Raising Notices section.

Once a notice is raised, it can have any number of actions applied to it by writing Notice::policy hooks which is described in the Notice Policy section below. Such actions can be to send a mail to the configured address(es) or to simply ignore the notice. Currently, the following actions are defined:

Action Description
Notice::ACTION_LOG Write the notice to the Notice::LOG logging stream.
Notice::ACTION_ALARM Log into the Notice::ALARM_LOG stream which will rotate hourly and email the contents to the email address or addresses defined in the Notice::mail_dest variable.
Notice::ACTION_EMAIL Send the notice in an email to the email address or addresses given in the Notice::mail_dest variable.
Notice::ACTION_PAGE Send an email to the email address or addresses given in the Notice::mail_page_dest variable.

How these notice actions are applied to notices is discussed in the Notice Policy and Notice Policy Shortcuts sections.

Processing Notices

Notice Policy

The hook Notice::policy provides the mechanism for applying actions and generally modifying the notice before it’s sent onward to the action plugins. Hooks can be thought of as multi-bodied functions and using them looks very similar to handling events. The difference is that they don’t go through the event queue like events. Users can alter notice processing by directly modifying fields in the Notice::Info record given as the argument to the hook.

Here’s a simple example which tells Bro to send an email for all notices of type SSH::Password_Guessing if the guesser attempted to log in to the server at


@load protocols/ssh/detect-bruteforcing

redef SSH::password_guesses_limit=10;

hook Notice::policy(n: Notice::Info)
	if ( n$note == SSH::Password_Guessing && /192\.168\.56\.103/ in n$sub )
		add n$actions[Notice::ACTION_EMAIL];
# bro -C -r ssh/sshguess.pcap notice_ssh_guesser.bro
# cat notice.log
#separator \x09
#set_separator    ,
#empty_field      (empty)
#unset_field      -
#path     notice
#open     2017-03-24-22-07-10
#fields   ts      uid     id.orig_h       id.orig_p       id.resp_h       id.resp_p       fuid    file_mime_type  file_desc       proto   note    msg     sub     src     dst     p       n       peer_descr      actions suppress_for    dropped remote_location.country_code    remote_location.region    remote_location.latitude        remote_location.longitude
#types    time    string  addr    port    addr    port    string  string  string  enum    enum    string  string  addr    addr    port    count   string  set[enum]       interval        bool    string  string  string  double  double
1427726759.303199 -       -       -       -       -       -       -       -       -       SSH::Password_Guessing appears to be guessing SSH passwords (seen in 10 connections).     Sampled servers:,,,,    -       -       -       bro     Notice::ACTION_EMAIL,Notice::ACTION_LOG 3600.000000     F       -       -       -       -       -
#close    2017-03-24-22-07-10


Keep in mind that the semantics of the SSH::Password_Guessing notice are such that it is only raised when Bro heuristically detects a failed login.

Hooks can also have priorities applied to order their execution like events with a default priority of 0. Greater values are executed first. Setting a hook body to run before default hook bodies might look like this:

hook Notice::policy(n: Notice::Info) &priority=5
    # Insert your code here.

Hooks can also abort later hook bodies with the break keyword. This is primarily useful if one wants to completely preempt processing by lower priority Notice::policy hooks.

Notice Policy Shortcuts

Although the notice framework provides a great deal of flexibility and configurability there are many times that the full expressiveness isn’t needed and actually becomes a hindrance to achieving results. The framework provides a default Notice::policy hook body as a way of giving users the shortcuts to easily apply many common actions to notices.

These are implemented as sets and tables indexed with a Notice::Type enum value. The following table shows and describes all of the variables available for shortcut configuration of the notice framework.

Variable name Description
Notice::ignored_types Adding a Notice::Type to this set results in the notice being ignored. It won’t have any other action applied to it, not even Notice::ACTION_LOG.
Notice::emailed_types Adding a Notice::Type to this set results in Notice::ACTION_EMAIL being applied to the notices of that type.
Notice::alarmed_types Adding a Notice::Type to this set results in Notice::ACTION_ALARM being applied to the notices of that type.
Notice::not_suppressed_types Adding a Notice::Type to this set results in that notice no longer undergoing the normal notice suppression that would take place. Be careful when using this in production it could result in a dramatic increase in the number of notices being processed.
Notice::type_suppression_intervals This is a table indexed on Notice::Type and yielding an interval. It can be used as an easy way to extend the default suppression interval for an entire Notice::Type without having to create a whole Notice::policy entry and setting the $suppress_for field.

Raising Notices

A script should raise a notice for any occurrence that a user may want to be notified about or take action on. For example, whenever the base SSH analysis scripts sees enough failed logins to a given host, it raises a notice of the type SSH::Password_Guessing. The code in the base SSH analysis script which raises the notice looks like this:

        $msg=fmt("%s appears to be guessing SSH passwords (seen in %d connections).", key$host, r$num),

NOTICE is a normal function in the global namespace which wraps a function within the Notice namespace. It takes a single argument of the Notice::Info record type. The most common fields used when raising notices are described in the following table:

Field name Description
$note This field is required and is an enum value which represents the notice type.
$msg This is a human readable message which is meant to provide more information about this particular instance of the notice type.
$sub This is a sub-message meant for human readability but will frequently also be used to contain data meant to be matched with the Notice::policy.
$conn If a connection record is available when the notice is being raised and the notice represents some attribute of the connection, then the connection record can be given here. Other fields such as $id and $src will automatically be populated from this value.
$id If a conn_id record is available when the notice is being raised and the notice represents some attribute of the connection, then the connection can be given here. Other fields such as $src will automatically be populated from this value.
$src If the notice represents an attribute of a single host then it’s possible that only this field should be filled out to represent the host that is being “noticed”.
$n This normally represents a number if the notice has to do with some number. It’s most frequently used for numeric tests in the Notice::policy for making policy decisions.
$identifier This represents a unique identifier for this notice. This field is described in more detail in the Automated Suppression section.
$suppress_for This field can be set if there is a natural suppression interval for the notice that may be different than the default value. The value set to this field can also be modified by a user’s Notice::policy so the value is not set permanently and unchangeably.

When writing Bro scripts which raise notices, some thought should be given to what the notice represents and what data should be provided to give a consumer of the notice the best information about the notice. If the notice is representative of many connections and is an attribute of a host (e.g. a scanning host) it probably makes most sense to fill out the $src field and not give a connection or conn_id. If a notice is representative of a connection attribute (e.g. an apparent SSH login) then it makes sense to fill out either $conn or $id based on the data that is available when the notice is raised. Using care when inserting data into a notice will make later analysis easier when only the data to fully represent the occurrence that raised the notice is available. If complete connection information is available when an SSL server certificate is expiring, the logs will be very confusing because the connection that the certificate was detected on is a side topic to the fact that an expired certificate was detected. It’s possible in many cases that two or more separate notices may need to be generated. As an example, one could be for the detection of the expired SSL certificate and another could be for if the client decided to go ahead with the connection neglecting the expired certificate.

Automated Suppression

The notice framework supports suppression for notices if the author of the script that is generating the notice has indicated to the notice framework how to identify notices that are intrinsically the same. Identification of these “intrinsically duplicate” notices is implemented with an optional field in Notice::Info records named $identifier which is a simple string. If the $identifier and $note fields are the same for two notices, the notice framework actually considers them to be the same thing and can use that information to suppress duplicates for a configurable period of time.


If the $identifier is left out of a notice, no notice suppression takes place due to the framework’s inability to identify duplicates. This could be completely legitimate usage if no notices could ever be considered to be duplicates.

The $identifier field is typically comprised of several pieces of data related to the notice that when combined represent a unique instance of that notice. Here is an example of the script policy/protocols/ssl/validate-certs.bro raising a notice for session negotiations where the certificate or certificate chain did not validate successfully against the available certificate authority certificates.

        $msg=fmt("SSL certificate validation failed with (%s)", c$ssl$validation_status),

In the above example you can see that the $identifier field contains a string that is built from the responder IP address and port, the validation status message, and the MD5 sum of the server certificate. Those fields in particular are chosen because different SSL certificates could be seen on any port of a host, certificates could fail validation for different reasons, and multiple server certificates could be used on that combination of IP address and port with the server_name SSL extension (explaining the addition of the MD5 sum of the certificate). The result is that if a certificate fails validation and all four pieces of data match (IP address, port, validation status, and certificate hash) that particular notice won’t be raised again for the default suppression period.

Setting the $identifier field is left to those raising notices because it’s assumed that the script author who is raising the notice understands the full problem set and edge cases of the notice which may not be readily apparent to users. If users don’t want the suppression to take place or simply want a different interval, they can set a notice’s suppression interval to 0secs or delete the value from the $identifier field in a Notice::policy hook.

Extending Notice Framework

There are a couple of mechanism currently for extending the notice framework and adding new capability.

Extending Notice Emails

If there is extra information that you would like to add to emails, that is possible to add by writing Notice::policy hooks.

There is a field in the Notice::Info record named $email_body_sections which will be included verbatim when email is being sent. An example of including some information from an HTTP request is included below.

hook Notice::policy(n: Notice::Info)
  if ( n?$conn && n$conn?$http && n$conn$http?$host )
    n$email_body_sections[|n$email_body_sections|] = fmt("HTTP host header: %s", n$conn$http$host);

Cluster Considerations

As a user/developer of Bro, the main cluster concern with the notice framework is understanding what runs where. When a notice is generated on a worker, the worker checks to see if the notice should be suppressed based on information locally maintained in the worker process. If it’s not being suppressed, the worker forwards the notice directly to the manager and does no more local processing. The manager then runs the Notice::policy hook and executes all of the actions determined to be run.

Copyright 2016, The Bro Project. Last updated on March 24, 2017. Created using Sphinx 1.4.8.