Timestamping of events

Contents

Timestamping of events

Overview

Learn how the Engine computes the timestamps of the events in its database by combining the time of reception of the packets sent by the Collectors with the individual time information of each event stored inside every packet.

Timestamping in the Collector

The Collector reacts to events of interest by recording them into memory. Later, it sends the collected events to the Engine either periodically or when it has accumulated a sufficient quantity of events. To detect activity in the system where it is installed, the Collector employs different techniques, such as intercepting system calls, that allow it to precisely determine the moment at which the event takes place.

This timestamping of the events in the device of the end-user is done according to the time elapsed since the last system boot. Therefore, the Collector is using relative time to timestamp events in the machine of the end-user. The fact that the time used by the Collector is relative is not important for computing a precise timestamp in the Engine, as you will see below.

Once the Collector has gathered enough events, along with their corresponding timestamps, it builds a network packet and sends it to the Engine. Right before sending it, the Collector sets a timestamp in the packet using again the local time relative to the system boot. Therefore, in every packet sent by the Collector we have:

  • The timestamps of each individual event sent in the packet.
  • One general timestamp for the packet itself.

The difference between the time of the packet and the time of each individual event is used by the Engine to compute the global timestamp of the events.

Timestamping in the Engine

Once the Engine receives a packet from the Collector, it records the time of reception using the system time. For the recorded time to be correct, the local time of the Engine must be synchronized to an accurate clock. That is one of the reasons why it is recommended to set up NTP in the appliance that hosts the Engine.

For computing the global time of events, the Engine assumes that the transmission time of the Collector packets from the computers of the end-users to the Engine is negligible. In this way, the absolute time at which the Collector sent the packet is considered to be the same absolute time of reception of the packet in the Engine. Therefore, the time that the Collector set in the packet just before sending it is the local time of the end-user machine relative to system boot that is equivalent to the Engine time of reception of the packet. To get the occurrence time of each event, the Engine just has to subtract the difference between the local times of the packet and of each event from the reception time, as shown in the figure below:

Timestamp.png

Note that the events received in the Engine may not follow a sequential order. The most common case is when you receive two packets in a short interval of time and each packet is coming from a different Collector. Most probably, the two packets have events that overlap in time, but the Engine processes all the events of the second packet after those of the first. The Engine deals well with this situation. Note also that the Engine always inserts events in the past with respect to its current time. This is obvious, for the Engine cannot receive events that have not happened yet. However, for events that lie too far in the past, the Engine will not be able to update the in-memory database, since it would be a too costly operation:

  • The Engine rejects events that lie more than 30 minutes in the past with respect to its present time.

For Collectors in a local network, however, this is a very unlikely case and it often indicates a problem in the device that hosts the Collector.

The case of TCP connections

The Collector treats TCP connections differently from all other events regarding the setting of their timestamp. All other events have their timestamp set as soon as they begin to do some kind of activity. On the other hand, when the end-user device opens a TCP connection to a server, the Collector waits for the connection to be established to set the timestamp of the TCP connection event.

In versions of the Engine previous to 4.4.3, the Engine does not take into account the time for establishing the connection to compute the start time of the event. From version 4.4.3 on, the Engine substracts the connection establishment time from the timestamp of TCP connections to get the actual initial moment of the event.