Kernel Events

Events related to the Kernel tells us most of what happens above.

Falco uses different instrumentations to analyze the system workload and pass security events to userspace. We usually refer to these instrumentations as drivers since a driver runs in kernelspace. The driver provides the syscall event source since the monitored events are strictly related to the syscall context.

There are several supported drivers:

  • Kernel module (default)
  • Classic eBPF probe
  • Modern eBPF probe
Kernel moduleClassic eBPF probeModern eBPF probe
x86_64>= 2.6>= 4.14Minimal set of features
aarch64>= 3.4>= 4.17Minimal set of features

Kernel module

By default, the kernel module will be installed when installing the Falco debian/rpm package, when running the falco-driver-loader script shipped within the binary package, or when running the falcosecurity/falco-driver-loader docker image (that just wraps the aforementioned script).

To install the kernel module, please refer to the installation page.

Least privileged mode

The kernel module requires full privileges and cannot run with Linux capabilities

Classic eBPF probe

The classic eBPF probe is an alternative source to the one described above.

To install the eBPF probe, please refer to the installation page.

To enable the eBPF support in Falco set the FALCO_BPF_PROBE environment variable to an empty value (ie. FALCO_BPF_PROBE="", in this way Falco will search under $HOME/.falco directory for a file called falco-bpf.o) or otherwise explicitly set it to the path where the eBPF probe resides.

Least privileged mode

The minimal set of capabilities required by Falco to run the classic eBPF probe is the following:


Let's see them in detail:

  • CAP_SYS_RESOURCE: Falco needs this capability to be able to call the setrlimit syscall. The setrlimit syscall is used together with the RLIMIT_MEMLOCK flag to change the amount of memory that can be mlocked into RAM. The default value for this memory limit is very low, so even a very simple eBPF program would fail. The workaround is to increase the default value to something acceptable so eBPF maps can be correctly mlocked in memory.
  • CAP_SYS_PTRACE: Falco needs this capability because it accesses paths like /proc/<pid>/environ. From the userspace standpoint, the permission to do so is mapped to the CAP_SYS_PTRACE capability. For the curious reader, see environ_open implementation in the kernel.
  • CAP_SYS_ADMIN: Falco needs this capability to load eBPF programs and maps, and to interact with the system using the bpf syscall.

This set of capabilities should work most of the time but under some conditions, it is possible to replace the CAP_SYS_ADMIN with two more granular capabilities: CAP_SYS_BPF and CAP_SYS_PERFMON.

The conditions to satisfy are the following:

  1. A kernel version that supports these capabilities. The Linux Kernel version 5.8 is the first one that officially supports them but they could have been backported on older versions on some distributions.

  2. An acceptable value of kernel.perf_event_paranoid config. Reading the manual it says that perf_event_paranoid influences only the behavior of unprivileged users, but under the hood, some distributions like Debian or Ubuntu introduce additional perf_event_paranoid levels. Consider Ubuntu as an example:

    if (perf_paranoid_any() && !capable(CAP_SYS_ADMIN))
    	return -EACCES;
    // where perf_paranoid_any is defined as:
    static inline bool perf_paranoid_any(void) {
    	return sysctl_perf_event_paranoid > 2;

    As you can notice, when your kernel.perf_event_paranoid is >2 the capability CAP_PERFMON won't suffice, you would still need CAP_SYS_ADMIN. So before disabling CAP_SYS_ADMIN check your perf_event_paranoid value with sysctl kernel.perf_event_paranoid and make sure their values are compatible with your distribution enforcement.

Modern eBPF probe

The modern probe is an alternative driver for Falco. The main advantage it brings to the table is that it is embedded into Falco, which means that you don't have to download or build anything, if your kernel is recent enough Falco will automatically inject it!

What's new

The new probe is highly customizable, you are not obliged to use one buffer for each CPU you can also use just one huge buffer for all your CPUs! And obviously, also the buffer size is customizable! All this is possible thanks to new outstanding features like the CO-RE paradigm, the BPF ring buffer and many others, if you are curious you can read more about them in this blog post.


The modern BPF probe doesn't require a specific kernel version. Usually, all versions >=5.8 are enough but there are cases in which the required features could also be backported into older kernels, so it wouldn't be completely fair to define 5.8 as the first supported version. The 2 main required features are:

  1. BPF ring buffer support.
  2. A kernel that exposes BTF.

Falco can automatically detect if these features are available on the running machine and can notify you if something is missing. As an alternative, you could always use bpftool, you just need to type the following commands:

sudo bpftool feature probe kernel | grep -q "map_type ringbuf is available" && echo "true" || echo "false" 
sudo bpftool feature probe kernel | grep -q "program_type tracing is available" && echo "true" || echo "false" 

How to run it

The modern eBPF probe supports all the installation methods of other drivers:

Useful resources

Least privileged mode

The minimal set of capabilities required by Falco to run the modern eBPF probe is the following:


The mentioned capabilities require no further explanation since they were already discussed in detail in the classic eBPF probe section. This set of capabilities should always work since here there are no issues with kernel.perf_event_paranoid.

Please note: we will try to do our best to keep this as the minimum required set but due to some issues with CO-RE relocations it is possible that this changes in the future.

Userspace instrumentation (deprecated)

The userspace instrumentation is deprecated and it will be removed in Falco 0.37.0.

Differently from the other drivers, as the name suggests, userspace instrumentation happens 100% in userspace.

The Falco community, in 0.24.0 promoted the userspace instrumentation feature to official support to be included in Falco.

However, there's a difference between userspace instrumentation and the other drivers. At the moment of writing, the Falco project does not have any officially supported userspace instrumentation implementation.

To summarize: the code that defines the contracts to do userspace instrumentation in Falco itself is stable and under official support. While there's no implementation that reached the status of official support yet

The community is working on an implementation based on PTRACE(2) that you can find falcosecurity/pdig.

How to enable userspace instrumentation in Falco:

  • Start Falco with the --userspace flag. This will tell Falco to look at userspace instrumentation instead of looking at the Kernel module (the default).
  • Select the userspace instrumentation implementation you want to use (let's take pdig as it is the only one available now)
  • Now, since pdig is still incubating - a very early stage - it's not included in our release process. This, for you, means that to install it, you will need to compile it yourself. Follow the instructions here.
  • Now that you have pdig installed, you will need to start it. Remember, in the case of pdig, it does not know the root process tree you want to instrument by itself. You have to specify that via the -p flag or start the process with pdig itself. It's very similar to running a debugger against a binary. You can run a process directly using it or instrument an existing process. Full instructions here.

There are attempts at making the installation process easier, but the community didn't pick one yet and it's likely that many iterations will go into making any one of the below GA. However, here's a list of projects you can look at if you want to get Falco with userspace instrumentation in Kubernetes.

  • Falco Trace - a convenient container image to use as a base to add userspace instrumentation to your images.
  • Falco Inject - a tool that uses Falco Trace artifacts to inject Falco and userspace instrumentation into your containers via the Kubernetes API.

As you probably already understood, the userspace instrumentation drivers are a bit different, handle them with care!