Suricata and Snort IDS rule and pcap testing system
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Dalton is a system that allows a user to quickly and easily run network packet captures ("pcaps") against an intrusion detection system ("IDS") sensor of his choice (e.g. Snort, Suricata) using defined rulesets and/or bespoke rules.

Dalton also includes a wizard-like web interface for Flowsynth to facilitate custom pcap creation.




or this which does the same thing:

docker-compose build && docker-compose up -d

Then navigate to http://<docker-host>/dalton/

To configure what rulesets are available, see Adding Rulesets.

To configure what sensors are available, see Adding Sensors.

If you are building behind a proxy, see Building Behind A Proxy


Use Cases

These are the most common use cases for Dalton:

  • Testing Rulesets/Ruleset Coverage
    User-provided pcaps can be run thru an IDS engine loaded with a particular ruleset.
  • Troubleshooting and Developing Signatures
    User-provided pcaps can be tested against user-provided ad hoc IDS rules to quickly and easily see the IDS alerts and/or test for rule syntax errors.
  • Testing Variable Changes
    The ruleset variables used by the engine can easily be modified for submitted jobs; this can be used to determine the impact that a variable change may have on a specific detection.
  • Testing Configuration Changes
    Customized engine configuration files can included with submitted jobs; this can be used to determine the impact that an engine configuration change may have on a specific detection.
  • Testing specific IDS engine behavior
    Dalton supports the ability to apply the above use cases on specific sensors. The Dalton architecture is designed to accommodate and support sundry sensor engines and engine versions.
  • Crafting custom packet captures
    As part of the Web interface, Dalton has a module that provides a wizard-like web interface for Flowsynth. This allows for quick and easy network flow definition and pcap creation for popular protocols and traffic patterns.


Dalton consists of a “controller” ( and “agents” ( The controller provides a web interface as well as a HTTP API for agent communication and programmatic job results retrieval. From a web interface, a user submits a job to be run on a particular agent or agent platform. A Dalton job consists of one or more pcaps, a pre-defined ruleset and/or custom rules, agent engine configuration options (e.g. configuration to apply to Suricata when running a job), and a manifest file specifying other options for the job (e.g. return rule performance logs).

The Dalton Agent code ( runs on an IDS sensor and provides an interface between the Dalton controller and an IDS engine. Dalton agents grab pending jobs from the Dalton controller, run them locally, and report the results back. These results are then displayed in the web GUI provided by the Dalton controller. Jobs are submitted to specific sensor engines (e.g. Suricata) and versions (e.g. 4.0.0).

Code for the Dalton agent and controller webapp are written in Python and leverage Flask and Jinja2. On the Dalton controller, Redis is used to manage the job queue, store results, and maintain a list of active Dalton agents.

The Dalton controller includes a Flowsynth WebUI module that provides a user interface to assist with rapid Flowsynth language prototyping and development of network flow definitions that are then compiled into network pcaps by the Flowsynth script. This is basically a GUI to facilitate input and output to Flowsynth. There is the option to easily send Flowsynth WebUI generated pcaps to Dalton for testing.

While all the above systems could be independent physical (or virtual) machines (and in fact this setup has been done), for ease of install and use, everything has also been architected as a group of Docker containers. The Dalton codebase includes Dockerfiles, “docker-compose.yaml”, and associated configuration files to facilitate easy application launch using a set of Docker containers.


Installing and Running Dalton

The easiest way to get Dalton up and running is to use the Docker files provided and launch the system as a group of Docker containers. From the root of the repository, run:


or this which does the same thing:

docker-compose build && docker-compose up -d

To specify or add what agents (specific sensors and versions) are built and run, edit the docker-compose.yml file as appropriate. See also Adding Sensors.

The HTTP listen port can be changed if desired by editing the DALTON_EXTERNAL_PORT value in the .env file in the root of the repository.

Configuration options for the Dalton Controller can be found in dalton.conf; Configuration options for Dalton Agents can be found in dalton-agent/dalton-agent.conf. See the inline comments in those files for more details.

Building Behind A Proxy

It is recognized that getting systems to work behind a corporate proxy can be an endless source of acute frustration and ongoing consternation. However, a small attempt has been made to make it easier for Dalton to be built behind a proxy. Note that it comes with no guarantees.

To build Dalton behind a proxy, most likely Docker and the containers will need to be set up to use the proxy.

Configuring Docker to use a proxy will vary depending on the platform Docker is run on. For Linux, it usually involves editing the /etc/default/docker file, or if systemd is used (as it is in Ubuntu 16.04), see This is for Docker, not the Docker containers. This allows Docker to do things like pull (external) images from the Docker Hub Registry.

To build the Dalton containers behind a proxy, edit the .env file in the Dalton repository root and set the http_proxy, https_proxy, and/or no_proxy variables accordingly. Example:


Be aware that DNS may not work in which case the IP of the proxy will need to be used.

These environment variables will be used when containers are built. This will allow the container to do things like 'apt-get install...'; they are used inside the container, not by docker to pull (external) images.

Note that these environment variables do not persist after the container is built. This means that if there are no rulesets, and Dalton attempts to download default rulesets, it will most likely fail and result in an empty file. In this case rulesets will need to bee added (and the empty files removed); see Adding Rulesets.

Using Dalton

Launching A New Job

The job submission page can be navigated to via the "New" menu on the toolbar, or by clicking the [Go >>] button on the homepage below a given sensor technology. The user will be prompted to select the sensor to be used, supply a packet capture and ruleset (pre-defined and/or custom), and given the ability to configure other options using the vertical tab(s) on the submission page. On the 'Config Files' tab a user can modify the sensor configuration file. The variables (e.g. $HTTP_PORTS) are split out from the rest of the config in the UI.

Please be aware that in most rulesets, almost all rules looking at TCP traffic are set to inspect established sessions. This means that if a pcap is supplied that only contains a single packet (e.g. from a sensor or firewall technology that only logs a single packet), it will not alert on these rules because the sensor will not see it as an established session because of the lack of a TCP 3-way handshake. If testing such a packet is desired, it will need to be incorporated into a new pcap that includes a 3-way handshake and the server and client IPs set correctly. This can be done fairly easily using Flowsynth; the Flowsynth Web UI makes this easy.

Job Settings

On the job submission page, the "Job Settings" vertical tab provides a number of user-configurable options:

  • Packet Captures
    Specify packet captures (libpcap format) to be run across the sensor. Depending on the engine, pcapng format may be supported as well. Archive files that contain pcaps can be submitted and the files will be extracted and used. Supported extensions (and their inferred formats) are .zip, .gz, .gzip, .bz2, .tar, .tgz, and .tar.gz. Since zip and tar files can contain multiple files, for those formats only members that have the ".pcap", ".pcapng", or ".cap" extensions will be included; the other files will be ignored.
    If multiple pcaps are submitted for a Suricata job, they will be combined into a single pcap on job submission since Suricata can only read a single pcap in read pcap mode.
  • Sensor Version
    The specific sensor version to use to run the specified pcap(s) and rule(s).
  • Ruleset

    • Use a production ruleset
      Select which "production" (pre-defined) ruleset to use if this option is checked. See also Adding Rulesets.
      • Enable disabled rules
        Enable all disabled rules. This may cause engine errors if variables in disabled rules are not defined.
      • Show all flowbit alerts
        Rules that have, flowbit:noalert will have that directive removed so that they show up in the sensor alerts.
    • Use custom rules
      This allows a user to specify specific ad hoc rules to include when testing the pcap(s). The user will need to ensure that any custom rules are valid since very little rule syntax validation is done on the Dalton controller; submitting invalid rules will result in verbose errors from the Dalton Agent (sensor engine) being used, which can facilitate rule syntax troubleshooting. Custom rules are added to a dalton-custom.rules file and included in the job so valid format is supported such as multiple rules (one on each line), and comments (ignored lines) beginning with a pound ('#') sign. If a sid is not provided for a custom rule, one will be added when the job is submitted.
  • Logs

    • Pcap records from alerts
      This tells the agent to process unified2 alert data and if alerts are generated by the job, this information will show up under the "Alert Details" tab on the job results page. Information returned includes hex/ASCII output from packets that generated alerts as well as "Extra" data from the unified2 file such as "Original Client IP" from packets with "X-Forwared-For" or "True-Client-IP" HTTP headers (if enable_xff is configured on the sensor).
    • Other logs (Alert Debug, HTTP, TLS, DNS, etc.)
      Suricata only.  This will return other logs generated by the engine that can be useful for analysis and debugging. Depending on the version of Suricata running on the agent, some logs may not be supported. Like all results, the 'Other logs' data is stored in Redis as a string and the maximum size this can be is 512MB. If these logs exceed that size, there may be data loss and/or other issues. Currently the following logs are returned, each in it's own tab, and if the log file is empty, the tab won't be shown:
      • Engine Stats (always returned even if this option is not checked)
        Statistics from the engine including numbers about memory, flows, sessions, reassembly, etc.
      • Packet Stats (always returned even if this option is not checked)
        Statistics from the pcap including network protocols, application layer protocols, etc.
      • Alert Debug
        Detailed information on what particular rules matched on for each alert.  Useful for seeing why an alert fired and/or troubleshooting false positives.
      • HTTP Log
        A log of HTTP requests and responses, showing time, IPs and ports, HTTP method, URI, HTTP version, Host, User-Agent, Referer, response code, response size, etc.  By default, each line represents the HTTP request and response all in one.
      • DNS Log
        A log of DNS requests and responses as provided by Suricata.
      • TLS Log
        A log of SSL/TLS traffic as provided by Suricata.
      • EVE Log
        If EVE logging is enabled in the config, the EVE log will be returned. This can be useful for programmatic results analysis when structured results are needed. Since Suricata version < 3.1 doesn't support multiple TLS loggers, the TLS log in the EVE log is turned off. See also above note about 512MB limit for 'Other logs'.
    • Rule profiling Return per-rule performance statistics. This is data from the engine's rule performance profiling output. This data will show up under the "Performance" tab on the job results page.
    • Fast pattern info
      • Suricata only. Return fast pattern data about the submitted rules.  The Dalton Suricata agent will return a file (displayed in the "Fast Pattern" tab) with details on what the engine is using for the fast pattern match.  To generate this, Suricata must do two runs – one to generate the fast pattern info and one to actually run the submitted job so this will approximately double the job run time. Unless fast pattern info is needed for some reason, there isn't a need to check this. Fast pattern data can be voluminous so it is not recommended that this be selected for a large production/pre-defined ruleset.

Config Files

On the job submission page, the "Config Files" vertical tab provides the ability to edit the configuration file(s) for the sensor:

  • Variables
    The variables that can be used by the rules. If the Override EXTERNAL_NET (set to 'any') option is selected (on by default), then the EXTERNAL_NET IP variable will be set to any when the job is submitted.
  • Configuration File
    The engine configuration file, minus rule the variables, that the Dalton agent uses for the job.

The variables and rest of the configuration file are separated dynamically when the pages loads, or when a new sensor version is selected. But on the disk the config is just one file in the "engine-configs/" directory (e.g. 'engine-configs/suricata/suricata-4.0.0.yaml'). See also Updating Sensor Configs. When a job is submitted to the Controller, the Variables and Configuration File values will be combined in to a single file for a Suricata Dalton agent job.

Job Results

The job results page allows users to download the job zip file and also presents the results from the job run in a tabulated interface:

  • Alerts These are the raw alerts from the sensor.
  • Alert Details
    If Include Detailed Alerts is selected for a job, detailed output from processing unified2 alert files will be shown here.
  • IDS Engine
    This the raw output from the IDS engine. For Snort jobs, the engine statistics will be in this tab, at the bottom.
  • Performance
    If Enable rule profiling is enabled, those results will be included here.
  • Debug
    This is the Debug output from the agent.
  • Error
    If any errors are encountered by the Dalton agent running the job, they will be returned and displayed in this tab and the tab will be selected by default. If there are no errors, this tab will not be shown.
  • Other logs
    If other logs are returned by the agent they will each be displayed in their own tab if they are non-empty.  Engine Stats and Packet Stats are always returned for Suricata jobs.  See discussion in the above "Configuration Options" discussion for more details.

Job Queue

Submitted jobs can be viewed on the "Queue" page. Each test is assigned a quasi-unique sixteen byte Job ID, which is based on the job's runtime parameters. Each recent Job ID is included on the 'Queue' page as a hyperlink for easy access. Queued jobs will be cleared out periodically if an agent has not picked them up; this should not happen unless all agents are down or are unreasonably backlogged.  There is additional logic in the Dalton controller to respond appropriately when jobs have timed out or have been interrupted; this should happen rarely, if ever.

Job results are cleared out periodically as well; this option is configurable with the redis_expire parameter in the dalton.conf file. Teapot jobs expire timeouts are configured with the teapot_redis_expire option. After a job has completed, the original job can always be viewed (if it hasn't expired) by accessing the following url:


A job zip file, which includes the packet capture file(s) submitted along with rules and variables associated with the job, is stored on disk, by default in the /opt/dalton/jobs directory; this location is configurable via the job_path parameter in the dalton.conf file. These files are cleaned up by Dalton based on the redis_expire and teapot_redis_expire. Dalton only cleans up job zip files from disk when the Queue page is loaded. To force the clean up job to run on demand, send a HTTP GET request to:


A job zip file can be accessed from the appropriate link on the job results page or directly downloaded using the following URL:



Agents (a.k.a. "Sensors") check in to the Dalton server frequently (about every second but configurable in the dalton-agent.conf file). The last time an agent checked in can be viewed on the Sensors page. Agents that have not checked in recently will be pruned based on the agent_purge_time value in the dalton.conf config file. When an expired or new agent checks in to the Dalton Controller it will be automatically (re)added and made available for job submissions.

Dalton API


The Dalton controller provides a RESTful API to retrieve data about submitted jobs.  API responses use JSON although the data returned in the values is, in most cases, just the raw text that is displayed in the Dalton web interface. The API can be utilized via HTTP GET requests in this format:

GET /dalton/controller_api/v2/<jobid>/<key>

Where <jobid> is the Job ID and:

<key> : [alert|alert_detailed|all|debug|error|ids|other_logs|perf|start_time|statcode|status|submission_time|tech|time|user]

Valid Keys

  • alert - Alert data from the job. This is the same as what is displayed in the "Alerts" tab in the job results page.

  • alert_detailed - Detailed alert data from the job. This is the same as what is displayed in the "Alert Details" tab in the job results page.

  • all - Returns data from all keys (except for "all" of course).

  • debug - Debug data from the job.  This is the same as what is displayed in the "Debug" tab in the job results page.

  • error - Error data from the job.  This is the same as what is displayed in the "Error" tab in the job results page.

  • ids - IDS Engine output from the job.  This is the same as what is displayed in the "IDS Engine" tab in the job results page. For Snort Agents, engine statistics output at the end of the job run are populated here.

  • other_logs - Other logs from the job (Suricata only). This is returned as key/value pairs with the key being the name of the log and the value being the contents of the log.

  • perf - Performance data from the job (if the job generated performance data).   This is the same as what is displayed in the "Performance" tab in the job results page.

  • start_time - The time (epoch) the job was requested by a Dalton agent.  This is returned as a string.

  • statcode - Status code of the job.  This is a number returned as a string.  If a job doesn't exist, the API will return an error (see below) instead of an "Invalid" statcode.  Here is how to interpret the status code:















  • status - A string corresponding to the current status of a job. This is used in the Dalton Controller web UI and is what is displayed in the browser when a job is submitted via the web interface to inform the user of the current progress/state of the job.  When a job is done, this will actually be a hyperlink saying "Click here to view your results".  Unless there is a specific use case, 'statcode' is usually used instead of 'status' for determining the status of a job.

  • submission_time - The time (formatted as "%b %d %H:%M:%S") the job was submitted to the Dalton Controller.

  • tech - The sensor technology (i.e. engine and version) the job was submitted for.  For example, 'suricata-4.0.0' is Suricata v4.0.0.  Suricata Agents start with "suricata-" and Snort Agents start with "snort-".

  • time - The time in seconds the job took to run, as reported by the Dalton Agent (this includes job download time by the agent). This is returned as a string and is the same as the "Processing Time" displayed in the job results page.

  • user - The user who submitted the job. This will always be "undefined" since authentication is not implemented in this release.

An API request returns JSON with three root elements:

  • name
    The requested data.   All data is returned as a quoted string if it is not null.  If the 'all' key is requested, this contains key/value pairs of all valid keys (so the JSON will need to be double-read to get to the data).  If the 'other_logs' keyword is requested, this is key/value pairs the JSON will need to be double-read to get to the data or triple-read it if it is part of an 'all' request. This is null if there is no data for the requested key.
  • error
    [true|false] depending if the API request generated an error. This is not returned as a quoted string.  This indicates an error with the API request, not an error running the job.  Errors running the job can be found by querying for the 'error' key (see above).
  • error_msg
    null if error is false, otherwise this is a quoted string with the error message.



GET /dalton/controller_api/v2/d1b3b838d41442f6/alert


"data": "06/26/2017-12:08:13.255103  [**] [1:2023754:6] ET CURRENT_EVENTS
        Malicious JS.Nemucod to PS Dropping PE Nov 14 M2 [**] [Classification:
        A Network Trojan was detected] [Priority: 1] {TCP}
        ->\n\n06/26/2017-12:08:13.255103  [**] [1:2023882:2]
        ET INFO HTTP Request to a *.top domain [**] [Classification: Potentially
        Bad Traffic] [Priority: 2] {TCP} ->\n
        \n06/26/2017-12:08:13.646674  [**] [1:2023754:6] ET CURRENT_EVENTS
        Malicious JS.Nemucod to PS Dropping PE Nov 14 M2 [**] [Classification:
        A Network Trojan was detected] [Priority: 1] {TCP}
        ->\n\n06/26/2017-12:08:14.053075  [**] [1:2023754:6] ET
        CURRENT_EVENTS Malicious JS.Nemucod to PS Dropping PE Nov 14 M2 [**]
        [Classification: A Network Trojan was detected] [Priority: 1] {TCP} ->\n\n06/26/2017-12:08:12.097144
        [**] [1:2023883:1] ET DNS Query to a *.top domain - Likely Hostile
        [**] [Classification: Potentially Bad Traffic] [Priority: 2] {UDP} ->\n\n",
"error_msg": null,
"error": false


GET /dalton/controller_api/v2/ae42737ab4f52862/ninjalevel


{"data": null, "error_msg": "value 'ninjalevel' invalid", "error": true}

Controller API

In addition to providing information on submitted jobs, the Dalton API includes the ability to pull information from, and perform limited actions on, the Controller. The following routes can be accessed via HTTP GET requests. Full examples are not provided here but can be easily obtained by making the request in a web browser.

  • /dalton/controller_api/request_engine_conf/<sensor>
    Returns JSON of the requested configuration file split out into variables and conf.
    If no exact match is found for a config file on disk, the closest file that matches is returned.
    <sensor> is the sensor technology, e.g. suricata-4.0.
  • /dalton/controller_api/delete-old-job-files
    Deletes old job files from disk. Returns the number of files deleted. For more info see the Job Queue section.
  • /dalton/controller_api/job_status/<jobid>
    Returns a string corresponding to the current status of a job. This is used by the web browser primarily when a job is running. See the 'status' key information in the Job API section.
  • /dalton/controller_api/job_status_code/<jobid>
    Returns the job status code for the given jobid. This is the job status code number, returned as string.
    For more details, see the information about 'statcode' in the Job API section.
  • /dalton/controller_api/get-current-sensors/<engine>
    Returns a JSON response with 'sensor_tech' as the root element containing an array of current active sensors, sorted descending based on ruleset filename (just like the list in the web interface).
    <engine> should be suricata or snort.
    Example response:
{"sensor_tech": ["suricata-4.0.1", "suricata-3.2.4", "suricata-2.0.9"]}
  • /dalton/controller_api/get-current-sensors-json-full
    Response is a JSON payload with details about all the current active sensors (agents). Info includes agent IP, last check-in time, tech (e.g. suricata-4.0.1), etc.
  • /dalton/controller_api/get-prod-rulesets/<engine>
    Returns a list of current available production rulesets on the Controller for the given engine. The list contains the full path of the rules files on the Controller.
    <engine> should be suricata or snort
    Example response:
{"prod-rulesets": [
  • /dalton/controller_api/get-max-pcap-files
    Returns the maximum number of pcap (or archive) files the controller is configured to process per job submission. This is set by the max_pcap_files option in dalton.conf and knowing this can be useful to ensure that all pcaps programmatically submitted are going to be processed. A single archive file, even though it can contain multiple pcaps, is only considered a single file in this context.
  • /dalton/sensor_api/get_job/<jobid>
    Returns the job zip file which includes the pcap(s), rule(s), config file, and manifest used by the job referenced by <jobid>. If the <jobid> is invalid or an error occurs, a HTML error page is returned.

Teapot Jobs

Dalton has the concept and capability of what is called a "teapot" job. A teapot job is one that is short lived in the Redis database and (usually) on disk.

Teapot jobs are useful when submitting large number of jobs and/or jobs where the results are immediately processed and there isn't a need to keep them around after that.  Often this is utilized in the programmatic submission of jobs combined with using the Dalton API to automatically and/or quickly process the results.

Such job submissions are fleeting and voluminous in number. In other words, short and stout. Like a little teapot.

Teapot jobs differ from regular jobs in a few main ways:

  • Results kept for a shorter period of time than regular jobs. Teapot job expire timeouts are configured with the teapot_redis_expire option in dalton.conf.
  • Teapot jobs are submitted using the 'teapotJob' POST parameter (with any value).  This parameter is not set or available when submitting jobs via the Dalton web UI.
  • Teapot jobs have a job id ("JID") that starts with 'teapot_'.
  • The submission of a teapot job results in the JID being returned instead of a redirect page.

Currently, if teapot jobs have not expired, they will show up in the Dalton Queue in the web UI although it would be fairly trivial to change the code to exclude them from the list.

Adding Rulesets

For each Dalton job, a single 'defined ruleset' file can be used and/or 'custom rules'. Custom rules are entered in the Web UI but defined rulesets are stored on disk.

On the Dalton Controller, defined rulesets must be in the directory specified by the ruleset_path variable in dalton.conf. By default this is /opt/dalton/rulesets. Inside that directory there must be a suricata directory where Suricata rules must be placed and a snort directory where Snort rules must be placed. The ruleset files must end in .rules.

If the default ruleset_path value is not changed from /opt/dalton/rulesets then the rulesets directory (and subdirectories) on the host running the Dalton Controller container is shared with the container so '.rules' files can be easily added from the host machine.

Popular open source rule download and management tools such as rulecat and PulledPork make it trivial to download rulesets, combine all rules into a single .rules file, and then store it in the necessary location.

The Dalton Controller container includes rulecat (see the rulecat_script variable in dalton.conf) and when the Dalton Controller first starts up, if there are no existing rulesets, it will attempt to download the latest Suricata and Snort rulesets from

Adding Sensors

Adding sensors to Dalton is a fairly simple process. If there isn't already a corresponding or compatible configuration file for the new sensor, that will also need to be added; see Adding Sensor Configs.

It is possible and often desirable to have multiple sensors of the same type (e.g. Suricata 4.0.1), all running jobs. In that case, just set the SENSOR_TECHNOLOGY value the same (e.g. 'suricata-4.0.1') and they will all request jobs that have been submitted to that queue. A single job is given to only one sensor so whichever Agent requests the next job in the queue first get it.

Docker Sensors

The docker-compose.yml file includes directives to build Dalton Agents for a variety of Suricata and Snort versions. The sensor engines (Suricata or Snort) are built from source. To add a new or different version, just copy one of the existing specifications and change the version number(s) as necessary.

For example, here is the specification for Suricata 3.2.3:

    context: ./dalton-agent
    dockerfile: Dockerfiles/Dockerfile_suricata
      - SURI_VERSION=3.2.3
      - http_proxy=${http_proxy}
      - https_proxy=${https_proxy}
      - no_proxy=${no_proxy}
  image: suricata-3.2.3:latest
  container_name: suricata-3.2.3
  restart: always

To add a specification for Suricata 4.0.2 (if it exists) just change the SURI_VERSION arg value from '3.2.3' to '4.0.2'. This will cause that version of Suricata to be downloaded and built. The service name (e.g. 'agent-suricata-3.2.3') container name, and image name should also be updated to be unique. Multiple Agents with the same engine/version can be run by keeping the SURI_VERSION and image name the same but using different service and container names.

Example Suricata 4.0.2 specification:

    context: ./dalton-agent
    dockerfile: Dockerfiles/Dockerfile_suricata
      - SURI_VERSION=4.0.2
      - http_proxy=${http_proxy}
      - https_proxy=${https_proxy}
      - no_proxy=${no_proxy}
  image: suricata-4.0.2:latest
  container_name: suricata-4.0.2
  restart: always

Suricata can also have SURI_VERSION=current in which case the latest Suricata version will be used to build the Agent. Having a 'current' Suricata version specification in the docker-compose.yml file is especially convenient since when a new version comes out, all that has to be done is run the script and a new Dalton Agent with the latest Suricata version will be built and available.

Snort agents are the same way but the args to customize are SNORT_VERSION and, if changed, DAQ_VERSION. Example Snort specification:

# Snort 2.9.11 from source
    context: ./dalton-agent
    dockerfile: Dockerfiles/Dockerfile_snort
      - SNORT_VERSION=2.9.11
      - DAQ_VERSION=2.0.6
      - http_proxy=${http_proxy}
      - https_proxy=${https_proxy}
      - no_proxy=${no_proxy}
  image: snort-2.9.11:latest
  container_name: snort-2.9.11
    restart: always

Suricata agents should build off the suricata Dockerfile -- Dockerfiles/Dockerfile_suricata; and Snort agents should build off the Snort Dockerfile at Dockerfiles/Dockerfile_snort.

Non-Docker Sensors

Sensors don't have to be Docker containers or part of the docker-compose network to be used by the Dalton Controller; they just have to be able to access and talk with the Docker Controller webserver.

A Suricata or Snort machine can be turned into a Dalton Agent fairly easily. Requirements:

  • Engine (Suricata or Snort)
  • Python
  • dalton-agent.conf

The dalton-agent.conf file must be modified to point to the Docker Controller (see DALTON_API option). Additionally, if the SENSOR_TECHNOLOGY value is not set to 'auto' (or automatic version determination fails), the the SENSOR_TECHNOLOGY value should be set and must follow a certain pattern; it should start with the engine name ('suricata' or 'snort'), followed by a dash followed by the version number. For example: 'suricata-4.0.1'. This format helps tell the Dalton Controller what technology is being used as well as maps back to the config files on the Controller. Technically the version number part of the SENSOR_TECHNOLOGY string can be arbitrary but in that case a configuration file with the corresponding name should be present on the Dalton Controller so it knows which configuration file to load and use for jobs related to that sensor.

For more details on the Dalton Agent configuration options, see the inline comments in the dalton-agent.conf file.

To start the Dalton Agent, run

Usage: [options]

-h, --help            show this help message and exit
                      path to config file [default: dalton-agent.conf]

Adding Sensor Configs

Sensor configuration files (e.g. suricata.yaml or snort.conf) are stored on the Dalton Controller. When a sensor checks in to the Controller, it is registered in Redis and when that sensor is selected for a Dalton job, the corresponding config file is loaded, populated under the Config Files vertical tab in the Web UI, and submitted with the Dalton job.

The Dalton Controller uses the engine_conf_path variable from dalton.conf to use as a starting location on the filesystem to find sensor configuration files to use. Inside that directory there must be a suricata directory where the Suricata .yaml files go and a snort directory where the Snort .conf files go.

By default, on the Controller, engine_conf_path is set to /opt/dalton/app/static/engine-configs which is symlinked from /opt/dalton/engine-configs. The Dalton Controller and host also share the engine-configs directory to make it easy to add config files as needed from the host.

It is recommended that the engine_conf_path not be changed since Flask looks in the static directory to serve the config files and changing it will mostly like break something.

Sensor configuration files are not automatically added when Agents are build or the Controller is run; they must be manually added. However, the Dalton Controller already comes with the default (from source) config files for Suricata versions 0.8.1 and later, and for Snort 2.9.0 and later. Duplicate config files are not included. For example, since all the Suricata 1.4.x versions have the same (default) .yaml file, only "suricata-1.4.yaml" is included.

The Controller picks the config file to load/use based off the sensor technology (Suricata or Snort) and Agent supplied version number, both of which are part of the SENSOR_TECHNOLOGY string submitted by the Agent which should start with "snort-" or "suricata-", depending on the engine type. The "version number" is just the part of the string after "suricata-" or "snort-".

So if a sensor identifies itself as "suricata-5.9.1" then the Controller will look for a file with the name "suricata-5.9.1.yaml" in the engine-configs/suricata/ directory. If it can't find an exact match, it will attempt to find the closest match it can based off the version number. The version number is just used to help map an Agent to a config. So, for example, if an Agent identified itself as "suricata-mycustomwhatever" and there was a corresponding "suricata-mycustomwhatever.yaml" file in engine-configs/suricata, it would work fine.

For new Suricata releases, the .yaml file from source should just be added to the engine-configs/suricata directory and named appropriately. For new Snort releases, it is recommended that the default .conf file be run thru the script located in the engine-configs/ directory:


python <in-file> <out-file>

Logging and Debugging

By default, the Dalton Controller logs to /var/log/dalton.log and Dalton Agents log to /var/log/dalton-agent.log. The nginx container logs to the /var/log/nginx directory (dalton-access.log and dalton-error.log). The (frequent) polling that Dalton Agents do to the nginx container to check for new jobs is intentionally not logged since it is considered too noisy.

For the Dalton Controller, debugging can be enabled in dalton.conf file or by setting the CONTROLLER_DEBUG environment variable (e.g. CONTROLLER_DEBUG=1. This can also be passed during the container build process and set in the .env file. If either the config file or environment variable has debugging set, debug logging will be enabled.

For the Dalton Controller, debugging can be enabled in dalton-agent.conf file or by setting the AGENT_DEBUG environment variable (e.g. AGENT_DEBUG=1. This can also be passed during the container build process and set in the .env file. If either the config file or environment variable has debugging set, debug logging will be enabled.

Flowsynth WebUI

Dalton includes a Web UI for Flowsynth , a tool that facilitates network packet capture creation. The flowsynth Web UI makes it trivial to model network traffic and test it against a Dalton Agent.

Accessing the Flowsynth WebUI can be done via the 'Flowsynth' link in the Dalton toolbar, or directly using the '/flowsynth' URI path. The flowsynth UI has two modes of operation: Build and Compile. The build mode provides a wizard-like interface for creating certain types of pcaps. The compile mode provides a direct interface to the flowsynth compiler, allowing for the building of synth files directly in the UI.

Build Mode

The Flowsynth Build mode allows for quick pcap generation using some sensible defaults. On the 'Network Layer' vertical tab, the source and destination IP ranges can be selected. An IP address is chosen at random from these ranges. On the 'Transport Layer' vertical tab is the ability to choose between TCP and UDP, and optionally establish the TCP connection with a three-way handshake. Destination and Source ports are chosen at random, or can be set explicitly. The 'Payload' vertical tab allows the user to easily build some common payloads. The wizards generate flowsynth syntax language, and populate the 'Compile' tab with the content to allow for any last minute changes prior to compilation.

Binary, non-printable, and printable bytes can be represented using Hexadecimal escape sequences (xhh). Such encoding are converted to their representative bytes when the pcap is compiled. For example, 'x41' becomes 'A'.

Raw Payload

The raw payload wizard allows a user to rapidly model two-way communication between a client and server. It is often useful for modeling custom protocols and/or binary protocols.

HTTP Payload

The HTTP wizard makes it simple to build HTTP client requests and HTTP server responses. The payload prompts for two types of input, an HTTP header section and a HTTP body section.

If the 'Autocompute request Content-Length header' and/or 'Autocompute response Content-Length header' is selected, the wizard will compute and add a Content-Length header based on the HTTP body data. If a Content-Length header already exists in the HTTP Header data, it will be updated to reflect the correct size of the corresponding HTTP body. If the request body is empty, a "Content-Length: 0" header will not be added; if a response body is empty, a "Content-Length: 0" header will be added.

Certificate Payload

The Certificate wizard makes it trivial to generate a partial SSL/TLS handshake using a user-supplied certificate.

Compile Mode

Compile mode provides a direct interface to the flowsynth compiler, allowing for the building of synth files directly in the UI. The compile mode UI is populated by the build mode wizards. After the synth has been submitted, a pcap will be generated and a download link provided. The pcap can also be directly submitted from the web interface to Dalton, to be used in a Suricata or Snort job.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Why is it named 'Dalton'?
    Dalton is the name of Patrick Swayze's character in the movie "Road House".
  2. How do I configure the Dalton Controller to listen on a different port?
    The external listen port of the Dalton Controller can be set in the .env file in the repository root. The Dalton Controller and nginx containers must be rebuilt for the change to take effect (just run
  3. Is SSL/TLS supported?
    The default configuration does not leverage SSL nor is there a simple "on/off" switch for SSL/TLS. However, if you know what you are doing, it isn't difficult to configure nginx for it and point the Dalton Agents to it. This has been done in some environments.
  4. Will this work on Windows?
    The native Dalton code won't work as expected on Windows without non-trivial code changes. However, if the Linux containers can run on Windows, then it should be possible to get containers working on a Windows host. But this has not been tested.
  5. What is the difference between an "engine", "sensor", and "agent"?
    In this context those terms, for the most part, mean the same thing. Technically, you can think of "engine" as the IDS engine, in this case Suricata or Snort; "sensor" as the system running the engine; and "agent" as a specific system running the Dalton Agent code and checking in to the Dalton Controller. "Sensor" and "Agent" are very often used interchangeably.
  6. Is there Dalton Agent support for Snort version < 2.9?
    Currently no. Dalton Agents that run Snort utilize the 'dump' DAQ to replay pcaps and DAQ wasn't introduced until Snort 2.9. Dalton Agents for older Snort versions (e.g. 2.4) have been written in the past but are not part of this open source release. However, if there is a demand for such support, then adding support for older Snort versions will be reconsidered.
  7. Are other sensor engines supported such as Bro?
    No; currently only Suricata and Snort are supported.
  8. Does Dalton support authentication such as username/password/API tokens or authorization enforcement like discretionary access control?
    No, not in this open source release although such additions have been done before, including single sign on integration. However, such enhancements would require non-trivial code additions. There are some authentication decorators commented out and scattered throughout the code and the Dalton Agents do send an API token as part of their requests but the Dalton Controller doesn't validate it. The lack of authentication and authorization does mean that it isn't difficult for malicious actors to flood the Controller, submit malformed jobs, corrupt job results, dequeue jobs, and DoS the application.
  9. How can I programmatically submit a job to Dalton?
    Right now, a programmatic submission must mimic a Web UI submission. In the future, a more streamlined and easier to use submission API may be exposed. Feel free to submit a pull request with this feature.
  10. When I submit jobs to Suricata Agents with multiple pcaps, the job zipfile only has one pcap. What's going on?
    In read pcap mode, which is how the Suricata and Snort engines process pcaps, Suricata only supports the reading of a single pcap. Therefore, to support multiple pcaps in the same Suricata job, the Dalton Controller will combine the pcaps into a single file before making the job available for Agents to grab. By default, the pcap merging is done with mergecap.
  11. Can I have more than one Agent with the same engine/version? For example, can I have multiple Agents running Suricata 4.0.1?
    Of course. If you use the Agent containers and Docker Compose, make sure that the service and container name are unique between sensors. Agents poll a queue on the Dalton controller for jobs based on their "TECHNOLOGY" (typically engine and version) and multiple Agents can poll the same queue. Pending jobs are given to the first Agent that requests them.
  12. Why is it that when I try to build a Snort 2.9.0 or 2.9.0.x container, it fails when configuring Snort saying it can't find the 'dnet' files?
    Attempting to build Snort 2.9.0 and 2.9.0.x will fail because Autoconf can't find the dnet files. This was apparently fixed in Snort 2.9.1 and later. If you really want a Snort 2.9.0 or 2.9.0.x Agent, you will have to build one out yourself. The Dalton Agent code should work fine on it. If it turns out that there is a lot of demand for Snort 2.9.0.x Agents, adding native support for it will be reconsidered.
  13. Regarding the code ... why did you do that like that? What were you thinking? Do you even know about object-oriented programming?
    These are valid questions. Much of the code was written many years ago when the author was new to Python, never having written any Python code before other than tweaking a few lines of code in existing projects, and unaware of Python's object-oriented support. While such code could be cleaned up and refactored, a lot of it was left as-is since it already worked and it was decided that time and effort should be spent elsewhere. Additionally, the Dalton Agent code was originally written to run on restricted/custom systems that only had Python 2.4 support and couldn't use non-standard libraries. This is especially noticeable (painful?) with the use of urllib2 instead of urllib3 or Requests. Therefore, if you do review the code, it is requested that you approach it with a spirit of charity.
  14. I found a bug in Dalton. What should I do?
    Feel free to report it and/or fix it and submit a pull request.


  • David Wharton
  • Will Urbanski


  • Rob Vinson
  • George P. Burdell

Feedback including bug reports, suggestions, improvements, questions, etc. is welcome.