Sam Stelfox

Thoughts from a software engineer, systems hacker and Linux gubernāre.


RSyslog is a more advanced replacement for the aging klogd and syslogd. It supports useful features such as attribute filtering, multiple protocol support, and logging to databases.

Security Notes

RSyslog can log some sensitive information or very useful information for any potential intruder including service names, versions, valid usernames, logon times and quite a bit more.

Attempts are usually made to alter or destroy logs by various malicious actors to cover their tracks. As such it is highly recommended that logs are sent to a central hardened host that can maintain a backup of any logs in case a server is compromised as well as providing a central place for logs to be processed and manipulated.

Other software will need to be used to handle the correlation of logs, RSyslog itself only provides mechanisms for aggregations.

Firewall Adjustments

By default RSyslog doesn't need any ports opened. If you intend to send your logs over the network, it will depend on how you're doing it. UDP is the most error prone but the least processor intensive, you could also use UDP across a one-way data path which can be valuable in some high security situations.

TCP is more reliable but does require more processing and memory as connections need to be tracked. This overhead is usually trivial amounts in small to medium logging situations and can probably be safely ignored in most cases.

RSyslog also provides a mechanism to encrypt syslog messages over TCP using TLS. This however requires there to be a trusted Certificate_Authority to create and sign certificates. You could potentially use StartSSL certificates but using others could do the same thing and correctly authenticate to your log server. There would be an audit trail linking someone to the offending certificate, getting access to that information would require assistance from the issuing authority in the event of a breach.

Many network appliances, switches, and routers don't support TCP or TLS syslog reporting. This frequently means you'll want to operate in a mixed mode setup, providing a secure connection to clients that support it while still allowing older clients to send you logs over UDP.

These logs generally travel unencrypted over the network unless configured to do otherwise.

Firewall Adjustments

If you're sending or receiving log messages between machines you'll need to adjust your firewall rules to allow the traffic. Syslog has an IANA assigned port number of 514 for both TCP and UDP.

It is common and more widely supported by endpoint devices to support UDP as it requires less processing but is more prone to message loss. TCP is significantly more reliable for message delivery, at the cost of having more processing overhead.

RSyslog also supports a homegrown protocol referred to as RELP (the "Reliable Event Logging Protocol"). This does not have an IANA standard port assigned to it but defaults to port 2514/tcp.

It is a good idea to limit the hosts that can send log messages to your central log servers or implement a form of authentication to prevent malicious attackers from flooding / overloading your log server.

Forwarding Windows Events

There is a handy service that can forward syslog events from the Windows Event subsystem built into windows to a syslog server. It's called eventlog-to-syslog and seems to be under active development (good thing).

Modular Configuration

Modular configuration of services has become increasingly important with the rise of configuration management systems. By making use of the modular imports, configuration of systems can be mostly standardized with only the variations based on the system's role adding or removing individual files without worrying about the state of others.

I've updated my example configurations for RSyslog to make full use of the modular configuration mechanism.

Compatibility warning: I've switched from using the "legacy" syslog.conf syntax to RSyslog's "RainerScript" as much as possible. This sample configuration works at version 7.4.8 of RSyslog on Fedora 20. I've had serious compatibility issues going to new and older minor releases of RSyslog with certain subsets of the new syntax, all of which I've left out of these examples to the best of my abilities.

My base /etc/rsyslog.conf file.

module(load="imjournal" statefile="imjournal.state")
module(load="immark" interval="3600")

$WorkDirectory /var/lib/rsyslog
$IncludeConfig /etc/rsyslog.d/*.conf

If you prefer not to have time based mark messages periodically added to your log files you'll want to remove or comment out that line or change the interval that they're logged at (I've found hourly to be pretty balanced and useful).

The first important modular configuration file is for logging messages to local files. All my systems get this file which I place at /etc/rsyslog.d/local_logging.conf.

There is one weird condition on only logging to local files if the log message itself didn't come from a file, the reason for this will become apparent later on.

if $inputname != 'imfile' then {
  local7.*                                  action(type="omfile" file="/var/log/boot.log")
  cron.*                                    action(type="omfile" file="/var/log/cron")
  mail.*                                    action(type="omfile" file="/var/log/maillog")
  *.info;mail.none;authpriv.none;cron.none  action(type="omfile" file="/var/log/messages")
  authpriv.*                                action(type="omfile" file="/var/log/secure")
  uucp,news.crit                            action(type="omfile" file="/var/log/spooler")
  *.emerg                                   action(type="omusrmsg" users="*")

You can stop at this point if you're not going to send your logs to a central location. On the systems that will be receiving logs you'll want to add the following configuration file at /etc/rsyslog.d/server.conf.

This is one of the places where I couldn't find a RainerScript equivalent (around the definition of templates). The RELP module also doesn't support the 'ruleset' attribute, otherwise, I'd probably include the module just for completeness.


$template remoteAudit,    "/var/log/remote/%fromhost-ip%/audit.log"
$template remoteBoot,     "/var/log/remote/%fromhost-ip%/boot.log"
$template remoteCron,     "/var/log/remote/%fromhost-ip%/cron"
$template remoteMail,     "/var/log/remote/%fromhost-ip%/maillog"
$template remoteMessages, "/var/log/remote/%fromhost-ip%/messages"
$template remoteSecure,   "/var/log/remote/%fromhost-ip%/secure"
$template remoteSpooler,  "/var/log/remote/%fromhost-ip%/spooler"

$template auditFormat, "%msg%\n"

ruleset(name="remote") {
  if $pri-text == '' and $programname == 'auditd-sender' then {   action(type="omfile" dynaFile="remoteAudit" template="auditFormat")
  } else {
    local7.*                                  action(type="omfile" dynaFile="remoteBoot")
    cron.*                                    action(type="omfile" dynaFile="remoteCron")
    mail.*                                    action(type="omfile" dynaFile="remoteMail" sync="off")
    *.info;mail.none;authpriv.none;cron.none  action(type="omfile" dynaFile="remoteMessages")
    authpriv.*                                action(type="omfile" dynaFile="remoteSecure")
    uucp,news.crit                            action(type="omfile" dynaFile="remoteSpooler")

input(type="imudp" port="514" ruleset="remote")
input(type="imtcp" port="514" ruleset="remote")

This will maintain indepedant log file for each client that sends the server logs broken down by IP address in the /var/log/remote directory. Each directory will match the one you'd expect to see on that systems /var/log directory.

If you look closely you can see that I've got some special logic in place for handling one special type of log, the output of 'auditd'. We'll get to that soon.

We need to now configure our clients to send the logs to our server. On all machines (I do this on the log servers as well) I add the following configuration file at /etc/rsyslog.d/remote.conf.

*.* action(



You'll want to replace the value of the target attribute with the name of your logserver. I've never had issues with using hostnames though generally the best practice for logging is to use IP addresses. This name will only be looked up when the configuration is evaluated.

I have two separate log servers that I send logs to for redundancy, this does make log processing later on a smidge more difficult due to duplicaitons but I've found the benefits far outweigh the added effort.

The final link in this log chain is sending our audit log files to the central server. This is why I've added a conditional statement to the local logging as rsyslog isn't responsible for generating or locally logging this data and why the server file has conditions for dealing with the audit log. I keep this configuration in /etc/rsyslog.d/audit_input.conf.


Ensure you restart the syslog server after making these changes:

systemctl restart rsyslog.service

Log Rotation for Servers

The last component in the log server is too ensure log files are regularly rotated and compressed. My per server log volume is relatively small so I rotate my logs weekly and keep a years worth for each machine.

I stick the following configuration file at /etc/logrotate.d/rsyslog_server.conf. This assumes you already have logrotate configured.

/var/log/remote/*/spooler {
  # Keep three years worth of logs (52 weeks * 3 years)
  rotate 52

  # If the file is missing, or empty just skip it and don't bother creating a
  # file if it's missing, rsyslog can handle it.

  # Append the date to any rotated log files instead of an arbitrary number and
  # compress any rotated logs (with the exception of the most recent one).
  dateformat .%Y%m%d

  # When all the logs are done being rotated notify Rsyslog that it needs to
  # reopen all it's file descriptors.
    [ -s /var/run/ ] && kill -HUP $(cat /var/run/ &> /dev/null || true


RELP is a custom log protocol created by the maintainers of RSyslog attempting to ensure logs are reliably delivered to particular servers. In practice I've had significant issues RELP, mostly around it's reliability (ironically) at sending logs when all systems are operating normally and at low volumes.

RELP was never able to pass any of my deployment tests reliably enough for me to be able to make use of it in production and I highly encourage it not be used.

Signature Providers

RSyslog has integrated signature provider support through a third party service called GuardTime. The Rsyslog developers have claimed other signature provider modules will be provided in the future but give no indications on possible timelines or how they might be implemented.

GuardTime itself as a service isn't well documented, their entire site being a shrine to abstract meaningless buzz words. What I have been able to gather is that they implement some form of a block chain (it is unclear whether it is public or not) and they use the aggregated signatures of everyone requesting signatures of hashes as part of this block chain. I could be way off on this as the documentation is very sparse, old and is largely based off of jumps of intuition.

GuardTime itself seems to have been having issues. They shut down their API due to DoS attacks now requiring an account. It also requires trusting them as a third party, even though they claim this is not the case (they provide no technical information backing this claim).

Signing logs is not an easy problem. Systemd is also attempting to solve the problem in their own way, but there is a lot of criticism and valid arguments over their implementation.

I work in environments that by definition don't trust third parties, so until there is a self-hosted solution for providing signatures, I can't recommend this.

Personal Views

I use RSyslog because it is IMHO the best open source log daemon available. I am appalled by the developers compatibility breaking changes between minor versions that I've experienced, the self-aggrandizing ('RainerScript'...), inconsistent documentation, and general lack of support that I've witnessed.

That being said, I have yet to see even a commercial offering that works as well as RSyslog. The developers are continuing to develop in a security concious way (such as integrating encryption, and third party message signatures) and stability (such as log queues).