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Chapter 3. Firewalls

So now that you have a fairly secure operating system and know a few basic tricks, let's get into using some more complex security tools. This chapter describes how to configure and run a secure open source firewall. If you already have a firewall, you may still want to read this chapter if you need a refresher or primer on how firewalls function. This will come in handy in later chapters that discuss port scanners and vulnerability scanners.

A firewall is a device that acts as the first line of first defense against any incoming attacks or misuses of your network. It can deflect or blunt many kinds of attacks and shield your internal servers and workstations from the Internet. A firewall can also prevent internal LAN machines from being accessed from outside your network. With the growing use of random scanners and automated worms and viruses, keeping your internal machines shielded from the Internet is more important than ever. A properly configured firewall will get you a long way towards being safe from outside attacks. (Protecting yourself from inside attacks is a different thing altogether and is a subject of Chapters 4 through 7.)

Chapter Overview

Concepts you will learn:

  • Basic concepts of TCP/IP networking

  • How firewalls operate

  • The philosophy of firewall configuration

  • Business processes for firewalls

  • Sample firewall configurations

Tools you will use:

Iptables, Turtle Firewall, and SmoothWall

It's pretty much a given these days that firewalls are an essential part of any secure infrastructure. There are many very viable commercial alternatives available: Cisco, NetScreen, SonicWALL, and Checkpoint are just a few of the vendors making high-end, commercial firewall solutions. These products are built to handle large corporate networks and high traffic volumes

Linksys (now owned by Cisco), D-Link, and NETGEAR are some of the vendors making low-end consumer-grade firewalls. These devices generally don't have much configurability or expandability; they basically act as a packet filter, blocking incoming TCP and UDP connections and as a NAT appliance. They are usually marketed for DSL and cable-type connections and may buckle under heavier loads.

The higher end firewalls will do just about anything you want them to do. However, that comes at a price: most of them start at several thousand dollars and go up from there. And they often require you to learn a new syntax or interface in order to configure them. Some of the newer models, like SonicWALL and NetScreen, are going to a Web-based configuration interface, but that usually comes at the expense of less depth in the configuration options.

The little known and rarely advertised secret of some commercial firewalls is that they have open source software just underneath the hood. What you are really paying for is the fancy case and the technical support line. This may be worth it for companies that need the extra support. However, if you are going to have to learn yet another interface, and if they are using the same technologies that are available to you for free, why not create your own firewall with the open source tools provided in this book and save your firm thousands of dollars? Even if you don't want to throw out your commercial firewall, learning more about firewall basics and what happens behind the scenes will help you keep your firewall more securely configured.

Before we dive into the tools, I want to go over the basics of what a firewall does and how it works with the various network protocols to limit access to your network. Even if you are not planning to use open source software for your firewall, you can still benefit from knowing a little more about what is really going on inside that black box.

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