As I am building a different approach to IDS from the bottom, I am in need of a proper lab setup.
This post outlines a high level overview to nuture a basic understanding of future architecture decisions.

The setup I am using is based on the excellent book “Building Virtual Machine Labs”1 by @da_667.
If you are interested in building a lab for yourself, consider buying the aforementioned book - I can more than recommend it.

The whole setup is based around a frankenstein-ished ESXi-Server I’ve buit with spare parts lying around.
Currently, the ESXi-Server is powered by an Intel Core i7 930 running on a Gigabyte X58A-UD3R with 12GB RAM and running ESXi 6.5.0 Update 1.
It is using a 120GB SSD for IO-heavy VMs and a 1.5TB HDD for mass storage and slower VMs as well as 2 NICs, one for ESX management (vmnet1) and one for VM traffic (vmnet0).

This server runs all VMs neccessary for a running lab environment and is self-sufficient on its own.

General network layout

The whole networking is based around a pfSense VM that functions as a router and firewall. This central pfSense is connected to vmnet0, which is the VM traffic NIC.
It also has two separate networks connected in direct fashion, Lab Management Net and IPS Network 1.
There is a third network, IPS Network 2 which lies behind IPS Network 1, that is connected through an AF_Packet Monitoring bridge, but more on that lateron.

graph LR Z["fa:fa-globe Outside Net"] --- || A["fa:fa-fire pfSense"] A ---|| B["fa:fa-wrench Management Net"] A --- || C["fa:fa-exclamation IPS Net 1"] C -.- D["fa:fa-exclamation-circle IPS Net 2"]

These network zones are reflected though seperated IP networks living on seperate Virtual Switches on the ESX server.
So basically, the pfSense VM has three dedicated network adapters. They are connected as follows:

  • NIC1: Briged (Outside Net) -
  • NIC2: Management Net -
  • NIC3: IPS Net 1 -

IPS Network 2 is only reachable if the IDS VM is running, as this VM bridges IDS Net 1 and 2 together (whilst enabling packet inspection on all traffic to/from IDS Net 2).
This is why the Suricata VM has three dedicated network adapters as well:

  • NIC1: Management Net -
  • NIC2: IPS Net 1 - No IP assigned
  • NIC3: IPS Net 2 - No IP assigned

Network Contents

The management net is engineered to be kind of a safe zone for data collection and visualization.
This is why the main SIEM (Splunk) as well as a common IDS Suricata are living here.
IDS net 1 contains various support VMs that are designed to aid in daily use, i.e. a staging VM for exchanging malware with a victim VM.
This is also the network where my cuckoo sandbox installation lives right now. IDS net 2 only contains victims that will be infected with malware for dynamic anaylsis.

graph TB subgraph IDS Net 2 E["Sandbox VM"] end subgraph IDS Net 1 - C["Staging VM"] D["Attack VM"] end subgraph Management Net - A["Splunk"] B["Suricata"] end

This environment can be adapted to basically any need there could be.
In my case, I chose to set up Netflow monitoring with Splunk to enable data collection and processing for a Deep Learning-based IDS.

  1. Robinson, Tony V. (2017). Building Virtual Machine Labs: A Hands-On Guide. 1st Ed. CreateSpaceIndependentPublishingPlatform. ISBN:978-1546932635.