Building a Cybersecurity Homelab for Detection & Monitoring

Unfortunately, I’m no longer able to provide technical support for this lab due to changes in various software components. However, in the future, I’ll be making a more scalable version of this in the cloud so keep an eye out!

In Cybersecurity, it could be a daunting task to apply and implement security concepts if there is an unavailability of practical and safe infrastructure to carry out these activities.

I approached this project with that in mind. This homelab walks through the process of configuring, optimizing, and securing an I.T infrastructure. Although this will be at a relatively small scale, you will be able to apply the knowledge gained in a real-world large-scale/enterprise infrastructure.

What is a Homelab?

A Homelab, as the name implies, is an environment in your home that is used to practice and improve your skills in a specific field. This home lab has components and tools similar to large-scale infrastructures. It’s a safe environment to work with these components and learn how they work.

CONTENT

  • Building Host PC
  • Installing VMware Workstation as hypervisor
  • Configuring pfSense firewall for Network Segmentation & Security
  • Configuring Security Onion as an all-in-one IDS, Security Monitoring, and Log Management solution
  • Configuring Kali Linux as an attack machine
  • Configuring a Windows Server as a Domain Controller
  • Configuring Windows desktops
  • Configuring Splunk
  • Ubuntu/CentOS/Metasploitable/DVWA/Vulnhub machines: All these are potential Linux machines that can be added to the network for exploitation, detection, or monitoring purposes.

HOMELAB NETWORK DESIGN & TOPOLOGY

Building The Host PC

For this lab, I’ll be using a PC I built a while back specifically for this purpose. The hardware requirements are listed below:

CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 3600X 3.8 GHz 6-Core Processor

RAM: G.Skill Ripjaws V Series 32 GB (2 x 16 GB) DDR4 Memory

STORAGE: Crucial P1 1TB M.2-2280 NVME SSD

GRAPHICS CARD: MSI GeForce GT 710 2 GB Video Card

MOTHERBOARD: Asus TUF GAMING X570 ATX Motherboard

HOST OPERATING SYSTEM: Windows 10 Pro

FULL PC BUILD: PC Part Picker List

Here’s a video tutorial for building the PC:

You can also buy a dedicated server or even use an old laptop as long as it is capable of running all the required VMs. Typically 8GB of RAM is okay but I recommend 16GB if you can.

Downloading & Installing VMware Workstation Pro

For the purpose of this lab, I’ll be using VMware Workstation 16 Pro as my hypervisor. This license costs about $120 with a student discount but I assure you it is a very worthwhile investment.

Download VMware Workstation Player

Here’s a video on how to install VMware Workstation:

VirtualBox is also a free and feature-rich alternative Hypervisor from Oracle. If you cannot afford the VMware license, VirtualBox is equally good.

Download Virtualbox

Configuring pfsense

pfsense will be configured as a firewall to segment our private homelab network and will be only accessible from our Kali Linux machine.

Download the pfsense ISO file from here: Download pfSense Community Edition

Click “Create a New Virtual Machine” on VMware Workstation Homescreen.

Make sure “Typical (recommended)” is selected and click Next.

Click “Browse” and navigate to the folder where your pfsense file is located.

Click Next.

Rename your Virtual Machine. Preferably “pfsense”

Click Next.

20GB disk size is sufficient for this VM.

Ensure that the “Split virtual disk into multiple files” option is selected.

Click Next.

Click “Customize Hardware”.

Increase the memory to 2GB.

Add 5 network adapters and correspond them with a VMnet interface as shown below. Then click Finish.

The pfsense machine will power on and start with this screen. Accept all the defaults. pfsense will configure and reboot.

You should end up with a screen similar to this.

Enter option 1

Should VLANS be set up now [y:n]?: n

Enter em0, em1, em2, em3, em4 & em5 respectively for each consecutive question

Do you want to proceed [y:n]?: y

Enter option 2

We’ll start with the LAN interface (2)

The ip address 192.168.1.1 is going to be used to access the pfsense WebGUI via the Kali Machine

Use the configuration below for the Lan interface.

Use the configuration below for the OPT1 interface.

Use the configuration below for the OPT2 interface

Leave the OPT3 interface without an IP as it is going to have the span port with traffic that Security Onion will be monitoring.

Use the configuration for the OPT4 interface

This ends the configuration of the pfsense VM. The rest of the configuration will be done via the kali machine through the WebConfigurator.

Configuring Security Onion

This will be the all-in-one IDS, Security Monitoring, and Log Management solution.

Download the Security Onion ISO file from here

Select Typical installation >> Click Next

Installer disc image file >> SO ISO file path >> Click Next

Choose Linux, CentOS 7 64-Bit and click Next.

Specify virtual machine name and click Next.

Specify disk size (minimum 200GB), store as single file, click Next.

Click “Customize Hardware” and do the following:

~ Change memory to 4-32GB

~ Add two Network Adapters and assign them Vmnet 4 & Vmnet 5 respectively

Click “Finish”

Power the virtual machine and click Enter when prompted:

After the initial stages of loading, type “yes” when prompted

~ Set a username & password:

After Security Onion Reboots, proceed with the following:

Enter the username & password

Select “Yes”

Click Enter

Select the EVAL option

Type “AGREE”

Select “Standard”

Set a hostname, and a short description

Click the spacebar to select ens33 as the management interface

Set the addressing to DHCP:

Select “YES” at the next prompt

Select “OK” at the next prompt

Select “Direct” for the next prompt

Select “ens35” as the Monitor Interface

Select “Automatic” for the OS patch schedule”

Accept the default home network ip

Accept all the defaults

Enter an email address and password for the admin account

Select “IP”

Select “Yes” for the NTP server & accept the defaults

Take note of your final settings before proceeding! If possible take a screenshot.

Most important detail is the IP address for web access.

Select “Yes”

SecOnionMgmt/ Analyst Machine

After installing Security Onion, having access to the web interface will be done from an external Ubuntu Desktop simulating a SOC/Security Analyst accessing a SIEM or any other tool from their device.

In order to this, you’ll first have to configure an Ubuntu Desktop. This is a very easy process and I’ll not be covering it in this write-up but it is covered in the video. Be sure to use all the default settings for the Ubuntu Desktop configuration.

Download Ubuntu Desktop

Install Ubuntu Desktop

After this installation, run the ifconfig command on the Ubuntu Machine and take note of its IP Address.

Head back to your Security Onion instance and run the following command

 sudo so-allow

Enter your password

Type a and wait for the process to complete

Type in the IP Address from the Ubuntu Desktop

This will create a firewall rule on Security Onion that will allow you web access from your Ubuntu Desktop

Navigate to the Security Onion IP Address on your Ubuntu Desktop:

This ends the configuration of the Security Onion VM.

Configuring Kali Linux

Kali Linux will be used as an attack machine to propagate different forms of offensive actions against the Domain Controller and the other machines attached to it.

Download the Kali Linux ISO from here

Since you’re downloading the VM file, all you’ll need to do is to click on the .vmx file from the Kali Folder you downloaded and it will automatically load up the default Kali image in VMware.

Before powering on the Kali, change the Network Adapter to Vmnet2 and its Memory to 4GB, then power it on and use default credentials as specified.

After powering on, use this command to change the default password to a more secure one of your choice:

passwd

The Kali machine is ready for use.

pfsense Interfaces and Rules

Now that the Kali machine is set up, the pfsens WebConfigurator can be accessed in order to make some changes to the pfsense interface and firewall rules.

Navigate to the web browser and search for 192.168.1.1

Select “Advanced…” at this screen:

Accept the risk and continue:

Sign in to pfsense using default credentials “admin” & “pfsense

You’ll be greeted with a “Wizard/pfSense Setup/” page.

Click Next till you get to Step 2 of 9.

Add 8.8.8.8 as your Primary DNS Server

Add 4.4.4.4 as your Secondary DNS Server

Click Next.

At Step 3 of 9, Choose your Timezone

Click Next.

At Step 4 of 9, untick the last two options

At Step 5 of 9, Click Next

At Step 6 of 9, Set a new Admin Password

Click Next.

At Step 7 of 9, Click Reload

Finish

At this point, pfsense Wizard is complete and changes can now be made to the Interfaces.

Click on Interfaces.

Select LAN

For “Description“, Change LAN to Kali as this is the Kali interface

Scroll all the way down and Click Save

If you get this error, use this Article to troubleshoot and fix it

Then do this for the rest of the Interfaces as shown below

For OPT3 Be sure to Enable Interface as shown below

Back at Interfaces Assignment select Bridges

Click Add

Select VictimNetwork as the Member Interface

Then select Display Advanced

Under Advanced Configuration for Span Port, select “SPANPORT”

Scroll all the way down and Click Save

Click Firewall >> Rules

Select the Add button with the arrow pointed downward

~ Under “edit Firewall Rule” for Protocol select ANY

~ Scroll all the way down and SAVE

This is the majority of the firewall configuration needed for pfsense.

Configuring Windows Server as a Domain Controller

The goal of this portion of the lab is to set up an Active Directory domain with a Windows 2019 Server as the Domain Controller and 2 Windows 10 machines. This portion of the lab is very easy to set up and I’ll be using The Cyber Mentor’s youtube guide for an Active Directory Hacking Lab.

Download the Windows 2019 Server Evaluation Copy

Download the Windows 10 Evaluation Copy

~ Important Details for Windows Server Installation

(Please read the below before installing the Windows Server on VMware)

* Install in VMware as usual with defaults

* Do not worry about a product key, simply click Next

* At the end of the installation, be sure to change the Network Adapter to Vmnet3

* Make sure to UNCHECK “Power on this virtual machine after creation“.

* After the VM has been installed, click “Edit virtual machine settings” and remove the Floppy drive.

Power on the Virtual Machine and immediately click any key.

Click Next

Click Install Now

Select the Windows Server 2019 standard Evaluation (Desktop Experience)

Accept the License Terms

Click Next

Select the Custom Install

Click New

Click Apply

Click OK

Click Next

You should have this screen now

When that is complete, create a password

After the installation, you should end up with this screen

Rename the Domain Controller

~ Navigate to Settings in the search bar

~ Search for settings in the search bar

~ Search for “pc name” in the settings search

~ Select Rename PC and rename the PC your choice name

~ Select Restart Now

After the reboot, on the Server Manager Dashboard, Click Manage >> Add Roles and Features

Keep clicking Next till you get to the Server Roles menu

Select Active Directory Domain Services

Select “Add Features

Click on Next till you get to the Confirmation menu, then click Install

After the Install, Click Close

Click on the flag with the yellow caution triangle

* Select “Promote this server to a domain controller

* Select Add a new forest

* Specify a domain name

* Click Next

* Set a Password

Click Next till you get to the Prerequisites Check Menu

Click Install

Wait for the Reboot

After the Reboot, Log back in

Select Manage >> Add Roles & Features again on the Server Manager

Click Next till you get to Server Roles

Select Active Directory Certificate Services

Select Add Features

Click Next till you get to the “Confirmation” menu

Check “Restart the destination server automatically if required

Select Yes

Select Install

After the Installation, Click Close

Click on the flag with the yellow caution triangle

Select “Configure Active Directory Certificate Services on the destination server

Click Next on Credentials

On the Role Services menu, check Certification Authority

Click Next till you get to the Validity period menu and change it to 99 years

Click Next till you get to the Confirmation menu

Then select Configure

Manually restart the server in order for all the settings to take effect.

Now add some Users:

~ Back at the Server Manager Select Tools > Active Directory Users and Computers

Select your Domain Name (CYBERWOX.local) > Users, Right Click & Select New > User

~ Enter a First, Last & User logon name for the user (Disregard the “WIN10” and just set a preferred logon name).

Set a password that never expires. Select Finish.

Right Click on the previous user you created, Select Copy, and create another User.

Disregard the “WIN7” and set a preferred logon name.

After this, add a password that never expires.

Search for “Windows Defender Firewall” > Turn Windows Defender Firewall on or off.

Turn off the firewall for all Networks

Now Use pfsense as the default gateway for the Domain Controller

~ Navigate to Control Panel > Network and Internet > Network Connections

~ Enter the following configuration

This is the end of the Domain Controller configuration. If you’re looking to do a more comprehensive configuration, you should check out The Cyber Mentor’s Video and follow it in accordance with this lab.
 https://www.youtube.com/embed/VmQDzjq_e_g?autoplay=0&mute=0&controls=1&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cyberwoxacademy.com&playsinline=1&showinfo=0&rel=0&iv_load_policy=3&modestbranding=1&enablejsapi=1&widgetid=17

Configuring Windows 10 Desktop & Adding a User to the AD Domain

The goal of this portion of the lab is to add 2 Windows 10 desktops to the Domain and complete the active directory lab. This portion of the lab is very easy to set up and I’ll be using The Cyber Mentor’s youtube guide for an Active Directory Hacking Lab.

Note that having 2 desktops is not a hard requirement for this lab as ONE desktop is sufficient.

Download Windows 10 Evaluation Copy

~ Important Details for Windows Server Installation

(Please read the below before installing the Windows Desktops)

* Install in VMware as usual with defaults

* Do not worry about a product key, simply click Next

* Name the virtual machine the first user you set in your DC

* At the end of the installation, be sure to change the Network Adapter to Vmnet3

* Make sure to UNCHECK “Power on this virtual machine after creation“.

* After the VM has been installed, click “Edit virtual machine settings” and remove the Floppy drive.

Repeat this process, but this time for the second user.

Use the same configuration steps as the Domain controller:

Install

Accept license terms

Use Custom Install

Select New > Apply > OK > Next

Configure windows 10 as usual and when you get to this point select “I don’t have internet”

Continue with limited setup

Set the first user and the password (Remember from the DC configuration)

Set the security answers

Uncheck ALL the privacy settings then select Accept

Choose “Not Now” for Cortana

While you wait set up the second desktop with the second user account credentials but the same configurations.

Search “pc name” and change the PC Name according to the designated users

Restart the PC

JOINING THE PCs TO THE DOMAIN

~ Navigate to Network Adapter settings

~ Right-click on Ethernet0 and select properties

~ Select IPV4

~ Add an IP Address(192.168.2.21) & Use 192.168.2.1 as the default gateway

~ Use 192.168.2.10(VictimsNetwork) as the DNS Server

Search “domain” and select Access work or school

Select Connect > Join this device to local Active Directory Domain

Enter your domain name.local (CYBERWOX.local for me)

YOU WILL GET AN ERROR. THIS IS EXPECTED, DON’T PANIC LOL.

Head over to pfsense:

At Services > DHCP Server > VICTIMSNETWORK> DNS Server —- This should be the IP of your domain controller(192.168.2.10)

At Services > DHCP Server> VICTIMSNETWORK > Other Options > Domain Name —– This should be the domain name ( CYBERWOX.local )

Now try again, you should get this:

Enter the Username: Administrator and the password of your DC

Select Skip

Restart

Repeat this process for the second machine.

Installing Splunk on a Ubuntu Server

Splunk is one of the most widely used SIEMs in the Cybersecurity industry. Splunk essentially aggregates logs and datasets from various data sources and correlates all that information for easy searching, parsing & indexing.

If you’re looking to learn more about Splunk, check out our resources on Splunk: Splunk Fundamentals 1

Splunk Core Certified User Certification

The first part of this process will be installing a Ubuntu Server for our Splunk instance

Download Ubuntu Server

After downloading the Ubuntu server, create a new virtual machine with the following settings then start the virtual machine:

Before powering on the machine, enter the Virtual Machine Settings and remove the CD/DVD drive with the file named autoinst.iso, as well as the Floppy drive with the file autoinst.flp

Install the server using all the default settings and create a profile

Installing an OpenSSH server is based on your preference but I recommend installing it. You can also add any services you want but it’s not necessary for this lab.

During the installation, you’ll be prompted to remove the CD(ISO) remove it and then reboot the VM.

After the VM has rebooted, your sign-in screen should look something similar to this.

For the Splunk server, you have one of two options

– Accessing it with the AnalystVM using SSH

– Installing a GUI (Ubuntu Desktop) on the Ubuntu Server

I’ll be installing a GUI on the Ubuntu Server for this lab using the following steps:

– Install tasksel

sudo apt install tasksel

– Install the ubuntu desktop GUI but note that there are a variety of options to choose from

sudo  tasksel install ubuntu-desktop

– Reboot the VM with the “reboot” command

reboot

After rebooting, you should have your GUI.

Installing Splunk

On your Ubuntu Server, Navigate to Splunk.com

Click on “Free Splunk

Create an account or login

Under “Splunk Core Products” >> Splunk Enterprise >> Download Free 60-Day Trial

Select the Linux package and download the .tgz file

Open the terminal and navigate to the downloads directory

Untar the file

Navigate to the ~/splunk/bin directory

Use the command ./splunk start to start the splunk instance.

Enter an admin username and password of your choice

Navigate to http://splunk:8000 your browser

Log in with the username and the password you configured in the previous step.

Installing Universal Forwarder on Windows Server

In order to log the activities on endpoints, Splunk uses a mechanism called the universal forwarder. The universal forward can be installed on windows, *nix & mac agents to forward logs to your Splunk instance.

Add the Vmnet6 network adapters to the Splunk adapter

Set up “Receiving” on your Splunk server

Navigate to Settings >> Forwarding and Receiving >> New Receiving Port

Enter port 9997 and save

Navigate to Settings >> Indexes >> New index

Name the index “wineventlog” and save

On your Windows Server, Download the Universal Forwarder

Now install the forwarder:

Accept the License Agreement & click Next

Create a preferred username and password

Enter the IP Address of your Splunk server and the default ports as prompted (8089 & 9997)

Install

Navigate back to your Splunk Instance >> Settings >> Add Data

Select “Forward”

Select the Domain Controller (Windows Server) >> Enter a Server Class Name e.g “Domain Controller” >> Next

Select Local Events Logs and choose your desired event logs >> Next

Select “wineventlog” as the index >> Review >> Submit

This brings us to the end of this homelab. This was fun and exciting to work on and I hope you found value in this process.

At this point, this lab is yours to dominate. You have all the knowledge and tools you need to do a lot of labbing, research, and anything you want to do. Work on detection rules, SIEM content, rule tuning, and even attack scenarios in order to build skills from various angles.

I’ll be adding to this lab from time to time to keep it as detailed and updated as possible.

For troubleshooting/help with this lab, please join our discord server and I’ll be glad to help!

8 thoughts on “Building a Cybersecurity Homelab for Detection & Monitoring”

  1. Thanks for this thorough explanation. Is this lab only suitable for Detection and Monitoring? I believe this hardware capacity is capable of multiple cyber security labs.

  2. Thanks for the walkthrough I am having issues with my Pfsense setup, my LAN does not have access to the internet.

  3. Would this be good to set up in my VMWare Pro on my daily PC if I have the resources, or do I need a separate machine to be safe, so it doesn’t interact with my primary host? I just want to make sure I have a safe separate network all the way around.

    1. It should be fine on your daily driver, however, storage of VMs and snapshots can easily fill up disk space. I generally recommend having a server or PC that is dedicated just for labbing and learning.

  4. Hi Day,
    So what I do not understand is: as per your illustrations/guide; your built-host-machine has a 32 GB ram and a 2gb graphics card, but when you build the lab virtual machines (pfSense, Onion, Ubuntu, Splunk, Windows, Kali) altogether ram adds up to about 30gb of ram just for VMware Virtual Machines created. Doesn’t that causes problems like system crashes, etc? I’m using VirtualBox and it issued a warning that “I am using more than 70% of the ram just for the virtual machine and that it may cause issues with the host system”.
    Didn’t you get that same warning? -Thanks in advance

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