ExtraHop is a passive system.
Its wire data feed comes entirely from mirrored traffic. This is an improvement from traditional methods of collecting wire data with packet analyzers. With ExtraHop, the traffic is mirrored directly into the appliance and then reassembled into full per-client sessions and transaction streams, offering you the entire transaction payload in real time to analyze. There are two ways to mirror traffic into ExtraHop: network-based mirroring and host-based mirroring. This topic discusses the differences between the two.
The big advantage with network based mirroring is that you can set it up at the network level, capturing traffic from multiple hosts with a minimum amount of configuration. There are different types of network-based mirroring, each designed for mirroring traffic to a target in a particular situation. The big challenge with all the network-based mirroring strategies is that they rely heavily on the capabilities of the hardware on your network (physical or virtual). If you’re running a virtual ExtraHop appliance, the hypervisor you’re running (and even the version of hypervisor) also plays into the equation. That said, if you can take advantage of network-based mirroring you’ll probably want to because once it’s set up, it requires less administrative effort to maintain.
There are three main types of network-based mirroring.
The SPAN port is the name of the port on Cisco switches that mirrors traffic. SPAN stands for Switched Port ANalyzer (SPAN). Different vendors use different names, but spanning has become synonymous for a port on a switch that mirrors traffic. The key thing about a SPAN is that it’s all local traffic. You can configure any of the ports on the switch to mirror traffic to an ExtraHop system that has access to the SPAN port.
Promiscuous mode is similar to SPAN, but instead of mirroring only select local port traffic to the SPAN port, promiscuous mode mirrors all the traffic from every port. Any traffic that comes through the switch is mirrored to your ExtraHop system.
RSPAN is useful if the traffic you’re interested in mirroring is more than one switch away from where you can attach your ExtraHop appliance. The “R” in RSPAN stands for remote. You’re spanning all the traffic from one switch through any number of additional switches to your target ExtraHop appliance using a dedicated mirroring VLAN. Each switch in the path needs to be configured to carry the dedicated VLAN that contains the mirror traffic.
If a Layer 3 (L3) boundary (such as a Router, Firewall, or Layer 3 Switch) sits between the traffic you’re interested in mirroring and where you can attach your ExtraHop system, ERSPAN may be helpful to you. To cross the Layer 3 boundary, ERSPAN encapsulates the mirror traffic in a GRE tunnel addressed to the IP address of a capture interface on the ExtraHop appliance. The encapsulated mirror traffic navigates the network just as any other packet would.
If network-based mirroring won’t work for you, then host-based mirroring is a reliable way to get traffic into the ExtraHop system.
Host-based mirroring requires that you install a software tap on each host you want to monitor. The big advantage of the software tap is that it works with any type of network gear you have. It works independent of the type or version of hypervisor you’re running. Host-based mirroring is a way of configuring the adapter on a host to duplicate and forward all traffic to the ExtraHop system. You can install it on Windows or Linux hosts.
The software tap (also called RPCAP and a packet forwarder) is analogous to a network tap, which is an unobtrusive hardware device for mirroring traffic from a network.