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Chapter 2. Automating Network Intrusion Detection and Prevention Systems (IDPS) with Ansible

You can use Ansible to automate your Intrusion Detection and Prevention System (IDPS). For the purpose of this guide, we use Snort as the IDPS. Use Ansible automation hub to consume content collections, such as tasks, roles, and modules to create automated workflows.

2.1. Requirements and prerequisites

Before you begin automating your IDPS with Ansible, ensure that you have the proper installations and configurations necessary to successfully manage your IDPS.

  • You have installed Ansible 2.9 or later.
  • SSH connection and keys are configured.
  • IDPS software (Snort) is installed and configured.
  • You have access to the IDPS server (Snort) to enforce new policies.

2.1.1. Verifying your IDPS installation

Additional resources

To verify that Snort has been configured successfully, call it via sudo and ask for the version:

  $ sudo snort --version

   ,,_     -*> Snort! <*-
  o"  )~   Version 2.9.13 GRE (Build 15013)
  ""    By Martin Roesch & The Snort Team:
        Copyright (C) 2014-2019 Cisco and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
        Copyright (C) 1998-2013 Sourcefire, Inc., et al.
        Using libpcap version 1.5.3
        Using PCRE version: 8.32 2012-11-30
        Using ZLIB version: 1.2.7

Verify that the service is actively running via sudo systemctl:

$ sudo systemctl status snort
● snort.service - Snort service
   Loaded: loaded (/etc/systemd/system/snort.service; enabled; vendor preset: disabled)
   Active: active (running) since Mon 2019-08-26 17:06:10 UTC; 1s ago
  Main PID: 17217 (snort)
   CGroup: /system.slice/snort.service
           └─17217 /usr/sbin/snort -u root -g root -c /etc/snort/snort.conf -i eth0 -p -R 1 --pid-path=/var/run/snort --no-interface-pidfile --nolock-pidfile

If the Snort service is not actively running, restart it with systemctl restart snort and recheck the status.

Once you confirm the service is actively running, exit the Snort server by simultaneously pressing CTRL and D, or by typing exit on the command line. All further interaction will be done through Ansible from the Ansible control host.

2.2. Automating your IDPS rules with Ansible

To automate your IDPS, use the ids_rule role to create and change Snort rules. Snort uses rule-based language that analyzes your network traffic and compares it against the given rule set.

The following lab environment demonstrates what an Ansible security automation integration would look like. A machine called “Attacker” simulates a potential attack pattern on the target machine on which the IDPS is running.

Keep in mind that a real world setup will feature other vendors and technologies.

security ids sample demo

2.2.1. Creating a new IDPS rule

Additional resources

Use the ids_rule role to manage your rules and signatures for IDPS. For example, you can set a new rule that looks for a certain pattern aligning with a previous attack on your firewall.


Currently, the ids_rule role only supports Snort IDPS.


  • You need root privileges to make any changes on the Snort server.


  1. Install the ids_rule role using the ansible-galaxy command:

    $ ansible-galaxy install ansible_security.ids_rule
  2. Create a new playbook file titled add_snort_rule.yml. Set the following parameters:

    - name: Add Snort rule
      hosts: snort
  3. Add the become flag to ensure that Ansible handles privilege escalation.

    - name: Add Snort rule
      hosts: snort
      become: true
  4. Specify the name of your IDPS provider by adding the following variables:

    - name: Add Snort rule
      hosts: snort
      become: true
        ids_provider: snort
  5. Add the following tasks and task-specific variables (e.g., rules, Snort rules file, and the state of the rule - present or absent) to the playbook:

    - name: Add Snort rule
      hosts: snort
      become: true
        ids_provider: snort
        -  name: Add snort password attack rule
             name: "ansible_security.ids_rule"
             ids_rule: 'alert tcp any any -> any any (msg:"Attempted /etc/passwd Attack"; uricontent:"/etc/passwd"; classtype:attempted-user; sid:99000004; priority:1; rev:1;)'
             ids_rules_file: '/etc/snort/rules/local.rules'
             ids_rule_state: present

    Tasks are components that make changes on the target machine. Since you are using a role that defines these tasks, the include_role is the only entry you need.

    The ids_rules_file variable specifies a defined location for the local.rules file, while the ids_rule_state variable indicates that the rule should be created if it does not already exist.

  6. Run the playbook by executing the following command:

    $ ansible-navigator run add_snort_rule.ym --mode stdout

    Once you run the playbook, all of your tasks will be executed in addition to your newly created rules. Your playbook output will confirm your PLAY, TASK, RUNNING HANDLER, and PLAY RECAP.


To verify that your IDPS rules were successfully created, SSH to the Snort server and view the content of the /etc/snort/rules/local.rules file.