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May 26 2008   12:05PM GMT

It’s Not Your Mother’s Firewall Anymore – Part III

Arian Eigen Heald Arian Eigen Heald Profile: Arian Eigen Heald

When all is said and done, a configuring a firewall comes down to creating a set of rules. Firewalls are bi-directional – they control traffic going out (outbound) to the Internet (or the DMZ) and they control traffic coming in (inbound) to the network or the DMZ. You are configuring for WHO, WHAT, WHERE and WHY.

WHO – in firewalls, everything is identified by IP address, whether it’s a single server or internal subnets. Firewalls have a category called “ANY,” which is a “red flag to the bull” for an IT Auditor. “ANY” is short for ANYBODY. Do you want anybody on the Internet to have access to something on your internal network? It’s sloppy work on the part of anyone who is configuring the firewall to use “ANY.” It means they didn’t take the time to specifically identify parties who need to access the network. The absolute only time the use of “ANY” is justified is when you have a web server you want customers to come to (think amazon.com, or ebay.com). And you can bet those folks don’t have their web servers inside with their corporate databases – those web servers are sitting alone in a DMZ.

“ANY” doesn’t work for outbound traffic either – you want to identify your internal subnets so that you can LOG who is going outbound and to WHERE. This is how Hannaford might have caught their hackers – the hackers were sending an outbound text file to somewhere in Europe from a store server – that could have set off an alarm. (Apologies to Hannaford; hindsight is, of course, 20-20 vision.)

WHAT – Applications on servers and other network devices respond by port number. There are 65,535 ports for UDP connections and 65,535 TCP connections. (I know this number by heart from the days when I did tech support for a firewall company.) Commonly, web servers use port 80/TCP. Theoretically, a server could be listening on all ports, but it will only listen on the ports that are running services on the server. If you are not running IIS or Apache, your server will not be listening on port 80 for connection requests.

So, here’s another place not to use ANY. Don’t allow hackers to bang away on every conceivable port. If you are only using FTP, disable web services, and allow traffic only to port 21/22. (Applications can use more than one port). Be specific about what services people can get to from the Internet.

Outbound, you may want to use the firewall to limit things like Peer-2-Peer networking, instant messaging, IRQ, video streaming, etc. There are also certain blocks of IP addresses you might want to bar access to, such as the entire netblock in Russia that hosts so many hacker applications.

WHERE – If you know WHAT, you also know WHERE. Be specific about what IP addresses can get to what on your DMZ and your internal network. If your email server in the DMZ is delivering to an internal email server, make it a rule from one IP address to the other. If clients want to connect or deliver data, request the specific IP addresses the client will be using. Will it be more work? Yes. But you will know exactly who came in, where they can go and what they are using.

Can hacker applications use standard ports? Absolutely. They often use port 80 since it is so commonly allowed in and out. Applications can be configured or coded to use non-standard ports. A good application firewall should catch some of this, and an IDS can catch the rest.

Finally WHY. I see too many configurations with rules labeled “test” or “demo,” with nothing in the comments section. Every rule should have a business owner AND a description. What are you testing? When does the test end? Who is testing what? If the cost of managing the firewall goes up because of a business application, this is your justification for getting extra funds from the business, AND a great opportunity to educate them.

Opening the firewall to let in “just the printer?” Is the printer connected to the rest of your network? Then you’ve just opened a hacker rest stop. Printers have hard drives and usually a default web server and FTP as well.

Next: Management Oversight of Firewalls

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