How Does SNMPv3 Work in Linux?

SNMPv3 is very complex compared to SNMPv2, and it requires several steps to set up. If you're curious about your Linux router at home, the above SNMPv2 example probably will suffice, but in almost any other environment, SNMPv3 is a must. To set it up, first create a read-only SNMPv3 user name, with a local password that is encrypted with SHA and that uses AES. This is more secure than the default values of MD5 and DES, but it's still far from perfect (both MD5 and DES can be broken trivially):

[root@foo mibs] # service snmpd stop
Stopping snmpd:                                     [  OK  ]
[root@foo mibs] # net-snmp-create-v3-user -ro -A snmpv3authPass
 ↪-a SHA -X userpass -x AES user
adding the following line to /var/lib/net-snmp/snmpd.conf:
    createUser user SHA "snmpv3authPass" AES userpass
adding the following line to /etc/snmp/snmpd.conf:
    rouser user

Now edit /etc/snmp/snmpd.conf as root, and comment out the rocommunity line you added earlier:

#rocommunity public

Restart snmpd, and run snmpwalk with your new SNMPv3 credentials:

[user@foo mibs]$ snmpwalk -u user -A snmpv3authPass -a SHA -X
 ↪userpass -x AES -l authPriv -v3 | head
SNMPv2-MIB::sysDescr.0 = STRING: Linux clearos65.trelane.lan
 ↪2.6.32-573.1.1.v6.i686 #1 SMP Fri Aug 21 14:37:07 MDT 2015 i686
SNMPv2-MIB::sysObjectID.0 = OID: NET-SNMP-MIB::netSnmpAgentOIDs.10
DISMAN-EVENT-MIB::sysUpTimeInstance = Timeticks: (12756) 0:02:07.56
SNMPv2-MIB::sysContact.0 = STRING: Overworked Admin
SNMPv2-MIB::sysName.0 = STRING: clearos65.trelane.lan
SNMPv2-MIB::sysLocation.0 = STRING: Somewhere out there
SNMPv2-MIB::sysORLastChange.0 = Timeticks: (42) 0:00:00.42
SNMPv2-MIB::sysORID.1 = OID: SNMP-MPD-MIB::snmpMPDMIBObjects.3.1.1
SNMPv2-MIB::sysORID.3 = OID:

You'll notice that you still get the same information, but now it's being transferred via user name/password authentication and 128-bit AES. If you try again with SNMPv2, you'll get a timeout now:

[user@foo mibs]$snmpwalk -v2c -c public localhost
Timeout: No Response from localhost

This is the most secure SNMP agent configuration currently possible. To increase security, the SNMP port should be firewalled to accept only connections from your NMS.

What Is Happening to SNMP Due to the Lack of Implemented Updates to the Standard Since 2004?

Despite being widely adopted, important and incredibly flexible, SNMP is falling by the wayside. SNMPS, SNMP datagrams over TLS, standardized in 2010, has gone mostly unimplemented. SNMPv3 is difficult to use and troubleshoot on devices other than Linux. Microsoft has dropped SNMP support entirely from Windows, replacing it with WMI and then WinRM. Other vendors, and products providing monitoring interfaces, are using an often proprietary API over HTTPS or, worse, unencrypted HTTP that listens to and replies in JSON (Javascript Object Notation) or XML. This balkanization from a single standard has made cohesive monitoring of large networks containing diverse devices more difficult and time consuming.

Linux's NET-SNMP is in even worse shape. With only two contributors since January 1, 2015 (both from VMware) and one project manager, there have been fewer than 30 commits since January 1, 2015. The last stable release of NET-SNMP was in 2014. NET-SNMP has not implemented SNMPS, and there are no apparent plans to do so, leaving that standard dead in the water.

Returning a Value

It's unfortunate to see a standard balkanized into hundreds of different proprietary implementations. This wastes time and money and causes aggravation for systems administrators. SNMP and the various standards-compliant implementations of SNMP are still relevant and are in production nearly everywhere. That ubiquity and relevance is on the brink of changing as replacements utilizing proprietary data structures in JSON and XML instead of MIBs and OIDs begin to take over. NET-SNMP and the SNMP standard itself seem to be solid candidates for a rescue. Expanding the IETF MIBs to support newer networked devices, like network attached storage, storage area networks, software-defined networking, containers, cloud, converged and hyper-converged infrastructure will be a must if SNMP is to continue to be relevant.


Andrew Kirch has more than ten years of experience working as a systems/network administrator, with specializations including DevOps, SNMP and NMS.