An Introduction to Using Linux as a Multipurpose Firewall

Feeling insecure? Here's a guide for getting the protection you need.
Configuring the Network

At one point during the installation, you will be asked to configure the Ethernet interfaces (ports). Generally, you will be able to configure only one of the interfaces during the installation. The remaining interfaces can be configured by editing the configuration files. Alternatively, Red Hat 6 offers a GUI-based application called netcfg; however, it requires you to install the X server, something I don't recommend if you are tight on hard drive space or don't plan on leaving a monitor connected to the PC. When you do come across the configuration request for the first interface (generally called eth0), you should enter the information for your local LAN. In our example as per Table 2, we configure this interface as:

IP address:
Subnet Mask:

Listing 1

The default gateway of the firewall (not the PCs inside your LAN) is that of the gateway provided by your ISP. If the subnet mask provided by your ISP ends in a .0, your ISP gateway IP address will generally end in .1, for example After the setup and installation of the distribution is complete, you will have to add the additional information on your second Ethernet interface (generally called eth1). We will need to edit or create configuration files for both Slackware (Listing 1) and Red Hat 6.0 (Red Hat sidebar).

Red Hat Configuration Files

If your NIC cards are all of the same type or all use the same driver, you must tell Linux to search for more than one card of that type at boot time. LILO provides a nice way of doing this that works for most Ethernet drivers I have tried. Edit the file /etc/lilo.conf and add the line


anywhere in the LILO global section near the top of the file. If you have more than two Ethernet cards, you would add

append="ether=0,0,eth1 ether=0,0,eth2"
You can also explicitly define all the cards instead of just telling the system to look for additional cards by using the following on one line:
append="ether=irq_card0,io=0xaddress0,eth0 ether=irq_card1,io=0xaddress1,eth1"
In the example of my configured cards above, I could then use
append="ether=12,0x300,eth0 ether=15,0x320,eth1"
Don't forget to type lilo after you have finished editing the file so the new lilo parameters are read and installed, but, more importantly at this point, so you know you have not created any errors in the LILO configuration file.

Do not reboot yet, as we still need to build a kernel to support our various hardware and firewalling needs.

Building the Kernel

Listing 2

A variety of configurations are required to make the kernel run. Listing 2 shows the settings I have used in my system. If you have never built a kernel before, see “Linux Kernel Installation” by David Bandel in the November 1997, issue 43 of Linux Journal. A quick summary is as follows:

cd /usr/src/linux
make menuconfig

Look at the many screens, read the help and any other reference documentation it points to. This will help you determine which options you need. After you have finished choosing your options, save the kernel, then type:

make dep
make bzlilo
make modules
make modules_install
The resulting files, the new kernel file called vmlinuz and a new file, will likely be located in the root directory /. You will need to copy the file to the root directory, like this:
cp / root
Also make sure the file /etc/lilo.conf and the line inside it which reads image=IMAGENAME (where IMAGENAME is the name and location of your kernel used at boot time) is correct. If it does not point to the correct location, change it and re-execute the lilo command to complete the process of setting up the new kernel.

This will build and install the Linux kernel, update LILO to reflect the new kernel and install a variety of modules, such as support for RealAudio which by default is blocked by the firewall.

Listing 2 includes only those options required to make the firewall function. Other options such as processor type are left out, since these are specific to the hardware you are using for this project. As a rule, I put as little in the kernel as required, and I minimize the use of modules. If you are not sure how an option I have shown in the table is used, or where it shows up in the kernel-configuration program, you can match up the item by clicking on help for the items in that section. You will find its configuration file name at the top of the help page. Similarly, if it's not shown in Listing 2 and you don't need it to make your hardware run or support some other feature, then it should be set to off.

If you are building a bare-bones system and are going to compile the kernel elsewhere, be sure to save your kernel on that machine first, and also save that PC's kernel configuration in an alternate file (see the bottom of the kernel configuration program menu). After it is built, you need to copy the files over to the firewall PC via sneaker net or LAN. Don't forget to copy the modules installed in /lib/modules/2.2.9 as well.

It is now time to reboot the PC and cross your fingers. If everything works correctly, both Ethernet cards will be recognized, and they will both be configured. When the system is fully booted, log in as root and type ifconfig. It should show detailed information about three interfaces:

  • lo0: the local loop interface

  • eth0: the Ethernet port pointing to your local LAN

  • eth1: the Ethernet port pointing to the Internet

You can also type route and see what default routes are up. It should show a default route to the Internet, as well as some information about your local LAN. At this point, the firewall should be able to see both your local LAN and the Internet. If you hook your high-speed modem to the eth1 port at this point, you should be able to ping sites on the Internet (e.g., ping and see an answer coming back about once per second. Press CTRL-c to stop the pings. Some high-speed modems need to learn your Ethernet card's MAC address, and only do so each time they are turned on. Therefore, if you are connecting your modem to a different Ethernet card than it was previously connected to, you will have to power off both the modem and your firewall PC, power the modem on, wait a few seconds, then turn the PC on. If you don't do this, you may find you can't see the Internet at all.