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Some points regarding typical configurations will be detailed below, linking to other places in these documents if possible. A disclaimer is in order, however: the security concepts below are always subject to the possibility that a very smart cracker finds a way to bypass the protections. Use it at your own risk.

Network security concerns

A very common network setup based on Linux is similar to the following:

A network

The picture depicts a network made out of 3 workstations, running whatever operating system is required, a server (running Linux, in our examples), a router (which can be replaced by a internal dial-up adapter in the server, be it a analog modem or a ISDN board, etc), and the Internet.

We are assuming, for our analysis, that the router is some sort of transparent device, that is, it is accessed by a single IP address from the server side. Also, the server has a dedicated network adapter connecting it to the inner network. The router would be connected to another network adapter, inner port, etc.

From the above, we can define the server as being both the firewall and the Internet router. We want to enable the workstations access to the Internet in the most secure way possible.

The usual solution is to deploy a firewall on the server, limiting the kind of traffic that can reach the workstations (and the server itself) from the Internet. The problem with this approach is that one runs the risk of limiting either too much (negating access to unforeseen legitimate access) or not enough (opening access to risky traffic).

The other solution, assuming that the inner network is trusted (that is, that the workstations won't hack each other and won't deliberately open access to risky traffic) is to make the workstation unroutable from the Internet. This means that no one from the Internet would be able to create a path to a individual workstation without the intervention of the server.

The server would then accept traffic from the inner network, and translate that traffic from the point of vue of the Internet as if it was coming from the server itself, reversing the translation for legitimate traffic from the Internet only. This is called IP masquerading or NAT (Network Address Translation).

This approach has the (dis)advantage that it wouldn't be possible to initiate a connection from the Internet into a local workstation. Some legitimate protocols may have problems with this:

The "unrouting" approach is not a complete security solution:

  1. If the server is compromised, there's no security
    Care must be taken to limit the server's open ports; avoid address spoofing.
  2. Trojans and virus can still enter the network, as payload to email, FTP'ed files, etc.
    The standard protection measures should be taken at the workstation level: anti-virus software; elimination of fragile programs or configurations (Outlook and Windows Scripting Host is a no-no, for example); teaching the users to be basically distrustful of files downloaded from the Internet, odd ball emails, etc.
  3. The enemy might be within
    Standard security precautions must still be implemented: secrecy of passwords; physical protection of the servers; use of encrypted traffic; many security compromises originate in disgruntled employees; etc.
Last update: Wed, 2 Nov 2005 10:16:21 GMT