Role-Based Access Control (RBAC)

The ability to restrict or grant specific privileges to a subset of users is covered by role-based access control, or “RBAC” for short. RBAC is an authorization technique in which users are assigned one of a small set of roles, and then the roles are associated to many low-level privileges. This provides the ability to build software with fine-grained access control, but without the need to maintain complex associations of users to large numbers of privileges. Users are traditionally assigned a single role, one which correlates closely with their role in the organization. However, it’s possible to assign a user to multiple roles, if necessary.

RBAC in Security Onion covers both Security Onion privileges and Elastic stack privileges. Security Onion privileges are only involved with functionality specifically provided by the components developed by Security Onion, while Elastic stack privileges are only involved with the Elasticsearch, Kibana, and related Elastic stack. For example, Security Onion will check if a user has permission to create a PCAP request, while Elastic will check if the same user has permission to view a particular index or document stored in Elasticsearch.

Elastic Auth Requirement

RBAC requires Elastic authentication which is enabled by default in version 2.3.60 and later. If you upgrade an older release, you may need to manually enable Elastic auth via so-elastic-auth before using RBAC features.

Default Roles

Security Onion ships with the following user roles: superuser, analyst, limited-analyst, auditor, and limited-auditor.

See the table below which explains the specific Security Onion privileges granted to each role.

  superuser analyst limited-analyst auditor limited-auditor
View alerts X X X X X
Acknowledge alerts X X X    
Escalate alerts and events X X X    
View events in Hunt X X X X X
View own PCAP jobs X X X O O
View all PCAP jobs X X   X  
Pivot to PCAP job from event X X X    
Request arbitrary PCAP jobs X X      
Delete own PCAP job X X X O O
Delete any PCAP job X X      
View all nodes in grid X X X X X
View all users X X   X  
View all users’ roles X X   X  
View own user X X X X X
View own user roles X X X X X
Change own password X X X X X


Both auditor and limited-auditor roles can interact with previously created PCAPs if they were created before a user was converted to that role (e.g. user was downgraded from analyst to auditor). This is denoted by O in the above table.


A system role called agent is used by the Security Onion agent that runs on each node of the Security Onion grid. This special role is given the jobs/process, nodes/read, and nodes/write permissions (defined at the bottom of this page). Avoid creating custom roles that share the same name as Security Onion-provided roles.


After a new installation of Security Onion completes, a single administrator user will be created and assigned the superuser role. Additional users can also be assigned to the superuser role, if desired.

Upgrades of existing Security Onion grids to 2.3.80 or later will result in all existing users being assigned to the superuser role. Continue reading this document to learn how to change those role assignments, if necessary.

Adding a User With a Specific Role

To add a user with a role other than the default analyst role, use the so-user add command with an additional parameter for the role. For example, to add the user with the auditor role:

sudo so-user add "" auditor

Modifying User Roles

To add a role to an existing user you can use the so-user addrole command. For example to add the analyst role to the user

sudo so-user addrole "" analyst

Conversely, to remove a role from a user use the so-user delrole command. To remove the analyst role from run:

sudo so-user delrole "" analyst

Creating Custom Roles


The creation of custom RBAC roles is an advanced feature that is recommended only for experienced administrators.

These steps will guide you through an example where we wish to introduce a new role called eastcoast-analyst, which will inherit the same Security Onion permissions as a limited-analyst, but will be restricted to only view a subset of documents in the Elastic stack. We base this role on the limited-analyst instead of the analyst role so that the user does not have the ability to create arbitrary PCAPs on any sensor.

  1. For the Security Onion role: Follow the instructions in the next section entitled “Defining Security Onion Roles” to create a new role named eastcoast-analyst.

  2. For the Elastic stack role: Create a new json role file named eastcoast-analyst.json under /opt/so/saltstack/local/salt/elasticsearch/roles. In this example we will define the new role that only allows access to documents from sensors on the east coast of the United States. Specifically, the role will include a query filter that limits search results to only include documents originating from sensors having a name prefixed with nyc (New York City) or atl (Atlanta).

    eastcoast-analyst.json :

      "cluster": [
      "indices": [
          "names": [
          "privileges": [
          "query": "{ \"bool\": { \"should\": [ { \"prefix\": { \"\": \"nyc\" }}, { \"prefix\": { \"\": \"atl\" }} ]}}"
      "applications": [
          "application": "kibana-.kibana",
          "privileges": [
          "resources": [
      "run_as": []


    The format of the json in this file must match the request body outlined in the Elastic docs here:

    The available cluster and indices permissions are explained in the Elastic docs here:

    The available kibana permissions can be obtained by running the following command on the manager node:

    sudo so-elasticsearch-query _security/privilege/kibana-.kibana | jq '. | map_values(keys)'
  3. Run a salt highstate from the manager:

    sudo salt-call state.highstate

Defining Security Onion Roles

There are two ways to define a custom Security Onion role:

  1. Building it from scratch using the built-in permissions and default roles available as outlined later in this document, or
  2. Inheriting the permissions of another role, and optionally adding more permissions to the new custom role.


The custom_roles file contains further instructions on modifying roles that are not within the scope of this documentation.

The common syntax for either method of defining a role is as such:

<existing role or permission>:<new role>
  1. Creating the role for the above east coast analyst using the first method, building the custom role from scratch, would be written like so:

  2. Alternatively, the eastcoast-analyst role could be created by inheriting the permissions of the analyst role:


Security Onion Privileges and Default Roles

The available low-level Security Onion privileges are listed in the table below:

cases/read Read all case-related information for all cases
cases/write Create and update cases, and escalate events to cases
events/read Read from Elasticsearch
events/write Write to Elasticsearch
events/ack Acknowledge alerts
jobs/read View all PCAP jobs
jobs/pivot Pivot to PCAP job from event
jobs/write Request arbitrary PCAP jobs
jobs/delete Delete any PCAP job
jobs/process Update, read, and attach packets to all pending PCAP jobs †
nodes/read View all nodes in grid
nodes/write Update node information †
roles/read View all users’ roles
roles/write Change any user’s role
users/read View all users
users/write Change any user’s password
users/delete Delete any user

These discrete privileges are then collected into privilege groups as defined below:

case-admin cases/write
case-monitor cases/read
event-admin events/read, events/write, events/ack
event-monitor events/read
job-admin jobs/read, jobs/pivot, jobs/write, jobs/delete
job-monitor jobs/read
job-user jobs/pivot
job-processor jobs/process
node-admin nodes/read, nodes/write
node-monitor nodes/read
user-admin roles/read, roles/write, users/read, users/write, users/delete
user-monitor roles/read, users/read

† intended for use by Sensoroni agents only