PROTECTING NETWORKS WITH FIREWALLS

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1 DATA SECURITY MANAGEMENT PROTECTING NETWORKS WITH FIREWALLS Gilbert Held INSIDE Connecting to the Internet; Router Packet Filtering; Firewalls; Address Hiding; Proxy Services; Authentication; Encryption CONNECTING TO THE INTERNET Exhibit 1 illustrates the typical method by which a private network is connected to the Internet. In this example, a router installed at an organization s Local Area Network (LAN) location is connected to the LAN and to a digital leased line routed to an Internet Service Provider (ISP). The ISP terminates the line from the subscriber through the use of one port on a multiport router, and routes Internet access requests onto the backbone of the Internet. Although only one server is shown on the private network, most private networks have multiple servers. Those servers can range in scope from electronic mail servers operating on older Intel 486 platforms to Windows NT and NetWare servers operating on Pentium processor-based platforms to IBM AS/400 minicomputers and even IBM S/390 mainframes. Thus, the ability of unauthorized users to access the computational facilities of the private network via the Internet can represent a most serious situation most organizations wish to prevent. ROUTER PACKET FILTERING The most common method presently used to bar access from unauthorized Internet users onto a private network is through the packet filtering capability built into most routers. Most routers include an access list facility that allows an administrator to enable or disable access through the router based upon the originating address of data, its destination Payoff Idea By understanding the operational characteristics of the firewall as well as its key features and the level of protection it affords beyond packet filtering, one notes its importance in protecting private networks. In addition, by understanding the key features associated with firewalls, one can obtain the knowledge required to effectively evaluate different vendor products to best satisfy organizational requirements. Since the best method to obtain an understanding of the role of the firewall is to first examine the connection of a private network to the Internet and the use of router packet filtering, let s do so. 10/97 Auerbach Publications 1997 CRC Press LLC

2 EXHIBIT 1 Connecting a Private Network to the Internet Internet ISP Router Digital Leased Line Router Server Private Network address, and the type of data transmitted. Concerning the type of data transmitted, this metric can be tracked for the Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) since what is known as a well-known port number identifies the type of data being transmitted. For example, port 25 is used to transmit Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) data packets that carry electronic mail messages. Thus, one would set up the following packet filter to enable all SMTP traffic from the location whose address is to send mail to one s organization s mail server, assuming the server s address is Although router packet filtering represents the most common method used for protecting private networks, it has a significant number of limitations. Those limitations include an inability to bar repeated attacks, a lack of encryption and authentication capabilities, an inability to note that a connection request was made from a host claiming to have an IP address that does not belong to it, a technique referred to as IP spoofing, and the inability to scan incoming files for the presence of a virus. All of these limitations, as well as the capability to alert network managers and administrators to potential problems, are addressed by most firewall products. USING A FIREWALL Most firewalls are installed between a router and the corporate network via the use of a separate non-occupied network commonly referred to as a DMZ or demilitarized LAN. Exhibit 2 illustrates the most common method used to install a firewall, showing the relationship between the router, the firewall, and the DMZ LAN. In examining the topology associated with the installation of the firewall shown in Exhibit 2, note that the DMZ LAN represents a network

3 EXHIBIT 2 Installing a Firewall to Protection a Private Network from Users on a Public Network Public Network Access Router DMZ LAN Firewall Server Private Network without any connections other than the router and the firewall. This structure ensures that any illegal activity passed through the router cannot adversely affect users on the private network without inbound packets first being checked by the firewall. FIREWALL FEATURES Most modern firewalls provide a variety of security-related features. Some of the more common firewall features include address hiding, proxy services, alert generation, encryption, and authentication. Address Hiding One of the key features of most firewalls is the hiding of actual network addresses on the private network from public network users. To do so, firewalls can be configured to translate private network addresses actually used by organizational computers into valid but otherwise unused network addresses. This allows the firewall to maintain tables of address translations that can be used in conjunction with the port address of packets to identify repeated activities, some of which might be considered illegal based upon the configuration of the firewall, which will then either bar further access attempts or generate a predefined alert. Proxy Services A proxy service represents a client-server interception of a predefined process in which the firewall acts as the server for the designated process. For example, ftp, the file transfer protocol, and https, the security version of the protocol used to transport Web browser requests and responses, represent two common proxies. When a proxy service is initiated on a firewall, the firewall intercepts all requests for such services. The

4 firewall then examines proxy service functions that are allowed and compares those functions to the functions requested in the inbound packet. If the function is allowed, the firewall acts as a proxy and initiates the function on behalf of the requesting client. Otherwise, the firewall bars the request. Exhibit 3 illustrates the configuration screen for Generic Proxies for the Technologic Interceptor firewall. Technologic is an Atlanta-based company that specializes in the design of firewall software. To initiate a proxy, the firewall administrator first selects the proxy by clicking their cursor on the circle in the left column associated with the name of the proxy. Once this is accomplished, the administrator would scroll down the screen to the bottom that contains a button labeled Edit. Selecting that button will result in the generation of a dialog box labeled Edit Proxy that enables the proxy service previously selected to be configured. EXHIBIT 3 Configuration Screen for Generic Proxies for the Technologic Interceptor Firewall Exhibit 4 illustrates the Technologic Interceptor Editor Proxy dialog box for the previously selected https generic proxy. Note that the Technologic Interceptor firewall predefines ports using their service abbreviation instead of the numeric port value used in the TCP protocol. Thus, if one wanted to include a default destination for routing all secure HyperText Transmission Protocol (http) packets, one could enter the host address and https for the destination port address, thus enabling avoidance of what sometimes can be a lengthy search to locate the wellknown port number associated with a particular service.

5 EXHIBIT 4 Technologic Interceptor Editor Proxy Dialog Box for Previously Selected https Generic Proxy Alert Generation Most firewalls check each incoming packet against previously received packets with the same source and destination address in an attempt to note potential illegal activity. Such activity can range in scope from a hacker performing an electronic dictionary attack against a computer, to a denial of service flooding of packets to a computer. Once this type of activity is noted, the firewall may be configured to preclude all further attempts for a period of time, generate an alert to inform an appropriate employee that the organization s private network is under attack, or perform both operations. Exhibit 5 illustrates the Add Alert dialog box generated by the Technologic Interceptor firewall with its Pattern option menu pulled down. Note that the highlighted bar is shown placed over the Failed-Authentication entry in the Pattern pull-down menu. Also note the entries Time and Frequency under Pattern on the left side of the dialog box. One can set a time and/or frequency of occurrence, which will be compared each time the selected pattern occurs. If the time the pattern occurs falls within a denoted period or the number of failed authentications in the example shown in Exhibit 5 reaches the frequency entry, an alert will be generated. That alert can be transmitted to an electronic mail address or sent to a pager definition alias that can be used to transmit a message placed in the pager message area in the dialog box. When configuring an alert, it is important to note that through error instead of malicious action many activities that appear to represent illegal actions will occur. Rather than be paged at 3:00 a.m. on Sunday morning due to the action of an employee traveling in Europe who forgot his

6 EXHIBIT 5 Add Alert Dialog Box Generated by Technologic Interceptor Firewall With Pattern Option Menu Pulled Down authentication PIN number and tried five times to access the corporate server, one can use the frequency setting to preclude only obvious attempts to gain illegal access to one s organization s private network. For example, by setting the frequency of failed authentications to 10 or 20, you will probably eliminate the forgetful employee from triggering an alert, yet the frequency is still low enough to determine if a dictionary attack is being used against the firewall without allowing too many attempts to occur before further action occurs. Encryption Once data leaves a private network and flows on the Internet, it is subject to observation by many ISP technical control center employees as well as by persons illegally monitoring Internet transmission. If an organization intends to transmit information that they do not wish to have divulged, encryption is probably required. Although one can install encryptionperforming software on different servers located on a private network, it is usually more economical to provide a single point of encryption and decryption. That point is logically represented by the firewall, and an encryption function is usually an option that can be added to most firewalls. Once an encryption option is added to a firewall, one can usually define remote users that will use encryption, with data from other users handled as clear text. Remote users that will use firewall encryption must obtain client software that is compatible with the method of encryption supported by the firewall. Most firewalls support at least the Digital Encryption Standard (DES), while other firewalls support public key encryption methods.

7 Authentication Although encryption protects the contents of a message from disclosure to unauthorized persons, it does not verify that the person sending the message is who they claim to be. The ability to verify the identity of a remote user is obtained through the process of authentication. Conventional methods of authentication used with access to computation facilities commonly consist of a UserID and password. When accessing a computer, the remote user enters his/her UserID and is prompted to enter a password that was previously associated with the UserID. Two key problems associated with the use of a UserID and password sequence method of verification include the fact that data traversing the Internet is subject to monitoring, and a dictionary attack in which each entry in an electronic dictionary is used to guess a UserID and password can be used in an attempt to gain illegal access to a computer. Recognizing these problems, several verification schemes were added to firewalls to preclude illegal users from attempting to gain access to computational facilities located behind a firewall. Two of the most popular methods include the use of a software program on a client computer that generates a one-time password and a credit card-size numeric password generator. Both the software generator and credit card device require a software program to be installed on the firewall that uses the same algorithm used by the client program or the credit card device to generate pseudo-random numbers. A remote user attempting to gain access behind the firewall by verification of his/her identity either uses the software program to generate a one-time password or enters the numeric digits from the credit card password generator that typically automatically change every 60 seconds. In addition to transmitting the one-time password, the remote user also transmits a special PIN number. That number is used by the firewall to generate an equivalent password using an algorithm that matches the client process and then checks that password against the transmitted password. If the two match, the remote user is considered to be verified. Since the password changes each time the user requires access, illegal monitoring that observes a password flowing on the Internet is worthless for use in a succeeding access attempt. Similarly, a dictionary attack becomes more difficult as a PIN number adds millions of permentations and the password changes after each access. Thus, verification not only identifies the remote user attempting to access a private network but, in addition, makes it much more difficult for illegal users to access computational facilities behind a firewall. RECOMMENDED COURSE OF ACTION As indicated in this article, the use of a firewall provides a significant level of protection to private networks beyond the packet filtering capability of routers. If an organization is using only a router to protect its private

8 network or is now considering the connection of the organization s private network to the Internet, one should examine the major features associated with firewalls and how they enhance security. If the level of enhanced security provided by a firewall is deemed necessary to protect the organization s computational facilities, one should consider its use as a supplement to the basic protection afforded by the packet filtering capability of routers. Gilbert Held is an award winning author and lecturer on high technology topics. Some of Gil s recent titles include LAN Performance: Issues & Answers, 2nd ed., Ethernet Networks, 2nd ed., The Complete Modem Reference, 3rd ed., and Data and Image Compression, 4th ed., all published by John Wiley & Sons. Gil can be reached on the Internet at

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