Locking Down Apache Cassandra Logging

Since versions of Cassandra dating back to 0.4, the ability to set logging levels dynamically has been available. Before I go any further, I want to make it clear that dynamic log level adjustment is A Very Good Thing. Unfortunately for security conscious installations, this can cause issues with information exposure. For many, this may seem trivial, but it is minor issues like this that can put an enterprise in violation of industry regulations, potentially creating serious liability concerns.

In this post, i’ll detail the three different ways of adjusting the logging levels. Then we’ll see what happens when we turn up the level to TRACE. We’ll then demonstrate how to disable dynamic logging in both the Logback configuration and via JMX.

Note: that the Logback API was introduced in Apache Cassandra 2.1. Though the same functionality is available in Log4J in prior versions, covering such outside the scope of this post as the 2.0.x is now EOL.

Methods of Runtime Adjustment

Listed below are the three different mechanisms which can be used to adjust logging levels at runtime in Apache Cassandra. In each example, we are setting the logging level of the org.apache.cassandra.transport package to TRACE.

  1. Using the nodetool utility

     nodetool setlogginglevel org.apache.cassandra.transport TRACE
  2. Using JConsole to invoked setLoggingLevel on org.apache.cassandra.db.StorageServiceMBean via JMX (for more information on configuring and securing JMX access, see this page):

    Using JConsole to set log levels

  3. Update the logback.xml configuration file and having it dynamically reload by adding this at the bottom, just above the closing </configuration> element:

    <logger name="org.apache.cassandra.transport" level="TRACE"/>

Verifying Adjustment

Regardless of the method used, a quick check of the $CASSANDRA_HOME/logs/system.log file will show something similar to the following:

INFO  [RMI TCP Connection(22)-] 2016-02-05 19:43:57,440 StorageService.java:3321 - set log level to TRACE for classes under 'org.apache.cassandra.transport' (if the level doesn't look like 'TRACE' then the logger couldn't parse 'TRACE')

Warning: Unfortunately, we won’t know if we have typed everything correctly until it starts printing messages. Each of the three approaches detailed above will happily accept typos in either the class/package name or logging level.

Exploring Log Output

Now that we are in trace mode, let’s go over to cqlsh. We’ll create a simple users table for our example:

CREATE KEYSPACE tlp_example WITH replication = {'class': 'SimpleStrategy', 'replication_factor': 1};
USE tlp_example;
CREATE TABLE user_data (
    user_id uuid,
    email TEXT,
    tax_id TEXT,
    PRIMARY KEY (user_id)

With this table created, let’s insert a row, then select it back out:

INSERT INTO user_data (user_id, email, tax_id) VALUES (now(), 'nate+logex@thelastpickle.com','abc123');
SELECT * FROM user_data;

Now, let’s go have a look at the log output (note that as of version 2.2, DEBUG and higher will by default be located in $CASSANDRA_HOME/logs/debug.log):

TRACE [SharedPool-Worker-1] 2016-02-05 19:44:00,154 Message.java:506 - Received: OPTIONS, v=4
TRACE [SharedPool-Worker-1] 2016-02-05 19:44:00,154 Message.java:525 - Responding: SUPPORTED {COMPRESSION=[snappy, lz4], CQL_VERSION=[3.4.0]}, v=4
TRACE [SharedPool-Worker-1] 2016-02-05 19:44:00,158 Message.java:506 - Received: OPTIONS, v=4
TRACE [SharedPool-Worker-1] 2016-02-05 19:44:00,158 Message.java:525 - Responding: SUPPORTED {COMPRESSION=[snappy, lz4], CQL_VERSION=[3.4.0]}, v=4
TRACE [SharedPool-Worker-1] 2016-02-05 19:44:09,341 Message.java:506 - Received: QUERY select * from user_data;[pageSize = 100], v=4
TRACE [SharedPool-Worker-1] 2016-02-05 19:44:09,341 QueryProcessor.java:201 - Process org.apache.cassandra.cql3.statements.SelectStatement@30febfee @CL.ONE
TRACE [SharedPool-Worker-1] 2016-02-05 19:44:09,346 Message.java:525 - Responding: ROWS [user_id(tlp_example, user_data), org.apache.cassandra.db.marshal.UUIDType][email(tlp_example, user_data), org.apache.cassandra.db.marshal.UTF8Type][tax_id(tlp_example, user_data), org.apache.cassandra.db.marshal.UTF8Type]
 | db8f7a00-cc3e-11e5-b248-091830ac5256 | nate+logex@thelastpickle.com | abc123
 | 19be0e40-cc3f-11e5-b248-091830ac5256 | nate+logex@thelastpickle.com | abc123
---, v=4

As we can see, not only do we have the contents of the select statement, but the String-ified output from the response. As an example, if you worked for a TelCo in the United States, and you did this on a production system while troubleshooting something, you basically just did an end-around of the security requirements regarding customer information, particularly if you use a log aggregation system.

So, are these information exposure bugs? No. These are useful outputs for debugging. The point at which I would draw the line would be printing authentication credentials in a logging statement (which has happened, but was immediately corrected when discovered).

Regardless of what your requirements are around exposure, the following two sections detail how to disable runtime modification of logging levels.

Configuration Reloading

As detailed above, Cassandra makes use of the built-in Logback API’s configuration file reloading feature detailed here. By default, Cassandra (via Logback) will scan logback.xml for changes once per minute, applying any modifications found.

This reloading mechanism can be disabled by setting the scan attribute from the top-level configuration element to false. When not present, scan is considered to be false, but as with any security-sensitive default configuration change, you should set it explicitly to make the intention clear.

Dynamic Adjustment

Though the logging levels can be explicitly controlled via logback.xml, by default the StorageSeriviceMBean exposes a setLoggingLevel method which will dynamically adjust the logging level of an arbitrary class or package qualifier to any level, including TRACE. This functionality can be accessed via JMX at both the MBean level and via nodetool setlogginglevel command (which itself invokes the MBean) as we saw in the example above.

For both cases, this functionality can be removed by removing the <jmxConfigurator /> element present in logback.xml. This disables the JMX logging endpoint, making either invocation a no-op.


Dynamically adjusting the logging levels of Apache Cassandra at runtime is a useful feature. However, some operators might be surprised at the amount of information that can leak into logs when TRACE logging is enabled on certain classes. Knowing how to disable dynamic log adjustment by using the approaches described above can provide security conscious environments the control they need to keep this from happening.

cassandra security configuration information exposure logging