Network Perimeter Security
This chapter covers the following subjects:
Firewalls and Network Security: In this section, you find out about one of the most important strategic pieces in your network security design—the firewall. Then we discuss other network security concepts such as packet filtering, access control lists, proxy servers, and honeypots.
NIDS Versus NIPS: This section delves into the characteristics, advantages, disadvantages, and differences of network intrusion detection systems and network intrusion prevention systems.
This chapter is all about the network border, also known as the network perimeter. This should be a network security administrator’s primary focus when it comes to securing the network because it contains the entrances that many attackers attempt to use.
Allow me to analogize for a few moments. I’ve said it before; as you read this book, you are building yourself an impenetrable castle of knowledge, culminating in hands-on familiarity and the know-how to pass the exam. But we can use the castle analogy for your network as well. Imagine a big stone castle with tall walls, an expanse of clear land around the castle, or perhaps a moat surrounding it (with alligators, of course), and one or more drawbridges. The tall walls are meant to keep the average person out, sort of like a firewall in a computer network—not perfect, but necessary. The open area around the castle makes it difficult for people to sneak up on your castle; they would quickly be detected, just like malicious packets detected by a network intrusion detection system. Or better yet, if you had a moat, people trying to cross it would have a difficult time, would be easy targets for your bowmen, and would probably be gobbled up by your pet alligators. This would represent a network intrusion prevention system, which not only detects threats, but also eliminates those threats to the network.
The drawbridge, or drawbridges, could be seen as network ports open to the network. As drawbridges are part of the castle wall, so network ports are part of the firewall. You, as the network security administrator, have the ability and the right to close these ports at any time. At the risk of taking this analogy even further, you might decide to set traps for people; like a pool of quicksand that has an open netted bag of pyrite suspended above it, or maybe a false entry to the castle that, after a long corridor, is walled off on the inside, ultimately trapping the unwary. In a network environment, these would be known as honeypots. Of course, every once in a while, legitimate traffic needs to enter and exit your network, too! To do this in a more secure fashion, you can set up proxy servers to act as go-betweens for the computers inside your network and the servers they talk to on the Internet: kind of like a sentry in the tower of the castle that would relay an outsider’s messages to someone inside the castle.
The network perimeter is less tangible in an actual network environment (thus the previous use of superfluous metaphor). Networking devices are commonly located in a single server room or data center, or perhaps are located in a hybrid of in-house and cloud-based locations. Either way, they can be difficult to visualize. To better envision your network, one of the best tips I can give you is to map out your network on paper, or create network documentation using programs such as Microsoft Visio and by utilizing network mapping tools (more on these tools in Chapter 12, “Vulnerability and Risk Assessment”).
So, before we end up playing Dungeons & Dragons, let’s talk about one of the most important parts of your strategic defense—the firewall.
Nowadays, firewalls are everywhere. Businesses large and small use them, and many households have simpler versions of these protective devices as well. You need to be aware of several types of firewalls, and you definitely want to spend some time configuring hardware and software firewalls. There are many free software-based firewalls and firmware-based emulators that you can download. A quick search on the Internet will give you several options.
The firewall is there to protect the entire network, but other tools are often implemented as well; for example, proxy servers that help protect users and computers by keeping them anonymous; honeypots meant to attract hackers, crackers, and other types of attackers into a false computer or network; and data loss prevention (DLP) devices to keep confidential data from leaving the network. But by far, the most important element in your network will be the firewall, so let’s begin with that.
In Chapter 3, “Computer Systems Security Part II,” we discussed personal firewalls—you remember, the kind installed to an individual computer. Now let’s broaden the scope of your knowledge with network-based firewalls. Network-based firewalls are primarily used to section off and protect one network from another. They are a primary line of defense and are extremely important in network security. There are several types of firewalls; some run as software on server computers, some as standalone dedicated appliances, and some work as just one function of many on a single device. They are commonly represented as a sort of “brick wall” between a LAN and the Internet, as shown in Figure 8-1.
Just as a firewall in a physical building is there to slow the spread of a fire and contain it until the fire department arrives, a firewall in a computer network is there to keep fire at bay in the form of malicious attacks. Often, a firewall (or the device the firewall resides on) has NAT in operation as well. In Figure 8-1, note that the firewall has a local address of 172.29.250.200; this connects it to the LAN. It also has an Internet address of 22.214.171.124, enabling connectivity for the entire LAN to the Internet, while hiding the LAN IP addresses. By default, the IP address 126.96.36.199 is completely shielded. This means that all inbound ports are effectively closed and will not enable incoming traffic, unless a LAN computer initiates a session with another system on the Internet. However, a good security administrator always checks this to make sure; first, by accessing the firewall’s firmware (or software application, as the case may be) and verifying that the firewall is on, and next by scanning the firewall with third-party applications such as Nmap (https://nmap.org) or with a web-based port scanning utility, as was shown in a Chapter 7 Real-world Scenario. If any ports are open, or unshielded, they should be dealt with immediately. Then the firewall should be rescanned for vulnerabilities. You can find more information on port scanning and vulnerability assessments in Chapter 12.
Important point: Firewalls should be used only as they were intended. The company firewall should not handle any other extraneous services—for example, acting as a web server or SMTP server. By using a firewall as it was intended, its vulnerability is reduced.
Generally, a firewall inspects traffic that passes through it and permits or denies that traffic based on rules set by an administrator. These rules are stored within access control lists (ACLs). In regards to firewalls, an ACL is a set of rules that applies to a list of network names, IP addresses, and port numbers. These rules can be configured to control inbound and outbound traffic. This is a bit different than ACLs with respect to operating systems, which we cover in Chapter 11, “Access Control Methods and Models,” but the same basic principles apply: Basically, one entity is granted or denied permission to another entity. If you decide that a specific type of traffic should be granted access to your network, you would explicitly allow that traffic as a rule within an ACL. If on the other hand you decide that a specific type of traffic should not be granted access, you would explicitly deny that traffic within an ACL. And finally, if a type of network traffic is not defined in the firewall’s rule set, it should be stopped by default. This is the concept of implicit deny and is usually a default rule found in a firewall’s ACL. It is often added automatically to the end of a firewall’s rule set (ACLs) and is also known as “block all.”
Firewall rules should be specific. Here’s an example of a firewall rule:
deny TCP any any port 53
This rule can be used to restrict DNS zone transfers (as they run on top of TCP and use port 53), but other DNS traffic will still function properly. The rule is specific; it gives the transport layer protocol to be filtered, and the exact port, and also states that it applies to any computer’s IP address on the inbound and outbound side. Be careful with firewall rules and ACLs; they need to be written very cautiously so as not to filter required traffic.
Traffic can also be passed to other computers and servers, or to specific ports. For a quick tutorial on setting up virtual servers and port forwarding on a typical SOHO router/firewall, see the following link: http://www.davidlprowse.com/articles/?p=916.
A lot of today’s firewalls have two types of firewall technologies built into them: SPI and NAT. However, you also should be aware of a couple other types of firewall methodologies:
Packet filtering: Inspects each packet passing through the firewall and accepts or rejects it based on rules. However, there are two types: stateless packet inspection and stateful packet inspection (also known as SPI or a stateful firewall). A stateless packet filter, also known as pure packet filtering, does not retain memory of packets that have passed through the firewall; due to this, a stateless packet filter can be vulnerable to IP spoofing attacks. But a firewall running stateful packet inspection is normally not vulnerable to this because it keeps track of the state of network connections by examining the header in each packet. It can distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate packets. This function operates at the network layer of the OSI model.
NAT filtering: Also known as NAT endpoint filtering, filters traffic according to ports (TCP or UDP). This can be done in three ways: by way of basic endpoint connections, by matching incoming traffic to the corresponding outbound IP address connection, or by matching incoming traffic to the corresponding IP address and port.
Application-level gateway (ALG): Applies security mechanisms to specific applications, such as FTP or BitTorrent. It supports address and port translation and checks whether the type of application traffic is allowed. For example, your company might allow FTP traffic through the firewall, but might decide to disable Telnet traffic (probably a wise choice). The ALG checks each type of packet coming in and discards Telnet packets. Although this adds a powerful layer of security, the price is that it is resource-intensive, which could lead to performance degradation.
Circuit-level gateway: Works at the session layer of the OSI model, and applies security mechanisms when a TCP or UDP connection is established; it acts as a go-between for the transport and application layers in TCP/IP. After the connection has been made, packets can flow between the hosts without further checking. Circuit-level gateways hide information about the private network, but they do not filter individual packets.
A firewall can be set up in several different physical configurations. For example, in Chapter 6, “Network Design Elements,” we discussed implementing a DMZ. This could be done in a back-to-back configuration (two firewalls surrounding the DMZ), as shown in Figure 8-2, or as a 3-leg perimeter configuration.
Generally, there will be one firewall with the network and all devices and computers residing “behind” it. By the way, if a device is “behind” the firewall, it is also considered to be “after” the firewall, and if the device is “in front of” the firewall, it is also known as being “before” the firewall. Think of the firewall as the drawbridge of a castle. When you are trying to gain admittance to the castle, the drawbridge will probably be closed. You would be in front of the drawbridge, and the people inside the castle would be behind the drawbridge. This is a basic analogy but should help you to understand the whole “in front of” and “behind” business as it relates to data attempting to enter the network and devices that reside on your network.
Logging is also important when it comes to a firewall. Firewall logs should be the first thing you check when an intrusion has been detected. You should know how to access the logs and how to read them. For example, Figure 8-3 shows two screen captures: The first displays the Internet sessions on a basic SOHO router/firewall, and the second shows log events such as blocked packets. Look at the blocked Gnutella packet that is pointed out. I know it is a Gnutella packet because the inbound port on my firewall that the external computer is trying to connect to shows as port 6346; this associates with Gnutella. Gnutella is an older P2P file-sharing network. None of the computers on this particular network use or are in any way connected to the Gnutella service. These external computers are just random clients of the Gnutella P2P network trying to connect to anyone possible.
It’s good that these packets have been blocked, but maybe you don’t want the IP address shown (188.8.131.52) to have any capability to connect to your network at all. To eliminate that IP, you could add it to an inbound filter or to an ACL.
So far, we have discussed host-based firewalls (in Chapter 3) and, just now, network-based firewalls. However, both of these firewalls can also fall into the category of application firewall. If either type runs protocols that operate on the application layer of the OSI model, then it can be classified as an application firewall. That means that it can control the traffic associated with specific applications. This is something a stateful network firewall cannot do, as this function operates at the application layer of the OSI model. Many host-based firewalls fall into this category, but when it comes to network-based firewalls, it varies. A basic SOHO router with built-in firewalling capabilities would usually not fall into the application firewall category. However, more advanced network appliances from companies such as Barracuda, Citrix, Fortinet, and Smoothwall do fall into this category. This means that they allow for more in-depth monitoring of the network by controlling the input, output, and access to applications and services all the way up through the application layer of the OSI model. These appliances might also be referred to as network-based application layer firewalls. Now that’s a mouthful—just be ready for multiple terms used by companies and technicians.
Going a step further, some of the aforementioned network appliances have tools that are designed to specifically protect HTTP sessions from XSS attacks and SQL injection. These types of tools are known as web application firewalls. WAFs can help to protect the servers in your environment.
A firewall appliance needs more than one network adapter so that it can connect to more than one network; this is known as a multihomed connection. It might be dual-homed (two adapters), or perhaps it has more, maybe three network adapters, in case you want to implement a DMZ or another perimeter security technique.
Firewalls are often considered to be all-in-one devices, but actually they provide specific functionality as discussed in this section. Still, it is common to hear people refer to a firewall when they are really talking about another technology, or even another device. For example, many SOHO users have an all-in-one multifunction network device. This device has four ports for wired connections, plus a wireless antenna; it connects all the computers to the Internet, and finally has a firewall built-in. Because some users consider this to be simply a firewall, you should teach them about the benefits of disabling SSID broadcasting, and enabling MAC filtering. By disabling Service Set Identifier (SSID) broadcasting, the average user cannot connect wirelessly to the device. An attacker knows how to bypass this, but it is an important element of security that you should implement after all trusted computers have been connected wirelessly. MAC filtering denies access to any computer that does not have one of the MAC addresses you list, another powerful tool that we will cover more in Chapter 9, “Securing Network Media and Devices."
To make matters a bit more confusing, a firewall can also act as, or in combination with, a proxy server, which we discuss in the following section.
A proxy server acts as an intermediary for clients, usually located on a LAN, and the servers that they want to access, usually located on the Internet. By definition, proxy means go-between, or mediator, acting as such a mediator in between a private network and a public network. The proxy server evaluates requests from clients and, if they meet certain criteria, forwards them to the appropriate server. There are several types of proxies, including a couple you should know for the exam:
IP proxy: Secures a network by keeping machines behind it anonymous; it does this through the use of NAT. For example, a basic four-port router can act as an IP proxy for the clients on the LAN it protects. An IP proxy can be the victim of many of the network attacks mentioned in Chapter 6, especially DoS attacks. Regardless of whether the IP proxy is an appliance or a computer, it should be updated regularly, and its log files should be monitored periodically and audited according to organization policies.
Other types of proxies are available to apply policies, block undesirable websites, audit employee usage, and scan for malware. One device or computer might do all these things or just one or two. It depends on the software used or appliance installed. Reverse proxies can also be implemented to protect a DMZ server’s identity or to provide authentication and other secure tasks. This is done when users on the Internet are accessing server resources on your network. Generally, a proxy server has more than one network adapter so that it can connect to the various networks it is acting as a mediator for. Each of the network adapters in a proxy should be periodically monitored for improper traffic and for possible network attacks and other vulnerabilities. A proxy server might be the same device as a firewall, or it could be separate. Because of this, a multitude of network configurations are possible. Proxy servers, especially HTTP proxies, can be used maliciously to record traffic sent through them; because most of the traffic is sent in unencrypted form, this could be a security risk. A possible mitigation for this is to chain multiple proxies together in an attempt to confuse any onlookers and potential attackers.
Most often, a proxy server is implemented as a forward proxy. This means that clients looking for websites, or files via an FTP connection, pass their requests through to the proxy. However, there is also a reverse proxy, where multiple HTTP or FTP servers use a proxy server and send out content to one or more clients. These HTTP and FTP servers could be located in a server farm or similar grouping, and the reverse proxy might also undertake the role of load balancer in this situation. A reverse proxy can act as another layer of defense for an organization’s FTP or HTTP servers. An application proxy might be used as a reverse proxy; for example, Microsoft’s Web Application Proxy, which enables remote users to connect to the organization’s internal network to access multiple servers. These are often multipurpose by design, allowing for HTTP, FTP, e-mail, and other types of data connections. However, it could be that you have a single application stored on several servers. Those servers can work together utilizing clustering technology. The clustering might be controlled by the servers themselves or, more commonly, a load balancer can be installed in front of the servers that distributes the network load among them. That load balancer in effect acts as a reverse proxy.
Regardless of the type of proxy used, it will often modify the requests of the “client computer,” whatever that client is, providing for a level of anonymity. But in some cases, you might need a proxy that does not modify requests. This is known as a transparent proxy. While it allows for increased efficiency, there is less protection for the client system.
Another example of a proxy in action is Internet content filtering. An Internet content filter, or simply a content filter, is usually applied as software at the application layer and can filter out various types of Internet activities such as websites accessed, e-mail, instant messaging, and more. It often functions as a content inspection device, and disallows access to inappropriate web material (estimated to be a big percentage of the Internet!) or websites that take up far too much of an organization’s Internet bandwidth. Internet content filters can be installed on individual clients, but by far the more efficient implementation is as an individual proxy that acts as a mediator between all the clients and the Internet. These proxy versions of content filters secure the network in two ways: one, by forbidding access to potentially malicious websites, and two, by blocking access to objectionable material that employees might feel is offensive. It can also act as a URL filter; even if employees inadvertently type an incorrect URL, they can rest assured that any objectionable material will not show up on their display.
Internet filtering appliances analyze just about all the data that comes through them, including Internet content, URLs, HTML tags, metadata, and security certificates such as the kind you would automatically receive when going to a secure site that starts with https. (However, revoked certificates and certificate revocation lists, or CRLs, will not be filtered because they are only published periodically. More on certificates and CRLs is provided in Chapter 15, “PKI and Encryption Protocols.") Some of these appliances are even capable of malware inspection. Another similar appliance is the web security gateway. Web security gateways (such as Forcepoint, previously known as Websense) act as go-between devices that scan for viruses, filter content, and act as data loss prevention (DLP) devices. This type of content inspection/content filtering is accomplished by actively monitoring the users’ data streams in search of malicious code, bad behavior, or confidential data that should not be leaked outside the network.
As you can see, many, many options for security devices are available for your network, and many vendors offer them. Based on price, you can purchase all kinds of devices, from ones that do an individual task, to ones that are combinations of everything we spoke about so far, which are also known as all-in-one security appliances or unified threat management (UTM) devices (discussed in the upcoming “NIDS Versus NIPS” section).
Proxies, content filters, and web security gateways are examples of servers that probably face the Internet directly. These “Internet-facing servers” require security controls before they are installed. The two most important security controls are to keep the application up to date, and to review and apply vendor-provided hardening documentation. Remember to do these things before putting the proxy server (or other Internet-facing servers) in a live environment.
Honeypots and honeynets attract and trap potential attackers to counteract any attempts at unauthorized access of the network. This isolates the potential attacker in a monitored area and contains dummy resources that look to be of value to the perpetrator. While an attacker is trapped in one of these, their methods can be studied and analyzed, and the results of those analyses can be applied to the general security of the functional network.
A honeypot is generally a single computer but could also be a file, group of files, or an area of unused IP address space, whereas a honeynet is one or more computers, servers, or an area of a network; a honeynet is used when a single honeypot is not sufficient. Either way, the individual computer, or group of servers, will usually not house any important company information. Various analysis tools are implemented to study the attacker; these tools, along with a centralized group of honeypots (or a honeynet), are known collectively as a honeyfarm.
One example of a honeypot in action is the spam honeypot. Spam e-mail is one of the worst banes known to a network administrator; a spam honeypot can lure spammers in, enabling the network administrators to study the spammers’ techniques and habits, thus allowing the network admins to better protect their actual e-mail servers, SMTP relays, SMTP proxies, and so on, over the long term. It might ultimately keep the spammers away from the real e-mail addresses, because the spammers are occupied elsewhere. Some of the information gained by studying spammers is often shared with other network admins or organizations’ websites dedicated to reducing spam. A spam honeypot could be as simple as a single e-mail address or as complex as an entire e-mail domain with multiple SMTP servers.
Of course, as with any technology that studies attackers, honeypots also bear risks to the legitimate network. The honeypot or honeynet should be carefully firewalled off from the legitimate network to ensure that the attacker can’t break through.
Often, honeypots and honeynets are used as part of a more complex solution known as a network intrusion detection system, discussed following a short review of data loss prevention.
We mentioned DLP in Chapter 3. Let’s discuss it briefly now as it relates to networks. Data loss prevention (DLP) systems are designed to protect data by way of content inspection. They are meant to stop the leakage of confidential data, often concentrating on communications. As such, they are also referred to as data leak prevention (DLP) devices, information leak prevention (ILP) devices, and extrusion prevention systems. Regardless, they are intended to be used to keep data from leaking past a computer system or network and into unwanted hands.
In network-based DLP, systems deal with data in motion and are usually located on the perimeter of the network. If data is classified in an organization’s policy as confidential and not to be read by outsiders, the DLP system detects it and prevents it from leaving the network. Network-based DLP systems can be hardware-based or software-based. An example of a network-based DLP system would be one that detects and prevents the transfer of confidential e-mail information outside the network. Organizations such as Check Point offer DLP solutions, and there are some free open source applications as well. Going further, there are cloud-based DLP solutions available. But it all depends on where you store your data. If you store some or all of your data on the cloud, or if you have a large bring your own device (BYOD) or choose your own device (CYOD) population, then cloud-based DLP becomes an important part of your security strategy. Because the data—and the security of that data—is now external from the company, planning becomes even more vital. Some key elements of the security mindset include: 1) planning for the mitigation of security risks; 2) adequate understanding of the cloud-based provider, where and how data is stored, and their service-level agreement (SLA); 3) in-depth analysis of code and the types of data that will be stored in the cloud; and 4) strong authentication, auditing, and logging. If all this is planned for and implemented properly, it can build the organization’s confidence in the cloud, which can lead to a smoother transition, and ultimately reduce risk. However, all this becomes a bigger conversation: We’ll talk more about general mindsets when dealing with cloud-based companies in Chapter 16, “Redundancy and Disaster Recovery,” and Chapter 18, “Policies and Procedures."
As for DLP, the monitoring of possible leaked information could become a privacy concern. Before implementing a system of this nature, it is important to review your organization’s privacy policies. Leaks can still occur due to poor implementation of DLP systems, so it is essential to plan what type of DLP solution your organization needs, exactly how it will be installed, and how it will be monitored.
It’s not a battle royale, but you should be able to differentiate between a network intrusion detection system (NIDS) and a network intrusion prevention system (NIPS) for the exam. Previously, in Chapter 4, “OS Hardening and Virtualization,” we discussed host-based intrusion detection systems (or HIDSs). Although a great many attacks can hamper an individual computer, just as many network attacks could possibly take down a server, switch, router, or even an entire network. Network-based IDSs were developed to detect these malicious network attacks, and network-based IPSs were developed in an attempt to prevent them.
A network intrusion detection system (NIDS) by definition is a type of IDS that attempts to detect malicious network activities, for example, port scans and DoS attacks, by constantly monitoring network traffic. It can also be instrumental in rogue machine detection, including rogue desktops, laptops, and mobile devices, as well as rogue access points, DHCP servers, and network sniffers. Examples of NIDS solutions include open-source products such as Snort (https://www.snort.org/), Bro (https://www.bro.org/), and many other commercial hardware and software-based products. A NIDS should be situated at the entrance or gateway to your network. It is not a firewall but should be used with a firewall. Because the NIDS inspects every packet that traverses your network, it needs to be fast; basically, the slower the NIDS, the slower the network. So, the solution itself, the computer/device it is installed on, and the network connections of that computer/device all need to be planned out accordingly to ensure that the NIDS does not cause network performance degradation.
Figure 8-5 illustrates how a NIDS might be implemented on a network. Often it is placed in front of a firewall. The NIDS detects attacks and anomalies and alerts the administrator if they occur, whereas the firewall does its best to prevent those attacks from entering the network. However, a NIDS could be placed behind the firewall, or you might have multiple NIDS points strategically placed around the network. If the NIDS is placed in front of the firewall, it generates a lot more administrator alerts, but these can usually be whittled down within the firmware or software of the device running the NIDS. Regardless of where the NIDS is located, a network administrator should monitor traffic from time to time; to do so, the computer, server, or appliance that has the NIDS installed should have a network adapter configured to work in promiscuous mode. This passes all traffic to the CPU, not just the frames addressed to it.
The beauty of a NIDS is that you might get away with one or two NIDS points on the network, and do away with some or all the HIDS installed on individual computers, effectively lowering the bottom line while still doing a decent job of mitigating risk. A couple of disadvantages of a NIDS, aside from possible network performance issues, are that it might not be able to read encrypted packets of information and will not detect problems that occur on an individual computer. Therefore, to secure a network and its hosts, many organizations implement a mixture of NIDS and HIDS. If a NIDS is placed in front of the firewall, it is subject to attack; therefore, it should be monitored and updated regularly. Some NIDS solutions will auto-update. Finally, the biggest disadvantage of a NIDS is that it is passive, meaning it only detects attacks; to protect against, or prevent, these attacks, you need something active, you need a NIPS.
A network intrusion prevention system (NIPS) is designed to inspect traffic and, based on its configuration or security policy, either remove, detain, or redirect malicious traffic that it becomes aware of. The NIPS (as well as the NIDS) is considered to be an application-aware device, meaning it can divine different types of packets, define what application they are based on, and ultimately permit or disallow that traffic on the network. More and more companies are offering NIPS solutions in addition to, or instead of, NIDS solutions. Examples of NIPS solutions include Check Point security appliances (https://www.checkpoint.com), and the aforementioned Snort, which is actually a NIDS/NIPS software package that should be installed on a dual-homed or multihomed server. Not only can a NIPS go above and beyond a NIDS by removing or redirecting malicious traffic, it can also redirect a recognized attacker to a single computer known as a padded cell, which contains no information of value and has no way out.
Like a NIDS, a NIPS should sit inline on the network, often in front of the firewall, although it could be placed elsewhere, depending on the network segment it protects and the network architecture. Whereas many NIPS solutions have two connections only and are known as perimeter solutions, other NIPS appliances have up to 16 ports enabling many points of detection on the network—these would be known as network “core” devices. Regardless of the solution you select, as packets pass through the device, they are inspected for possible attacks. These devices need to be accurate and updated often (hopefully automatically) to avoid the misidentification of legitimate traffic, or worse, the misidentification of attacks. If the NIPS blocks legitimate traffic, it would be known as a false positive, and effectively could deny service to legitimate customers, creating a self-inflicted denial-of-service of sorts.
If the IPS does not have a particular attack’s signature in its database, and lets that attack through thinking it is legitimate traffic, it is known as a false negative, also bad for obvious reasons! Many IPS systems can monitor for attack signatures and anomalies. More information on signatures can be found in Chapter 4 and Chapter 13, “Monitoring and Auditing." Another type of error that can occur with NIDS and NIPS is a subversion error; this is when the NIDS/NIPS has been altered by an attacker to allow for false negatives, ultimately leading to attacks creeping into the network. This can be deadly because the NIDS/NIPS often is the first point of resistance in the network. To protect against this, some devices have the capability to hide or mask their IP address. They might also come with an internal firewall. It is also important to select an IPS solution that has a secure channel for the management console interface.
One advantage of newer NIPS solutions is that some of them can act as protocol analyzers by reading encrypted traffic and stopping encrypted attacks. In general, the beauty of a NIPS compared to a host-based IPS (HIPS) is that it can protect non-computer-based network devices such as switches, routers, and firewalls. However, the NIPS is considered a single point of failure because it sits inline on the network. Due to this, some organizations opt to install a bypass switch, which also enables the NIPS to be taken offline when maintenance needs to be done.
A vital NIPS consideration is whether to implement a fail-close or fail-open policy—in essence, deciding what will happen if the NIPS fails. Fail-close means that all data transfer is stopped, while fail-open means that data transfer (including potential attacks) are passed through. Let’s consider an example. Say that the NIPS was protecting an individual server (or router), and had a certain level of control over that system. Now let’s say that the NIPS failed. In a fail-close scenario, it would disconnect the system that it is protecting, stopping all data transfer. This is unacceptable to some organizations that require near 100 percent uptime. These organizations are willing to accept additional risk, and therefore are more receptive to a fail-open scenario. However, in this case, if the NIPS fails, it continues to pass all traffic to the “protected” system, which could include possible attacks. Sometimes, fail-open scenarios are necessary. In these cases, defense in depth is the best strategy. For instance, you might opt to have a firewall filter the bulk of traffic coming into the network, but have the IPS filter only specific traffic, reducing the chances of IPS failure. This layered approach can offer greater security with less chance of attacks passing through, but often comes with increased cost and administration.
Table 8-1 summarizes NIDS versus NIPS.
Type of System
Detects malicious network activities
Pro: Only a limited number of NIDSs are necessary on a network.
Con: Only detects malicious activities.
Detects, removes, detains, and redirects traffic
Pro: Detects and mitigates malicious activity.
Pro: Can act as a protocol analyzer.
Con: Uses more resources.
Con: Possibility of false positives and false negatives.
Check Point Systems solutions
You might be familiar already with protocol analyzers such as Wireshark (previously Ethereal) or Network Monitor. These are loaded on a computer and are controlled by the user in a GUI environment; they capture packets, enabling the user to analyze them and view their contents. However, some NIDS/NIPS solutions are considered to be full protocol analyzers with no user intervention required. The protocol analyzer is built into the NIDS/NIPS appliance. It decodes application layer protocols, such as HTTP, FTP, or SMTP, and forwards the results to the IDS or IPS analysis engine. Then the analysis engine studies the information for anomalous or behavioral exploits. This type of analysis can block many exploits based on a single signature. This is superior to basic signature pattern recognition (without protocol analysis), because with signature-based IDS/IPS solutions, many signatures have to be constantly downloaded and stored in the device’s database, and they don’t enable dynamic understanding of new attacks. However, as with any powerful analysis, like protocol analysis, a premium is placed on processing power, and the price of these types of IDS/IPS solutions will undoubtedly be higher.
There are also wireless versions of IDS: WIDS and WIPS. They monitor the radio spectrum for unauthorized access and rogue access points. However, these names might be incorporated into the concept of NIDS and NIPS by some organizations. Regardless, be sure to use an IDS (or IPS) for your wired and wireless connections!
A relatively newer concept, unified threat management (UTM) is the culmination of everything we discussed in this chapter so far. As early as the year 2000, it was realized that the firewall was no longer enough to protect an organization’s network. Other devices and technologies such as NIDS/NIPS systems, content filters, anti-malware gateways, data leak prevention, and virtual private networks were added to the network in order to better protect it. However, with all these extra devices and technologies come added cost and more administration. And so, UTM providers simplify the whole situation by offering all-in-one devices that combine the various levels of defense into one solution. The all-in-one device might also be referred to as a next-generation firewall (NGFW). Companies such as Cisco, Fortinet, and Sophos (to name a few) offer UTM and NGFW solutions; often this is a single device that sits last on the network before the Internet connection. They usually come with a straightforward web-based GUI, which is good news for the beleaguered security administrator who might be burning the midnight oil researching the latest attacks and prevention methods. There’s a caveat to all this, and it is a common theme in network security: a single point of defense is a single point of failure. Get past the UTM, and your job as an attacker is done. Secondary and backup UTM devices, as well as server-based HIDSs, strike a balance and create a certain level of defense in depth, while still retaining a level of simplicity. Another consideration is that UTMs should be quick. If they are to take the place of several other devices, then their data processing and traffic flow requirements will be steep. The smart network administrator/security administrator will consider a device that exceeds their current needs and then some.
It was important to discuss each of the tools and technologies separately in this chapter so that you understand how to work with each. But keep in mind that many of these technologies are consolidated into a single solution, a trend that will likely continue as we move forward.
Well, it goes without saying that there are many potential attackers who would “storm the castle.” The question presents itself: Have you performed your due diligence in securing your computer networking kingdom?
If you answered yes, then it most likely means you have implemented some kind of unified threat management solution; one that includes a firewall, content filter, anti-malware technology, IDS/IPS, and possibly other network security technologies. This collaborative effort makes for a strong network perimeter. The firewall is at the frontlines, whether it is part of a UTM or running as a separate device. Its importance can’t be stressed enough, and you can’t just implement a firewall; it has to be configured properly with your organization’s policies in mind. ACLs, stateful packet inspection, and network address translation should be employed to solidify your firewall solution.
If you answered no, then prepare ye for more metaphorical expression. Remember that enemy forces are everywhere. They are lying in wait just outside your network, and they can even reside within your network—for example, the malicious insider, that dragon who has usurped the mountain and is perhaps in control of your precious treasure...your data. Analogies aside, this is all clear and present danger—it is real, and should be enough to convince you to take strong measures to protect your network.
Often, the act of securing the network can also provide increased efficiency and productivity. For example, a proxy server can act to filter content, and can provide anonymity, but also saves time and bandwidth for commonly accessed data. A honeypot can trap an attacker, thus securing the network, but the secondary result is that network bandwidth is not gobbled up by the powerful attacker. However, the same act can have the opposite effect. For example, a NIDS that is installed to detect anomalies in packets can slow down the network if it is not a powerful enough model. For increased efficiency (and lower all-around cost), consider an all-in-one device such as a UTM, which includes functionality such as firewalling, IDS/IPS, AV, VPN, and DLP. Just make sure it has the core processing and memory required to keep up with the amount of data that will flow through your network.
If you can find the right balance of security and performance while employing your network security solution, it will be analogous to your network donning the aegis, acting as a powerful shield against network attacks from within and without.
Use the features in this section to study and review the topics in this chapter.
Review the most important topics in the chapter, noted with the Key Topic icon in the outer margin of the page. Table 8-2 lists a reference of these key topics and the page number on which each is found.
Key Topic Element
Diagram of a basic firewall
Types of firewalls
Back-to-back firewall/DMZ configuration
Types of proxies
Illustration of an HTTP proxy in action
Illustration of NIDS placement in a network
Summary of NIDS versus NIPS
Define the following key terms from this chapter, and check your answers in the glossary:
network perimeter, access control list, explicit allow, explicit deny, implicit deny, packet filtering, stateful packet inspection, application-level gateway, circuit-level gateway, application firewall, web application firewall, proxy server, IP proxy, HTTP proxy (web proxy), proxy auto-configuration (PAC), Internet content filter, web security gateway, honeypot, honeynet, data loss prevention (DLP), network intrusion detection system (NIDS), promiscuous mode, network intrusion prevention system (NIPS), false positive, false negative, unified threat management (UTM)
Complete the Real-World Scenarios found on the companion website (www.pearsonitcertification.com/title/9780789758996). You will find a PDF containing the scenario and questions, and also supporting videos and simulations.
Answer the following review questions. Check your answers with the correct answers that follow.
1. Which tool would you use if you want to view the contents of a packet?
B. Port scanner
C. Protocol analyzer
D. Loopback adapter
2. The honeypot concept is enticing to administrators because
A. It enables them to observe attacks.
B. It traps an attacker in a network.
C. It bounces attacks back at the attacker.
D. It traps a person physically between two locked doors.
3. James has detected an intrusion in his company network. What should he check first?
A. DNS logs
B. Firewall logs
C. The Event Viewer
D. Performance logs
4. Which of the following devices should you employ to protect your network? (Select the best answer.)
A. Protocol analyzer
D. Proxy server
5. Which device’s log file will show access control lists and who was allowed access and who wasn’t?
C. Performance Monitor
D. IP proxy
6. Where are software firewalls usually located?
A. On routers
B. On servers
C. On clients
D. On every computer
7. Where is the optimal place to have a proxy server?
A. In between two private networks
B. In between a private network and a public network
C. In between two public networks
D. On all of the servers
8. A coworker has installed an SMTP server on the company firewall. What security principle does this violate?
A. Chain of custody
B. Use of a device as it was intended
C. Man trap
D. Use of multifunction network devices
9. You are working on a server and are busy implementing a network intrusion detection system on the network. You need to monitor the network traffic from the server. What mode should you configure the network adapter to work in?
A. Half-duplex mode
B. Full-duplex mode
C. Auto-configuration mode
D. Promiscuous mode
10. Which of the following displays a single public IP address to the Internet while hiding a group of internal private IP addresses?
A. HTTP proxy
B. Protocol analyzer
C. IP proxy
D. SMTP proxy
11. If your ISP blocks objectionable material, what device would you guess has been implemented?
A. Proxy server
C. Internet content filter
12. Of the following, which is a collection of servers that was set up to attract attackers?
13. Which of the following will detect malicious packets and discard them?
A. Proxy server
14. Which of the following will an Internet filtering appliance analyze? (Select the three best answers.)
C. Certificate revocation lists
15. Which of the following devices would detect but not react to suspicious behavior on the network? (Select the most accurate answer.)
16. One of the programmers in your organization complains that he can no longer transfer files to the FTP server. You check the network firewall and see that the proper FTP ports are open. What should you check next?
C. AV definitions
D. FTP permissions
17. Which of the following is likely to be the last rule contained within the ACLs of a firewall?
A. Time of day restrictions
B. Explicit allow
C. IP allow any
D. Implicit deny
18. Which of the following best describes an IPS?
A. A system that identifies attacks
B. A system that stops attacks in progress
C. A system that is designed to attract and trap attackers
D. A system that logs attacks for later analysis
19. What is a device doing when it actively monitors data streams for malicious code?
A. Content inspection
B. URL filtering
C. Load balancing
20. Allowing or denying traffic based on ports, protocols, addresses, or direction of data is an example of what?
A. Port security
B. Content inspection
C. Firewall rules
21. Which of the following should a security administrator implement to limit web-based traffic that is based on the country of origin? (Select the three best answers.)
A. AV software
B. Proxy server
C. Spam filter
D. Load balancer
F. URL filter
22. You have implemented a technology that enables you to review logs from computers located on the Internet. The information gathered is used to find out about new malware attacks. What have you implemented?
B. Protocol analyzer
23. Which of the following is a layer 7 device used to prevent specific types of HTML tags from passing through to the client computer?
C. Content filter
24. Your boss has asked you to implement a solution that will monitor users and limit their access to external websites. Which of the following is the best solution?
B. Proxy server
C. Block all traffic on port 80
25. Which of the following firewall rules only denies DNS zone transfers?
deny IP any any
deny TCP any any port 53
deny UDP any any port 53
deny all dns packets
1. C. A protocol analyzer has the capability to “drill” down through a packet and show the contents of that packet as they correspond to the OSI model. A TDR is a time-domain reflectometer, a tool used to locate faults in cabling. (I threw that one in for fun. It is a Network+ level concept, so you security people should know it!) A port scanner identifies open network ports on a computer or device; we’ll discuss that more in Chapters 12 and 13. A loopback adapter is a device that can test a switch port or network adapter (depending on how it is used).
2. A. By creating a honeypot, the administrator can monitor attacks without sustaining damage to a server or other computer. Don’t confuse this with a honeynet (answer B), which is meant to attract and trap malicious attackers in an entirely false network. Answer C is not something that an administrator would normally do, and answer D is defining a man trap.
3. B. If there was an intrusion, James should check the firewall logs first. DNS logs in the Event Viewer and the performance logs will most likely not show intrusions to the company network. The best place to look first is the firewall logs.
4. B. Install a firewall to protect the network. Protocol analyzers do not help to protect a network but are valuable as vulnerability assessment and monitoring tools. Although a DMZ and a proxy server could possibly help to protect a portion of the network to a certain extent, the best answer is firewall.
5. A. A firewall contains one or more access control lists (ACLs) defining who is enabled to access the network. The firewall can also show attempts at access and whether they succeeded or failed. A smartphone might list who called or e-mailed, but as of the writing of this book does not use ACLs. Performance Monitor analyzes the performance of a computer, and an IP proxy deals with network address translation, hiding many private IP addresses behind one public address. Although the function of an IP proxy is often built into a firewall, the best answer would be firewall.
6. C. Software-based firewalls, such as Windows Firewall, are normally running on the client computers. Although a software-based firewall could also be run on a server, it is not as common. Also, a SOHO router might have a built-in firewall, but not all routers have firewalls.
7. B. Proxy servers should normally be between the private network and the public network. This way they can act as a go-between for all the computers located on the private network. This applies especially to IP proxy servers but might also include HTTP proxy servers.
8. B. SMTP servers should not be installed on a company firewall. This is not the intention of a firewall device. The SMTP server should most likely be installed within a DMZ.
9. D. To monitor the implementation of NIDS on the network, you should configure the network adapter to work in promiscuous mode; this forces the network adapter to pass all the traffic it receives to the processor, not just the frames that were addressed to that particular network adapter. The other three answers have to do with duplexing—whether the network adapter can send and receive simultaneously.
10. C. An IP proxy displays a single public IP address to the Internet while hiding a group of internal private IP addresses. It sends data back and forth between the IP addresses by using network address translation (NAT). This functionality is usually built into SOHO routers and is one of the main functions of those routers. HTTP proxies store commonly accessed Internet information. Protocol analyzers enable the capture and viewing of network data. SMTP proxies act as a go-between for e-mail. PAC stands for proxy auto-config, a file built into web browsers that allows the browser to automatically connect to a proxy server.
11. C. An Internet content filter, usually implemented as content-control software, can block objectionable material before it ever gets to the user. This is common in schools, government agencies, and many companies.
12. C. A honeynet is a collection of servers set up to attract attackers. A honeypot is usually one computer or one server that has the same purpose. A DMZ is the demilitarized zone that is in between the LAN and the Internet. A VLAN is a virtual LAN.
13. C. A NIPS, or network intrusion prevention system, detects and discards malicious packets. A NIDS only detects them and alerts the administrator. A proxy server acts as a go-between for clients sending data to systems on the Internet. PAT is port-based address translation.
14. A, B, and D. Internet filtering appliances will analyze content, certificates, and URLs. However, certificate revocation lists will most likely not be analyzed. Remember that CRLs are published only periodically.
15. C. A NIDS, or network intrusion detection system, will detect suspicious behavior but most likely will not react to it. To prevent it and react to it, you would want a NIPS. Firewalls block certain types of traffic but by default do not check for suspicious behavior. HIDS is the host-based version of an IDS; it checks only the local computer, not the network. A UTM is an all-inclusive security product that will probably include an IDS or IPS—but you don’t know which, so you can’t assume that a UTM will function in the same manner as a NIDS.
16. A. Access control lists can stop specific network traffic (such as FTP transfers) even if the appropriate ports are open. A NIDS will detect traffic and report on it but not prevent it. Antivirus definitions have no bearing on this scenario. If the programmer was able to connect to the FTP server, the password should not be an issue. FTP permissions might be an issue, but since you are working in the firewall, you should check the ACL first; then later you can check on the FTP permissions, passwords, and so on.
17. D. Implicit deny (block all) is often the last rule in a firewall; it is added automatically by the firewall, not by the user. Any rules that allow traffic will be before the implicit deny/block all on the list. Time of day restrictions will probably be stored elsewhere but otherwise would be before the implicit deny as well.
18. B. An IPS (intrusion prevention system) is a system that prevents or stops attacks in progress. A system that only identifies attacks would be an IDS. A system designed to attract and trap attackers would be a honeypot. A system that logs attacks would also be an IDS or one of several other devices or servers.
19. A. A device that is actively monitoring data streams for malicious code is inspecting the content. URL filtering is the inspection of the URL only (for example, https://www.comptia.org). Load balancing is the act of dividing up workload between multiple computers; we’ll discuss that more in Chapter 16, “Redundancy and Disaster Recovery." NAT is network address translation, which is often accomplished by a firewall or IP proxy.
20. C. Firewall rules (ACLs) are generated to allow or deny traffic. They can be based on ports, protocols, IP addresses, or which way the data is headed. Port security deals more with switches and the restriction of MAC addresses that are allowed to access particular physical ports. Content inspection is the filtering of web content, checking for inappropriate or malicious material. A honeynet is a group of computers or other systems designed to attract and trap an attacker.
21. B, E, and F. The security administrator should implement a proxy server, a firewall, and/or a URL filter. These can all act as tools to reduce or limit the amount of traffic based on a specific country. AV software checks for, and quarantines, malware. Spam filters will reduce the amount of spam that an e-mail address or entire e-mail server receives. A load balancer spreads out the network load to various switches, routers, and servers. A NIDS is used to detect anomalies in network traffic.
22. A. A honeynet has been employed. This is a group of computers on the Internet, or on a DMZ (and sometimes on the LAN), that is used to trap attackers and analyze their attack methods, whether they are network attacks or malware attempts. A protocol analyzer captures packets on a specific computer in order to analyze them but doesn’t capture logs per se. A firewall is used to block network attacks but not malware. A proxy is used to cache websites and act as a filter for clients.
23. C. A content filter is an application layer (layer 7) device that is used to prevent undesired HTML tags, URLs, certificates, and so on, from passing through to the client computers. A router is used to connect IP networks. A firewall blocks network attacks. A NIDS is used to detect anomalous traffic.
24. B. You should implement a proxy server. This can limit access to specific websites, and monitor who goes to which websites. Also, it can often filter various HTML and website content. A NIDS is used to report potentially unwanted data traffic that is found on the network. Blocking all traffic on port 80 is something you would accomplish at a firewall, but that would stop all users from accessing any websites that use inbound port 80 (the great majority of them!). A honeypot is a group of computers used to lure attackers in and trap them for later analysis.
25. B. The firewall rule listed that only denies DNS zone transfers is
deny TCP any any port 53. As mentioned in Chapter 7, “Networking Protocols and Threats,” DNS uses port 53, and DNS zone transfers specifically use TCP. This rule will apply to any computer’s IP address initiating zone transfers on the inbound and outbound sides. If you configured the rule for UDP, other desired DNS functionality would be lost. Denying IP in general would have additional unwanted results. When creating a firewall rule (or ACL), you need to be very specific so that you do not filter out desired traffic.