Skip to main content

VAST v3.0

· 10 min read
Dominik Lohmann
Daniel Kostuj

VAST v3.0 is out. This release brings some major updates to the the VAST language, making it easy to write down dataflow pipelines that filter, reshape, aggregate, and enrich security event data. Think of VAST as security data pipelines plus open storage engine.

The VAST Language: Dataflow Pipelines

Starting with v3.0, VAST introduces a new way to write pipelines, with a syntax similar to splunk, Kusto, PRQL, and Zed. Previously, VAST only supported a YAML-like definition of pipelines in configuration files to deploy them statically during import, export, or use them during compaction.

The new syntax resembles the well-known Unix paradigm of command chaining. The difference to Unix pipelines is that VAST exchanges structured data between operators. The vast export and vast import commands now accept such a pipeline as a string argument. Refer to the pipelines documentation for more details on how to use the new pipeline syntax.

Pipeline YAML Syntax Deprecation

This release introduces a transitional period from YAML-style to textual pipelines. The old YAML syntax for pipelines will be deprecated and removed altogether in a future version. The new pipeline operators head and taste have no YAML equivalent.

Language Upgrades

We've made some breaking changes to the the VAST language that we've wanted to do for a long time. Here's a summary:

  1. We removed the term VASTQL: The VAST Query Language is now simply the VAST language, and "VAST" will supersede the "VASTQL" abbreviation.

  2. Several built-in types have a new name:

    • intint64
    • countuint64
    • realdouble
    • addrip

    The old names are still supported for the time being, but trigger a warning on startup. We will remove support for the old names in a future release.

  3. The match operator ~ and its negated form !~ no longer exist. Use == and != instead to perform searches with regular expressions, e.g., url == /^https?.*/. Such queries now work for all string fields in addition to the previously supported #type meta extractor.

  4. We removed the #field meta extractor. That is, queries of the form #field == "" no longer work. Use != null or the new short form to check for field existence moving forward.

  5. We renamed the boolean literal values T and F to true and false, respectively. For example the query suricata.alert.alerted == T is no longer valid; use suricata.alert.alerted == true instead.

  6. We renamed the non-value literal value nil to null. For example the query x != nil is no longer valid; use x != null instead.

  7. The map type no longer exists: Instead of map<T, U>, use the equivalent list<record{ key: T, value: U }>.

Our goal is for these changes to make the query language feel more natural to our users. We've got big plans on how to extend it—and this felt very much necessary as a preparatory step to making the language more useful.

Regular Expression Evaluation

VAST now supports searching with regular expressions. For example, let's say you are looking for all events that contain a GUID surrounded by braces whose third and fourth section are 5ec2-7015:

vast export -n 1 json '/{[0-9a-f]{8}-[0-9a-f]{4}-5ec2-7015-[0-9a-f]{12}}/'
"RuleName": "-",
"UtcTime": "2020-05-18T09:42:40.443000",
"ProcessGuid": "{8bcf3217-5890-5ec2-7015-00000000b000}",
"ProcessId": 172,
"Image": "C:\\Windows\\System32\\conhost.exe",
"FileVersion": "10.0.17763.1075 (WinBuild.160101.0800)",
"Description": "Console Window Host",
"Product": "Microsoft® Windows® Operating System",
"Company": "Microsoft Corporation",
"OriginalFileName": "CONHOST.EXE",
"CommandLine": "\\??\\C:\\Windows\\system32\\conhost.exe 0xffffffff -ForceV1",
"CurrentDirectory": "C:\\Windows",
"LogonGuid": "{8bcf3217-54f5-5ebe-e703-000000000000}",
"LogonId": 999,
"TerminalSessionId": 0,
"IntegrityLevel": "System",
"Hashes": "SHA1=74F28DD9B0DA310D85F1931DB2749A26A9A8AB02",
"ParentProcessGuid": "{8bcf3217-5890-5ec2-6f15-00000000b000}",
"ParentProcessId": 3440,
"ParentImage": "C:\\Windows\\System32\\OpenSSH\\sshd.exe",
"ParentCommandLine": "\"C:\\Windows\\System32\\OpenSSH\\sshd.exe\" \"-R\""
Case-Insensitive Patterns

In addition to writing /pattern/, you can specify a regular expression that ignores the casing of characters via /pattern/i. The /i flag is currently the only support pattern modifier.

Revamped Status for Event Distribution

The event distribution statistics moved within the output of vast status.

They were previously available under the index.statistics section when using the --detailed option:

VAST v2.4.1 ❯ vast status --detailed | jq .index.statistics
"events": {
"total": 42
"layouts": {
"suricata.alert": {
"count": 1,
"percentage": 2.4
"suricata.flow": {
"count": 41,
"percentage": 97.6

It is now under the catalog section and shows some additional information:

VAST v3.0 ❯ vast status | jq .catalog
"num-events": 42,
"num-partitions": 3,
"schemas": {
"suricata.alert": {
"import-time": {
"max": "2023-01-13T22:51:23.730183",
"min": "2023-01-13T22:51:23.730183"
"num-events": 1,
"num-partitions": 1
"suricata.flow": {
"import-time": {
"max": "2023-01-13T22:51:24.127312",
"min": "2023-01-13T23:13:01.991323"
"num-events": 41,
"num-partitions": 2

Display Schema of Stored Events

The vast show schemas command makes it easy to see the structure of events in the database at a glance.

vast show schemas --yaml suricata.flow
- suricata.flow:
- timestamp:
timestamp: time
- flow_id:
type: uint64
index: hash
- pcap_cnt: uint64
- vlan:
list: uint64
- in_iface: string
- src_ip: ip
- src_port:
port: uint64
- dest_ip: ip
- dest_port:
port: uint64
- proto: string
- event_type: string
- community_id:
type: string
index: hash
- flow:
- pkts_toserver: uint64
- pkts_toclient: uint64
- bytes_toserver: uint64
- bytes_toclient: uint64
- start: time
- end: time
- age: uint64
- state: string
- reason: string
- alerted: bool
- app_proto: string
Filter Schemas

The vast show schemas command supports filtering not just by the exact name of a schema, but also by the module name. E.g., vast show schemas zeek will print a list of all schemas in the Zeek module that the VAST server holds data for.

Common Event Format (CEF) Parser

This release includes a new reader plugin for the Common Event Format (CEF), a text-based event format that originally stems from ArcSight. This line-based format consists of up to 8 pipe-separated fields, with the last field being an optional list of key-value pairs:

CEF:Version|Device Vendor|Device Product|Device Version|Device Event Class ID|Name|Severity|[Extension]

Here's a real-world instance.

CEF:0|Cynet|Cynet 360||0|Memory Pattern - Cobalt Strike Beacon ReflectiveLoader|8| externalId=6 clientId=2251997 scanGroupId=3 scanGroupName=Manually Installed Agents sev=High duser=tikasrv01\\administrator cat=END-POINT Alert dhost=TikaSrv01 src= filePath=c:\\windows\\temp\\javac.exe fname=javac.exe rt=3/30/2022 10:55:34 AM fileHash=2BD1650A7AC9A92FD227B2AB8782696F744DD177D94E8983A19491BF6C1389FD rtUtc=Mar 30 2022 10:55:34.688 dtUtc=Mar 30 2022 10:55:32.458 hostLS=2022-03-30 10:55:34 GMT+00:00 osVer=Windows Server 2016 Datacenter x64 1607 epsVer= confVer=637842168250000000 prUser=tikasrv01\\administrator pParams="C:\\Windows\\Temp\\javac.exe" sign=Not signed pct=2022-03-30 10:55:27.140, 2022-03-30 10:52:40.222, 2022-03-30 10:52:39.609 pFileHash=1F955612E7DB9BB037751A89DAE78DFAF03D7C1BCC62DF2EF019F6CFE6D1BBA7 pprUser=tikasrv01\\administrator ppParams=C:\\Windows\\Explorer.EXE pssdeep=49152:2nxldYuopV6ZhcUYehydN7A0Fnvf2+ecNyO8w0w8A7/eFwIAD8j3:Gxj/7hUgsww8a0OD8j3 pSign=Signed and has certificate info gpFileHash=CFC6A18FC8FE7447ECD491345A32F0F10208F114B70A0E9D1CD72F6070D5B36F gpprUser=tikasrv01\\administrator gpParams=C:\\Windows\\system32\\userinit.exe gpssdeep=384:YtOYTIcNkWE9GHAoGLcVB5QGaRW5SmgydKz3fvnJYunOTBbsMoMH3nxENoWlymW:YLTVNkzGgoG+5BSmUfvJMdsq3xYu gpSign=Signed actRem=Kill, Rename

VAST's CEF plugin supports parsing such lines using the cef format:

vast import cef < cef.log

VAST translates the extension field to a nested record, where the key-value pairs of the extensions map to record fields. Here is an example of the above event:

vast export json '' | jq
"cef_version": 0,
"device_vendor": "Cynet",
"device_product": "Cynet 360",
"device_version": "",
"signature_id": "0",
"name": "Memory Pattern - Cobalt Strike Beacon ReflectiveLoader",
"severity": "8",
"extension": {
"externalId": 6,
"clientId": 2251997,
"scanGroupId": 3,
"scanGroupName": "Manually Installed Agents",
"sev": "High",
"duser": "tikasrv01\\administrator",
"cat": "END-POINT Alert",
"dhost": "TikaSrv01",
"src": "",
"filePath": "c:\\windows\\temp\\javac.exe",
"fname": "javac.exe",
"rt": "3/30/2022 10:55:34 AM",
"fileHash": "2BD1650A7AC9A92FD227B2AB8782696F744DD177D94E8983A19491BF6C1389FD",
"rtUtc": "Mar 30 2022 10:55:34.688",
"dtUtc": "Mar 30 2022 10:55:32.458",
"hostLS": "2022-03-30 10:55:34 GMT+00:00",
"osVer": "Windows Server 2016 Datacenter x64 1607",
"epsVer": "",
"confVer": 637842168250000000,
"prUser": "tikasrv01\\administrator",
"pParams": "C:\\Windows\\Temp\\javac.exe",
"sign": "Not signed",
"pct": "2022-03-30 10:55:27.140, 2022-03-30 10:52:40.222, 2022-03-30 10:52:39.609",
"pFileHash": "1F955612E7DB9BB037751A89DAE78DFAF03D7C1BCC62DF2EF019F6CFE6D1BBA7",
"pprUser": "tikasrv01\\administrator",
"ppParams": "C:\\Windows\\Explorer.EXE",
"pssdeep": "49152:2nxldYuopV6ZhcUYehydN7A0Fnvf2+ecNyO8w0w8A7/eFwIAD8j3:Gxj/7hUgsww8a0OD8j3",
"pSign": "Signed and has certificate info",
"gpFileHash": "CFC6A18FC8FE7447ECD491345A32F0F10208F114B70A0E9D1CD72F6070D5B36F",
"gpprUser": "tikasrv01\\administrator",
"gpParams": "C:\\Windows\\system32\\userinit.exe",
"gpssdeep": "384:YtOYTIcNkWE9GHAoGLcVB5QGaRW5SmgydKz3fvnJYunOTBbsMoMH3nxENoWlymW:YLTVNkzGgoG+5BSmUfvJMdsq3xYu",
"gpSign": "Signed",
"actRem": "Kill, Rename"
Syslog Header

Sometimes CEF is prefixed with a syslog header. VAST currently only supports the "raw" form without the syslog header. We are working on support for composable generic formats, e.g., syslog, where the message can basically be any other existing format.


This VAST release contains a fair amount of other changes and interesting improvements. As always, the changelog contains a complete list of user-facing changes since the last release.

Here are some entries that we want to highlight:

Removing Empty Fields from JSON Output

The vast export json command gained new options in addition to the already existing --omit-nulls: Pass --omit-empty-records, --omit-empty-lists, or --omit-empty-maps to cause VAST not to display empty records, lists, or maps respectively.

The flag --omit-empty empty combines the three new options and --omit-nulls, essentially causing VAST not to render empty values at all. To set these options globally, add the following to your vast.yaml configuration file:

# Always omit empty records and lists when using the JSON export format,
# but keep empty lists and maps.
omit-nulls: true
omit-empty-records: true
omit-empty-maps: false
omit-empty-lists: false

Faster Shutdown

VAST processes now shut down faster, which especially improves the performance of the vast import and vast export commands for small amounts of data ingested or quickly finishing queries.

To quantify this, we've created a database with nearly 300M Zeek events, and ran an export of a single event with both VAST v2.4.1 and VAST v3.0 repeatedly.

❯ vast -qq count --estimate | numfmt --grouping
VAST v2.4.1 ❯ hyperfine --warmup=5 --min-runs=20 'vast -qq --bare-mode export -n1 null'
Benchmark 1: vast -qq --bare-mode export -n1 null
Time (mean ± σ): 975.5 ms ± 4.8 ms [User: 111.2 ms, System: 51.9 ms]
Range (min … max): 966.3 ms … 985.3 ms 20 runs
VAST v3.0 ❯ hyperfine --warmup=5 --min-runs=20 'vast -qq export -n1 null'
Benchmark 1: vast -qq --bare-mode export -n1 null
Time (mean ± σ): 210.8 ms ± 3.5 ms [User: 99.8 ms, System: 42.5 ms]
Range (min … max): 204.1 ms … 217.1 ms 20 runs

Connection Stability

VAST clients may now be started before the VAST server: Client processes now attempt to connect to server processes repeatedly until the configured connection timeout expires.

We found this to generally improve reliability of services with multiple VAST clients, for which we often encountered problems with VAST clients being unable to connect to a VAST server when started before or immediately after the VAST server.

Additionally, we've fixed a bug that caused VAST to crash when thousands of clients attempted to connect at around the same time.

Slim Docker Image

The new tenzir/vast-slim Docker image is an alternative to the existing tenzir/vast Docker image that comes in at just under 40 MB in size—less than a third than the regular image, making it even quicker to get started with VAST.

Bundled Python Bindings

VAST installations now include Python bindings to VAST as a site package. The package is called vast and also available separately on PyPI.

Expression Short Forms

Extractors can now be used where predicates are expected to test for the existance of a field or type. For example, x and :T expand to x != null and :T != null, respectively. This pairs nicely with the already existing short forms for values, e.g., "foo" expands to :string == "foo.