Log iptables Messages to a Separate File with rsyslog

Learn how to filter iptables log messages to a separate file. Two methods are presented: one using traditional syslog and one using rsyslog.

Firewall logging is very important, both to detect break-in attempts and to ensure that firewall rules are working properly. Unfortunately, it’s often difficult to predict in advance which rules and what information should be logged. Consequently, it’s common practice to err on the side of verbosity. Given the amount of traffic that any machine connected to the Internet is exposed to, it’s critical that firewall logs be separated from normal logs in order to ease monitoring. What follows are two methods to accomplish this using iptables on Linux. The first method uses traditional syslog facility/priority filtering. The second, more robust method filters based on message content with rsyslog.

The Old Way: Use a Fixed Priority for iptables

The traditional UNIX syslog service only has two ways to categorize, and consequently route, messages: facility and priority. Facilities include kernel, mail, daemon, etc. Priorities include emergency, alert, warning, debug, etc. The Linux iptables firewall runs in the kernel and therefore always has the facility set to kern. Using traditional syslog software, the only way you can separate iptables messages from other kernel messages is to set the priority on all iptables messages to something specific that hopefully isn’t used for other kernel logging.

For example, you could add something like the following to /etc/syslog.conf:

kern.=debug -/var/log/iptables.log

and specifically remove the kernel debugging messages from all other logs like so:

kern.*;kern.!=debug -/var/log/kern.log

and in each iptables logging rule use the command line option --log-level debug.

There are two distinct disadvantages to this approach. First, there’s no guarantee that other kernel components won’t use the priority you’ve set iptables to log at. There’s a real possibility that useful messages will be lost in the deluge of firewall logging. Second, this approach prevents you from actually setting meaningful priorities in your firewall logs. You might not care about random machines hammering Windows networking ports, but you definitely want to know about malformed packets reaching your server.

The New Way: Filter Based on Message Content with rsyslog

rsyslog is mostly a drop-in replacement for a tradtional syslog daemon–on Linux, klogd and sysklogd. In fact, on Debian and Ubuntu, you can simply:

$ sudo apt-get install rsyslog

and if you haven’t customized /etc/syslog.conf, logging should continue to work in precisely the same way. rsyslog has been the default syslog on Red Hat/Fedora based systems for a number of versions now, but if it’s not installed:

$ sudo yum install rsyslog

Configure iptables to Use a Unique Prefix

We’ll setup rsyslog to filter based on the beginning of a message from iptables. So, for each logging rule in your firewall script, add --log-prefix "iptables: ". Most firewall builder applications can be easily configured to add a prefix to every logging rule. For example, if you’re using firehol as I am, you could add:


to /etc/firehol/firehol.conf.

Configure rsyslog to Filter Based on Prefix

Create /etc/rsyslog.d/iptables.conf with the following contents:

:msg, startswith, "iptables: " -/var/log/iptables.log
& ~

The first line means send all messages that start with “iptables: ” to /var/log/iptables.log. The second line means discard the messages that were matched in the previous line. The second line is of course optional, but it saves the trouble of explicitly filtering out firewall logs from subsequent syslog rules.

When I configured this on my own machines, I did notice one issue that may be a peculiarity of firehol, but it’s probably worth mentioning anyway. It seems that firehol adds an extra single quote at the beginning of log messages that needs to be matched in the rsyslog rule. For example, here’s a log message from firehol:

Apr 17 12:41:07 tick kernel: 'firehol: 'IN-internet':'IN=eth0 OUT= MAC=fe:fd:cf:c0:47:b5:00:0e:39:6f:48:00:08:00 SRC= DST= LEN=64 TOS=0x00 PREC=0x00 TTL=32 ID=5671 DF PROTO=TCP SPT=3549 DPT=5555 WINDOW=65535 RES=0x00 SYN URGP=0

Notice the extra quote after “kernel: ” and before “firehol: “. So, on my machine I configured the rsyslog filter like so:

:msg, startswith, "'firehol: " -/var/log/iptables.log
& ~

Configure iptables Log Rotation

Finally, since we’re logging to a new file, it’s useful to create a log rotation rule. Create a file /etc/logrotate.d/iptables with the following contents:

	rotate 7
		invoke-rc.d rsyslog rotate > /dev/null

The preceding script tells logrotate to rotate the firewall log daily and keep logs from the past seven days.

Safely Removing External Drives in Linux

Simply unmounting a filesystem is not the ideal way to remove an external USB/firewire/SATA drive in Linux. This tutorial explains why and gives a solution.


About a year ago I bought an external SATA drive for backups. My normal usage consisted of:

  1. Power on and connect the drive
  2. mount /media/backup
  3. Run my backup script
  4. umount /media/backup
  5. Power off and unplug the drive

This seemed to work pretty well–at the very least, I wasn’t losing data–except the drive made a strange sound when I powered it off. It wasn’t a normal drive spin down sound; it was louder and shorter. So, I googled for authoritative instructions on using external drives with Linux. While most sources suggest doing exactly what I did, it’s not ideal.

It turns out that most cheap external USB/SATA/firewire enclosures don’t properly issue a stop command to the drive when you flick the power switch. Instead, the power switch simply cuts power to the drive, which forces the drive to do an emergency head retract. If you think that sounds bad, you’re right. Emergency retracts aren’t going to brick your drive immediately, but if they occur regularly they’re putting a lot of unnecessary wear and tear on the drive. In fact, some drives monitor how often this happens with S.M.A.R.T. attribute 192. (Check Wikipedia’s S.M.A.R.T. page for a comprehensive list of attributes)


The solution is to spin down the drive via software before turning it off and unplugging it. The best way to do this is with a utility called scsiadd. This program can add and remove drives to Linux’s SCSI subsystem. Additionally, with fairly modern kernels, removing a device will issue a stop command, which is exactly what we’re looking for. Run:

$ sudo scsiadd -p

which should print something like:

Attached devices:
Host: scsi0 Channel: 00 Id: 00 Lun: 00
  Vendor: ATA      Model: SAMSUNG HD300LJ  Rev: ZT10
  Type:   Direct-Access                    ANSI  SCSI revision: 05
Host: scsi4 Channel: 00 Id: 00 Lun: 00
  Vendor: LITE-ON  Model: DVDRW LH-20A1L   Rev: BL05
  Type:   CD-ROM                           ANSI  SCSI revision: 05
Host: scsi5 Channel: 00 Id: 00 Lun: 00
  Vendor: ATA      Model: WDC WD10EACS-00Z Rev: 01.0
  Type:   Direct-Access                    ANSI  SCSI revision: 05

Identify the drive you want to remove and then issue:

$ sudo scsiadd -r host channel id lun

substituting the corresponding values from the scsiadd -p output. For example, if I wanted to remove “WDC WD10EACS-00Z”, I would run:

$ sudo scsiadd -r 5 0 0 0

If everything works, scsiadd should print:

Attached devices:
Host: scsi0 Channel: 00 Id: 00 Lun: 00
  Vendor: ATA      Model: SAMSUNG HD300LJ  Rev: ZT10
  Type:   Direct-Access                    ANSI  SCSI revision: 05
Host: scsi4 Channel: 00 Id: 00 Lun: 00
  Vendor: LITE-ON  Model: DVDRW LH-20A1L   Rev: BL05
  Type:   CD-ROM                           ANSI  SCSI revision: 05

You can double-check the end of dmesg. You should see:

[608188.235216] sd 5:0:0:0: [sdb] Synchronizing SCSI cache
[608188.235362] sd 5:0:0:0: [sdb] Stopping disk
[608188.794296] ata6.00: disabled

At this point, the drive is removed from Linux’s SCSI subsystem and it should not be spinning. It’s safe to unplug and turn off.

Using scsiadd directly can be inconvenient because it requires looking up the host, channel, id, and lun of the drive. I wrote a short script that will take a normal Linux device file like /dev/sdb, figure out the correct arguments to scsiadd, and run scsiadd -r. I use this script in my larger backup script.


if [ $# -ne 1 ]; then
    echo "Usage: $0 <device>"
    exit 1

if ! which lsscsi >/dev/null 2>&1; then
    echo "Error: lsscsi not installed";
    exit 1

if ! which scsiadd >/dev/null 2>&1; then
    echo "Error: scsiadd not installed"
    exit 1

device=`lsscsi | grep $1`
if [ -z "$device" ]; then
    echo "Error: could not find device: $1"
    exit 1

hcil=`echo $device | awk \
    '{split(substr($0, 2, 7),a,":"); print a[1], a[2], a[3], a[4]}'`

scsiadd -r $hcil

It does require the lsscsi command to be present on the system.

Monitoring Hard Drive Health on Linux with smartmontools

S.M.A.R.T. is a system in modern hard drives designed to report conditions that may indicate impending failure. smartmontools is a free software package that can monitor S.M.A.R.T. attributes and run hard drive self-tests. Although smartmontools runs on a number of platforms, I will only cover installing and configuring it on Linux.

Continue reading “Monitoring Hard Drive Health on Linux with smartmontools”