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Splunk Lantern

Use of sudo commands on a server

You might want to monitor the use of sudo commands when doing the following:


In order to execute this procedure in your environment, the following data, services, or apps are required:


The sudo command provides authenticated users elevated access to the system. This access might result in undesirable changes leading to an incident or outage. You want the ability to see which sudo commands were executed on the server prior to an incident, and by whom, so you can quickly identify root cause or determine who to consult for further investigation.

To optimize the search shown below, you should specify an index and a time range.

  1. Run the following search: 
sourcetype=linux_secure process=sudo
|rex "COMMAND=(?<raw_command>.*)"
|eval COMMAND=coalesce(raw_command, COMMAND)
|table _time host USER PWD COMMAND

Search explanation

The table provides an explanation of what each part of this search achieves. You can adjust this query based on the specifics of your environment. 

Splunk Search Explanation


Search only the linux_secure source type. 


Return all sudo command processes.

|rex "COMMAND=(?<raw_command>.*)"

Capture  the entire command text and name it raw_command. 

|eval COMMAND=coalesce(raw_command, COMMAND)

Return commands that are set in different ways than key-value pairs. 


These two rex commands are an unlikely usage, but you would want to capture this kind of command if it occurs.

|table _time host USER PWD COMMAND

Display the results in a table with columns in the order shown.


The resulting table shows which users ran which command with administrative privileges. Knowing this information can identify problems with the system that are the result of system   configuration changes. For example, if user Tom used sudo to edit important config files found in the /etc, you might be able to confirm those changes caused a service to malfunction.

_time host user pwd commmand




/etc/init.d/apache2 reload




/usr/bin/vim convergence_wsgi




/bin/ln -s ../sites-available/default-ssl 000-default-ssl




/etc/init.d/apache2 reload

Note that the above sample output shows two instances of root as a user, which indicates direct root access to the system. It is a best practice to not allow direct root access to the system but rather to always require sudo to gain access to privileged functions. In the case above, we have no idea what identity was behind the root user who logged in to However, we do for host and for This makes it possible to trace back privileged actions to known users on the system rather than unknown users who gain direct access as root but know the root password. 

The above report is also useful for compliance because many controls, such as the CIS Controls, state that an organization must show controlled use of administrative privileges. Sudo is one way to control such privileges and the report generated by this search can be used to discover and give attestation to compliance to the control. Controlling administrative privileges is not only a security measure but also an aid in root cause for misconfigurations. 

The data in this example is usually found in the Linux auth.log and is given the sourcetype of linux_secure by the Splunk Add-on. Below are some sample full events. 

Oct 23 19:43:12 acmepayroll sshd[29253]: Accepted password for root from port 2958 ssh2

Oct 23 19:39:30 HOST0170 sshd[25089]: [ID 800047] Accepted publickey for naughtyuser from port 50241 ssh2

Oct 23 19:36:55 HOST0170 sshd[25089]: [ID 800047] Accepted publickey for naughtyuser from port 50241 ssh2

Interesting fields that are extracted by the add-on include dest (destination), pid (process id), process (process name), src_port (port of the authentication process), sshd_protocol, and user.  These fields can be used to analyze other authentication related metrics, such as users logged in at the same time from multiple remote locations. 

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