Using Firewall Builder, Part II

Configure bastion host and firewall iptables policies so you can see exactly what the security policy is.

Last month we used Firewall Builder to create a set of reusable objects for iptables policies. In this month's column, I show you how to use Firewall Builder to create two such rule sets: one for a bastion host that needs to defend itself and another for a firewall that needs to defend entire networks.

Local Rules on a Bastion Host

Let's consider the bastion host scenario first. A common misconception about Netfilter/iptables, and about packet filtering in general, is that packet inspection is strictly a function of firewalls. In-depth defense, however, dictates that it's foolish to put all your security eggs in one basket. Although you must use a carefully configured and monitored firewall to protect all your internet-connected hosts, those hosts also should be able to defend themselves, especially the bastion hosts on which you host publicly accessible services, such as FTP and WWW.

If, for example, your public web server runs Linux 2.4, it follows that you should configure its local Netfilter rules to provide an extra level of defense in case a clever attacker subverts or otherwise gets around your enterprise firewall. If your server runs a pre-2.4 kernel, you need to use ipchains rather than Netfilter/iptables. You also need to find a contributed ipchains compiler plugin for Firewall Builder to build your scripts.

Loopback Rules

Step one for creating any firewall rule base, even for a bastion host, is to give free rein to the local loopback interface. Loopback is used for certain transactions between local processes and dæmons. Without loopback-allowing rules, things like name-service caching and SSH port forwarding break when you run the iptables script.

Suppose you've got a web server to harden, named Trillian. You've installed Firewall Builder on your administrative workstation; remember, we avoid running the X Window System and therefore X-based applications on bastion hosts. You've subsequently created some objects that describe hosts, networks and groups in your environment, plus a firewall object for Trillian, complete with a loopback-interface definition. In other words, you've done the things I described in last month's column.

You need two rules for Trillian's loopback interface: one that allows all traffic leaving the loopback interface and one that allows everything coming in to it. Follow these steps to create two such rules (Figure 1):

  1. Beneath and to the right of your firewall's loopback interface sub-object, on the left-hand side of the Firewall Builder screen (in Figure 1, this is named loopback), select the loopback interface's policy, which should be empty.

  2. In the Rules menu, select Append rule at the bottom. A blank rule appears in the right-hand half of the window.

  3. Drag the firewall icon next to the name Trillian into the blank rule's Source field. Be sure to wait until the cursor changes into a plus (+) before releasing the mouse button.

  4. Right-click in the new rule's Action field and select Accept from the menu.

  5. Right-click in the rule's Direction field and select Outbound.

  6. Right-click on the paper and pencil icon in the rule's Options field and select Turn logging OFF.

  7. Right-click again in the rule's Options field and select Modify options. In the resulting window, check the box near the bottom of the window, which disables stateful inspection. We don't need to waste CPU overhead on state tracking for loopback traffic.

  8. Optionally, right-click in the new rule's Comment field and select Edit Comment if you wish to write a brief reminder of the rule's purpose, perhaps “allow loopback outbound”.

Figure 1. Loopback Interface Rules

To create the second rule in Figure 1, repeat steps 2 through 8. In step 3, however, drag Trillian's icon into the new rule's Destination field rather than its source. In step 5, set the direction to Inbound.

How, you may ask, do these rules work? First, you should understand that they apply only to the loopback interface. It's possible to create rules specific to any interface, rules that are parsed before your firewall's global policy. Although we used Trillian as the source and destination, respectively, of our two loopback rules, this doesn't mean that the rules match packets with particular IP addresses, that is, Trillian's. They'll match any packets leaving or entering the loopback interface.

This leads me to my last point about loopback rules. It may seem counterintuitive to use two rules referencing the firewall object rather than one rule that says any source to any destination should be accepted. But in my own tests, the single-rule approach caused Firewall Builder to write its loopback rules for the FORWARD chain rather than for INPUT and OUTPUT, which counterproductively killed loopback on my test system. Changing to separate loopback in and loopback out rules fixed the problem. Don't worry; this is the only time I've seen Firewall Builder choose the wrong chain for its rules. At that, it did so only for single-homed hosts, not multi-interfaced firewalls.