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Building Internet Firewalls

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2. Internet Services

In Chapter 1, Why Internet Firewalls? we discussed, in general terms, what you're trying to protect when you connect to the Internet: your data, your resources, and your reputation. In designing an Internet firewall, your concerns are more specific; what you need to protect are those services you're going to use or provide over the Internet.

There are a number of standard Internet services that users want and that most sites try to support. There are important reasons to use these services; indeed, without them, there is little reason to be connected to the Internet at all. But there are also potential security problems with each of them.

What services do you want to support at your site? Which ones can you support securely? Every site is different. Every site has its own security policy and its own working environment. For example, do all your users need electronic mail? Do they all need to transfer files outside your organization? How about downloading files from sites outside the organization's own network? Who should be able to log in remotely from another location over the Internet?

This chapter briefly summarizes the major Internet services your users may be interested in using. It provides only a high-level summary (details are given in Chapter 8, Configuring Internet Services ). None of these services are really secure; each one has its own security weaknesses, and each has been exploited in various ways by attackers. Before you decide to support a service at your site, you will have to assess how important it is to your users and whether you will be able to protect them from its dangers. There are various ways of doing this: running the services only on certain protected machines, using especially secure variants of the standard services; or, in some cases, blocking the services completely to or from some or all outside systems.

This chapter doesn't list every Internet service - it can't. Such a list would be incomplete as soon as it was finished, and would include services of interest only to a few sites in the world. Instead, we attempt to list the major services, and we hope this book will give you the background you need to make decisions about new services as you encounter them.

Managers and system administrators together need to decide which services to support at your site and to what extent. Chapter 8 describes what is necessary to support these services securely once you've decided to provide them, and the decisions you may need to make about them when building your site's firewall.

2.1 Electronic Mail

Electronic mail is one of the most popular and basic network services. It's relatively low risk, but that doesn't mean it's risk free. Forging electronic mail is trivial (just as is forging regular postal mail), and forgeries facilitate two different types of attacks: attacks against your reputation and social manipulation attacks (e.g., attacks in which users are sent mail purporting to come from an administrator and advising them to change to a specific password). Accepting electronic mail ties up computer time and disk space, opening you up for denial of service attacks, although with proper configuration, only email service will be denied. Particularly with modern multimedia mail systems, people can send electronic mail containing programs that run with insufficient supervision and may turn out to be Trojan horses .

Although people worry most about the last risk mentioned above, in practice the most common problems with electronic mail are inadvertent floods (including chain letters) and people who put entirely inappropriate confidence in the confidentiality of electronic mail and send proprietary data via electronic mail across the Internet. However, as long as users are educated, and the mail service is isolated from other services so that inadvertent or purposeful denial of service attacks shut down as little as possible, electronic mail is reasonably safe.

Simple Mail Transfer Protocol ( SMTP ) is the Internet standard protocol for sending and receiving electronic mail. SMTP itself is not usually a security problem, but SMTP servers can be. A program that delivers mail to users often needs to be able to run as any user that might receive mail. This gives it broad power and makes it a tempting target for attackers.

The most common SMTP server on UNIX is Sendmail. Sendmail has been exploited in a number of break-ins, including the Internet worm, which makes people nervous about using it. Many of the available replacements, however, are not clearly preferable to Sendmail; the evidence suggests they are less exploited because they are less popular, not because they are less vulnerable. There are exceptions in programs designed explicitly for security, but these don't support all the functions necessary to send and receive arbitrary mail messages; some things are still best handled by Sendmail running in a secured space.

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1.4 What Is an Internet Firewall? Book Index 2.2 File Transfer