Firewalls

Explained…

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CONTENTS
• Definition • How Firewalls work • Firewall techniques: Packet filter Application gateway Proxies Network address translation • Reasons for using Firewall security • Summary • Source List

Firewalls are…

A definition

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Firewall
“f+r´wâl) (n.) A system designed to prevent unauthorized access to or from a private network. Firewalls can be implemented in both hardware and software, or a combination of both. Firewalls are frequently used to prevent unauthorized Internet users from accessing private networks connected to the Internet, especially intranets. All messages entering or leaving the intranet pass through the firewall, which examines each message and blocks those that do not meet the specified security criteria.” Webopedia

How Firewalls work

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How Firewalls work
• “A firewall is simply a program or hardware device that filters the information coming through the Internet connection into your private network or computer system. If an incoming packet of information is flagged by the filters, it is not allowed through. • If you have read the article How Web Servers Work, then you know a good bit about how data moves on the Internet, and you can easily see how a firewall helps protect computers inside a large company. Let's say that you work at a company with 500 employees. The company will therefore have hundreds of computers that all have network cards connecting them together. In addition, the company will have one or more connections to the Internet through something like T1 or T3 lines. • Without a firewall in place, all of those hundreds of computers are directly accessible to anyone on the Internet. A person who knows what he or she is doing can probe those computers, try to make FTP connections to them, try to make telnet connections to them and so on. If one employee makes a mistake and leaves a security hole, hackers can get to the machine and exploit the hole. • With a firewall in place, the landscape is much different. A company will place a firewall at every connection to the Internet (for example, at every T1 line coming into the company). The firewall can implement security rules. For example, one of the security rules inside the company might be: • Out of the 500 computers inside this company, only one of them is permitted to receive public FTP traffic. Allow FTP connections only to that one computer and prevent them on all others. A company can set up rules like this for FTP servers, Web servers, Telnet servers and so on. In addition, the company can control how employees connect to Web sites, whether files are allowed to leave the company over the network and so on. A firewall gives a company tremendous control over how people use the network.”

How Stuff Works

Techniques
Of Firewalls

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1. Network layer and packet filters
“Network layer firewalls, also called packet filters, operate at a relatively low level of the TCP/IP protocol stack, not allowing packets to pass through the firewall unless they match the established rule set. The firewall administrator may define the rules; or default rules may apply. The term "packet filter" originated in the context of BSD operating systems.
Network layer firewalls generally fall into two sub-categories, stateful and stateless. Stateful firewalls maintain context about active sessions, and use that "state information" to speed packet processing. Any existing network connection can be described by several properties, including source and destination IP address, UDP or TCP ports, and the current stage of the connection's lifetime (including session initiation, handshaking, data transfer, or completion connection). If a packet does not match an existing connection, it will be evaluated according to the ruleset for new connections. If a packet matches an existing connection based on comparison with the firewall's state table, it will be allowed to pass without further processing. Stateless firewalls require less memory, and can be faster for simple filters that require less time to filter than to look up a session. They may also be necessary for filtering stateless network protocols that have no concept of a session. However, they cannot make more complex decisions based on what stage communications between hosts have reached. Modern firewalls can filter traffic based on many packet attributes like source IP address, source port, destination IP address or port, destination service like WWW or FTP. They can filter based on protocols, TTL values, netblock of originator, of the source, and many other attributes. Commonly used packet filters on various versions of Unix are ipf (various), ipfw (FreeBSD/Mac OS X), pf (OpenBSD, and all other BSDs), iptables/ipchains (Linux).” Wikipedia

Firewall Techniques

2. Application layer
Application-layer firewalls work on the application level of the TCP/IP stack (i.e., all browser traffic, or all telnet or ftp traffic), and may intercept all packets traveling to or from an application. They block other packets (usually dropping them without acknowledgment to the sender). In principle, application firewalls can prevent all unwanted outside traffic from reaching protected machines.
On inspecting all packets for improper content, firewalls can restrict or prevent outright the spread of networked computer worms and trojans. The additional inspection criteria can add extra latency to the forwarding of packets to their destination. Application firewalls function by determining whether a process should accept any given connection. Application firewalls accomplish their function by hooking into socket calls to filter the connections between the application layer and the lower layers of the OSI model. Application firewalls that hook into socket calls are also referred to as socket filters. Application firewalls work much like a packet filter but application filters apply filtering rules (allow/block) on a per process basis instead of filtering connections on a per port basis. Generally, prompts are used to define rules for processes that have not yet received a connection. It is rare to find application firewalls not combined or used in conjunction with a packet filter. Also, application firewalls further filter connections by examining the process ID of data packets against a ruleset for the local process involved in the data transmission. The extent of the filtering that occurs is defined by the provided ruleset. Given the variety of software that exists, application firewalls only have more complex rulesets for the standard services, such as sharing services. These per process rulesets have limited efficacy in filtering every possible association that may occur with other processes. Also, these per process ruleset cannot defend against modification of the process via exploitation, such as memory corruption exploits. Because of these limitations, application firewalls are beginning to be supplanted by a new generation of application firewalls that rely on mandatory access control (MAC), also referred to as sandboxing, to protect vulnerable services. An example of a next generation application firewall is AppArmor included in some Linux distributions. Wikipedia

3. Proxies
A proxy device (running either on dedicated hardware or as software on a general-purpose machine) may act as a firewall by responding to input packets (connection requests, for example) in the manner of an application, while blocking other packets.
Proxies make tampering with an internal system from the external network more difficult and misuse of one internal system would not necessarily cause a security breach exploitable from outside the firewall (as long as the application proxy remains intact and properly configured). Conversely, intruders may hijack a publicly-reachable system and use it as a proxy for their own purposes; the proxy then masquerades as that system to other internal machines. While use of internal address spaces enhances security, crackers may still employ methods such as IP spoofing to attempt to pass packets to a target network.

Wikipedia

4. Network address translation
Firewalls often have network address translation (NAT) functionality, and the hosts protected behind a firewall commonly have addresses in the "private address range", as defined in RFC 1918.
Firewalls often have such functionality to hide the true address of protected hosts. Originally, the NAT function was developed to address the limited number of IPv4 routable addresses that could be used or assigned to companies or individuals as well as reduce both the amount and therefore cost of obtaining enough public addresses for every computer in an organization. Hiding the addresses of protected devices has become an increasingly important defence against network reconnaissance. A security gateway can have a firewall built into it to help protect and secure it’s virtual machine within visualised data centres and clouds.

Wikipedia

Reasons for using Firewall Security
Of Firewalls

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Reasons for using Firewall Security
There are many creative ways that unscrupulous people use to access or abuse unprotected computers: • Remote login - When someone is able to connect to your computer and control it in some form. This can range from being able to view or access your files to actually running programs on your computer. • Application backdoors - Some programs have special features that allow for remote access. Others contain bugs that provide a backdoor, or hidden access, that provides some level of control of the program. • SMTP session hijacking - SMTP is the most common method of sending e-mail over the Internet. By gaining access to a list of e-mail addresses, a person can send unsolicited junk e-mail (spam) to thousands of users. This is done quite often by redirecting the e-mail through the SMTP server of an unsuspecting host, making the actual sender of the spam difficult to trace. • Operating system bugs - Like applications, some operating systems have backdoors. Others provide remote access with insufficient security controls or have bugs that an experienced hacker can take advantage of. • Denial of service - You have probably heard this phrase used in news reports on the attacks on major Web sites. This type of attack is nearly impossible to counter. What happens is that the hacker sends a request to the server to connect to it. When the server responds with an acknowledgement and tries to establish a session, it cannot find the system that made the request. By inundating a server with these unanswerable session requests, a hacker causes the server to slow to a crawl or eventually crash.

How stuff works

Continued…
• E-mail bombs - An e-mail bomb is usually a personal attack. Someone sends you the same e-mail hundreds or thousands of times until your e-mail system cannot accept any more messages. • Macros - To simplify complicated procedures, many applications allow you to create a script of commands that the application can run. This script is known as a macro. Hackers have taken advantage of this to create their own macros that, depending on the application, can destroy your data or crash your computer. • Viruses - Probably the most well-known threat is computer viruses. A virus is a small program that can copy itself to other computers. This way it can spread quickly from one system to the next. Viruses range from harmless messages to erasing all of your data. • Spam - Typically harmless but always annoying, spam is the electronic equivalent of junk mail. Spam can be dangerous though. Quite often it contains links to Web sites. Be careful of clicking on these because you may accidentally accept a cookie that provides a backdoor to your computer. • Redirect bombs - Hackers can use ICMP to change (redirect) the path information takes by sending it to a different router. This is one of the ways that a denial of service attack is set up. • Source routing - In most cases, the path a packet travels over the Internet (or any other network) is determined by the routers along that path. But the source providing the packet can arbitrarily specify the route that the packet should travel. Hackers sometimes take advantage of this to make information appear to come from a trusted source or even from inside the network! Most firewall products disable source routing by default.

Summary
Data Networks

Summary
“One of the best things about a firewall from a security standpoint is that it stops anyone on the outside from logging onto a computer in your private network. While this is a big deal for businesses, most home networks will probably not be threatened in this manner. Still, putting a firewall in place provides some peace of mind.” How Stuff works

Credits
1.Images: CC from Flickr (click on CC pictures for attribution) and Google CC images 2.Information: Please click on source names in slideshow for their original source

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