Coupon Accepted Successfully!



As we've seen in our discussion of the Internet and similar networks, connecting an organization to the Internet provides a two-way flow of traffic. This is clearly undesirable in many organizations, as proprietary information is often displayed freely within a corporate intranet (that is, a TCP/IP network, modeled after the Internet that only works within the organization). In order to provide some level of separation between an organization's intranet and the Internet, firewalls have been employed. A firewall is simply a group of components that collectively form a barrier between two networks. A number of terms specific to firewalls and networking are going to be used throughout this section, so let's introduce them all together.

Bastion Host

A general-purpose computer used to control access between the internal (private) network (intranet) and the Internet (or any other untrusted network). Typically, these are hosts running a flavor of the Unix operating system that has been customized in order to reduce its functionality to only what is necessary in order to support its functions. Many of the general-purpose features have been turned off, and in many cases, completely removed, in order to improve the security of the machine.


A special purpose computer for connecting networks together. Routers also handle certain functions, such as routing , or managing the traffic on the networks they connect.

Access Control List (ACL)

Many routers now have the ability to selectively perform their duties, based on a number of facts about a packet that comes to it. This includes things like origination address, destination address, destination service port, and so on. These can be employed to limit the sorts of packets that are allowed to come in and go out of a given network.

Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)

The DMZ is a critical part of a firewall: it is a network that is neither part of the untrusted network, nor part of the trusted network. But, this is a network that connects the untrusted to the trusted. The importance of a DMZ is tremendous: someone who breaks into your network from the Internet should have to get through several layers in order to successfully do so. Those layers are provided by various components within the DMZ.


This is the process of having one host act in behalf of another. A host that has the ability to fetch documents from the Internet might be configured as a proxy server , and host on the intranet might be configured to beproxy clients . In this situation, when a host on the intranet wishes to fetch the  web page, for example, the browser will make a connection to the proxy server, and request the given URL. The proxy server will fetch the document, and return the result to the client. In this way, all hosts on the intranet are able to access resources on the Internet without having the ability to direct talk to the Internet.

Types of Firewalls

There are three basic types of firewalls, and we'll consider each of them.


The first firewalls were application gateways, and are sometimes known as proxy gateways. These are made up of bastion hosts that run special software to act as a proxy server. This software runs at the Application Layer of our old friend the ISO/OSI Reference Model, hence the name. Clients behind the firewall must be proxitized (that is, must know how to use the proxy, and be configured to do so) in order to use Internet services. Traditionally, these have been the most secure, because they don't allow anything to pass by default, but need to have the programs written and turned on in order to begin passing traffic.


A sample application gateway


  Description: \begin{figure}

\setlength {\unitlength}{0.00041700in}
\put(2926,-961){\vector( 0, 1){675}}\end{picture}\end{center}\end{figure}



These are also typically the slowest, because more processes need to be started in order to have a request serviced.

Packet Filtering

Packet filtering is a technique whereby routers have ACLs (Access Control Lists) turned on. By default, a router will pass all traffic sent it, and will do so without any sort of restrictions. Employing ACLs is a method for enforcing your security policy with regard to what sorts of access you allow the outside world to have to your internal network, and vice versa.

There is less overhead in packet filtering than with an application gateway, because the feature of access control is performed at a lower ISO/OSI layer (typically, the transport or session layer). Due to the lower overhead and the fact that packet filtering is done with routers, which are specialized computers optimized for tasks related to networking, a packet filtering gateway is often much faster than its application layer cousins.

 Because we're working at a lower level, supporting new applications either comes automatically, or is a simple matter of allowing a specific packet type to pass through the gateway. (Not that the possibility of something automatically makes it a good idea; opening things up this way might very well compromise your level of security below what your policy allows.)

There are problems with this method, though. Remember, TCP/IP has absolutely no means of guaranteeing that the source address is really what it claims to be. As a result, we have to use layers of packet filters in order to localize the traffic. We can't get all the way down to the actual host, but with two layers of packet filters, we can differentiate between a packet that came from the Internet and one that came from our internal network. We can identify which network the packet came from with certainty, but we can't get more specific than that.

Hybrid Systems

In an attempt to marry the security of the application layer gateways with the flexibility and speed of packet filtering, some vendors have created systems that use the principles of both.

A sample packet filtering gateway


  Description: \begin{figure}

\setlength {\unitlength}{0.00041700in}
\put(2926,-961){\vector( 0, 1){675}}\end{picture}\end{center}\end{figure}


In some of these systems, new connections must be authenticated and approved at the application layer. Once this has been done, the remainder of the connection is passed down to the session layer, where packet filters watch the connection to ensure that only packets that are part of an ongoing (already authenticated and approved) conversation are being passed.

Other possibilities include using both packet filtering and application layer proxies. The benefits here include providing a measure of protection against your machines that provide services to the Internet (such as a public web server), as well as provide the security of an application layer gateway to the internal network. Additionally, using this method, an attacker, in order to get to services on the internal network, will have to break through the access router, the bastion host, and the choke router.

Test Your Skills Now!
Take a Quiz now
Reviewer Name