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iptables: The Linux Firewall Administration Program

📄 Contents

  1. Differences Between IPFW and Netfilter Firewall Mechanisms
  2. Basic iptables Syntax
  3. iptables Features
  4. iptables Syntax
  5. Summary
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This chapter covers the iptables firewall administration program used to build a Netfilter firewall. For those of you who are familiar with or accustomed to the older ipfwadm and ipchains programs used with the IPFW technology, iptables will look very similar to those programs. However, it is much more feature-rich and flexible, and it is very different on subtle levels.
This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

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Chapter 2, "Packet-Filtering Concepts," covers the background ideas and concepts behind a packet-filtering firewall. Each built-in rule chain has its own default policy. Each rule can apply not only to an individual chain, but also to a specific network interface, message protocol type (such as TCP, UDP, or ICMP), and service port or ICMP message type number. Individual acceptance, denial, and rejection rules are defined for the INPUT chain and the OUTPUT chain, as well as for the FORWARD chain, which you'll learn about at the end of this chapter and in Chapter 6, "Packet Forwarding." The next chapter pulls those ideas together to demonstrate how to build a simple, single-system, custom-designed firewall for your site.

This chapter covers the iptables firewall administration program used to build a Netfilter firewall. For those of you who are familiar with or accustomed to the older ipfwadm and ipchains programs used with the IPFW technology, iptables will look very similar to those programs. However, it is much more feature-rich and flexible, and it is very different on subtle levels.

There is indeed a difference between iptables and Netfilter, though you'll often hear the terms used interchangeably. Netfilter is the Linux kernel-space program code to implement a firewall within the Linux kernel, either compiled directly into the kernel or included as a set of modules. On the other hand, iptables is the userland program used for administration of the Netfilter firewall. Throughout this text, I will refer to iptables as being inclusive of both Netfilter and iptables, unless otherwise noted.

Differences Between IPFW and Netfilter Firewall Mechanisms

Because iptables is so different from the previous ipchains, this book won’t attempt to cover the older implementation.

The next section is written for the reader who is familiar with or is currently using ipchains. If iptables is your first introduction to Linux firewalling, you can skip ahead to the section "Netfilter Packet Traversal."

If you are converting from ipchains, you’ll notice several minor differences in the iptables syntax, most notably that the input and output network interfaces are identified separately. iptables is highly modularized, and the individual modules must occasionally be loaded explicitly. Logging is a rule target rather than a command option. Connection state tracking can be maintained. Address and Port Translation are now logically separate functions from packet filtering. Full Source and Destination Address Translation are implemented. Masquerading is now a term used to refer to a specialized form of source address NAT. Port forwarding and Destination Address Translation are supported directly without the need for third-party software support such as ipmasqadm.

The most important difference is in how packets are routed or forwarded through the operating system, making for subtle differences in how the firewall rule set is constructed.

For ipchains users, understanding the differences in packet traversal that are discussed in the next two sections is very important. iptables and ipchains look very much alike on the surface, but they are very different in practice. It’s very easy to write syntactically correct iptables rules that have a different effect from what a similar rule would have done in ipchains. It can be confusing. If you already know ipchains, you must keep the differences in mind.

IPFW Packet Traversal

Under IPFW (ipfwadm and ipchains), three built-in filter chains were used. All packets arriving on an interface were filtered against the input chain. If the packet was accepted, it was passed to the routing module. The routing function determined whether the packet was to be delivered locally or forwarded to another outgoing interface. IPFW packet flow is pictured in Figure 3.1.

Figure 3.1

Figure 3.1 IPFW packet traversal. (Figure based on "Linux IPCHAINS-HOWTO," by Rusty Russel, v1.0.8.)

If forwarded, the packet was filtered a second time against the forward chain. If the packet was accepted, it was passed to the output chain.

Both locally generated outgoing packets and forwarded packets were passed to the output chain. If the packet was accepted, it was sent out the interface.

Received and sent local (loopback) packets passed through two filters. Forwarded packets passed through three filters.

The loopback path involved two chains. As shown in Figure 3.2, each loopback packet passed through the output filter before going "out" the loopback interface, where it was then delivered to the loopback’s input interface. Then the input filter was applied.

Note that the loopback path demonstrates why people’s X Window session hangs when starting a firewall script that either doesn’t allow loopback traffic or fails before doing so when a deny by default policy is used.

In the case of response packets being demasqueraded before forwarding them on to the LAN, the input filters were applied. Rather than passing through the routing function, the packet was handed directly to the output filter chain. Thus, demasqueraded incoming packets were filtered twice. Outgoing masqueraded packets were filtered three times.

Figure 3.2

Figure 3.2 IPFW loopback and masqueraded packet traversal. (Figure based on "Linux IPCHAINS-HOWTO," by Rusty Russel, v1.0.8.)

Netfilter Packet Traversal

Under Netfilter (iptables), built-in INPUT, OUTPUT, and FORWARD filter chains are used. Incoming packets pass through the routing function, which determines whether to deliver the packet to the local host’s input chain or on to the forward chain. Netfilter packet flow is pictured in Figure 3.3.

Figure 3.3

Figure 3.3 Netfilter packet traversal. (Figure based on "Linux 2.4 Packet Filtering HOWTO," by Rusty Russel, v1.0.1.)

If a locally destined packet is accepted by the INPUT chain’s rules, the packet is delivered locally. If a remotely destined packet is accepted by the FORWARD chain’s rules, the packet is sent out the appropriate interface.

Outgoing packets from local processes are passed to the OUTPUT chain’s rules. If the packet is accepted, it is sent out the appropriate interface. Thus, each packet is filtered once (except for loopback packets, which are filtered twice).

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