29.2. Firewall Concepts

A ruleset contains a group of rules which pass or block packets based on the values contained in the packet. The bi-directional exchange of packets between hosts comprises a session conversation. The firewall ruleset processes both the packets arriving from the public Internet, as well as the packets produced by the system as a response to them. Each TCP/IP service is predefined by its protocol and listening port. Packets destined for a specific service originate from the source address using an unprivileged port and target the specific service port on the destination address. All the above parameters can be used as selection criteria to create rules which will pass or block services.

To lookup unknown port numbers, refer to /etc/services. Alternatively, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_TCP_and_UDP_port_numbers and do a port number lookup to find the purpose of a particular port number.

Check out this link for port numbers used by Trojans http://www.sans.org/security-resources/idfaq/oddports.php.

FTP has two modes: active mode and passive mode. The difference is in how the data channel is acquired. Passive mode is more secure as the data channel is acquired by the ordinal ftp session requester. For a good explanation of FTP and the different modes, see http://www.slacksite.com/other/ftp.html.

A firewall ruleset can be either exclusive or inclusive. An exclusive firewall allows all traffic through except for the traffic matching the ruleset. An inclusive firewall does the reverse as it only allows traffic matching the rules through and blocks everything else.

An inclusive firewall offers better control of the outgoing traffic, making it a better choice for systems that offer services to the public Internet. It also controls the type of traffic originating from the public Internet that can gain access to a private network. All traffic that does not match the rules is blocked and logged. Inclusive firewalls are generally safer than exclusive firewalls because they significantly reduce the risk of allowing unwanted traffic.

Note:

Unless noted otherwise, all configuration and example rulesets in this chapter create inclusive firewall rulesets.

Security can be tightened further using a stateful firewall. This type of firewall keeps track of open connections and only allows traffic which either matches an existing connection or opens a new, allowed connection.

Stateful filtering treats traffic as a bi-directional exchange of packets comprising a session. When state is specified on a matching rule the firewall dynamically generates internal rules for each anticipated packet being exchanged during the session. It has sufficient matching capabilities to determine if a packet is valid for a session. Any packets that do not properly fit the session template are automatically rejected.

When the session completes, it is removed from the dynamic state table.

Stateful filtering allows one to focus on blocking/passing new sessions. If the new session is passed, all its subsequent packets are allowed automatically and any impostor packets are automatically rejected. If a new session is blocked, none of its subsequent packets are allowed. Stateful filtering provides advanced matching abilities capable of defending against the flood of different attack methods employed by attackers.

NAT stands for Network Address Translation. NAT function enables the private LAN behind the firewall to share a single ISP-assigned IP address, even if that address is dynamically assigned. NAT allows each computer in the LAN to have Internet access, without having to pay the ISP for multiple Internet accounts or IP addresses.

NAT will automatically translate the private LAN IP address for each system on the LAN to the single public IP address as packets exit the firewall bound for the public Internet. It also performs the reverse translation for returning packets.

According to RFC 1918, the following IP address ranges are reserved for private networks which will never be routed directly to the public Internet, and therefore are available for use with NAT:

Warning:

When working with the firewall rules, be very careful. Some configurations can lock the administrator out of the server. To be on the safe side, consider performing the initial firewall configuration from the local console rather than doing it remotely over ssh.

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