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Firewalls were officially invented in the early 1990s, but the concept really reflects the reference monitor (described in Chapter 5) from two decades earlier. The first reference to a firewall by that name may be [RAN92]; other early references to firewalls are the Trusted Information Systems firewall toolkit [RAN94] and the book by Cheswick and Bellovin [updated as CHE02].
What Is a Firewall?
A firewall is a device that filters all traffic between a protected or "inside" network and a less trustworthy or "outside" network. Usually a firewall runs on a dedicated device; because it is a single point through which traffic is channeled, performance is important, which means nonfirewall functions should not be done on the same machine. Because a firewall is executable code, an attacker could compromise that code and execute from the firewall's device. Thus, the fewer pieces of code on the device, the fewer tools the attacker would have by compromising the firewall. Firewall code usually runs on a proprietary or carefully minimized operating system.
The purpose of a firewall is to keep "bad" things outside a protected environment. To accomplish that, firewalls implement a security policy that is specifically designed to address what bad things might happen. For example, the policy might be to prevent any access from outside (while still allowing traffic to pass from the inside to the outside). Alternatively, the policy might permit accesses only from certain places, from certain users, or for certain activities. Part of the challenge of protecting a network with a firewall is determining which security policy meets the needs of the installation.
People in the firewall community (users, developers, and security experts) disagree about how a firewall should work. In particular, the community is divided about a firewall's default behavior. We can describe the two schools of thought as "that which is not expressly forbidden is permitted" (default permit) and "that which is not expressly permitted is forbidden" (default deny). Users, always interested in new features, prefer the former. Security experts, relying on several decades of experience, strongly counsel the latter. An administrator implementing or configuring a firewall must choose one of the two approaches, although the administrator can often broaden the policy by setting the firewall's parameters.
Design of Firewalls
Remember from Chapter 5 that a reference monitor must be
· always invoked
· small and simple enough for rigorous analysis
A firewall is a special form of reference monitor. By carefully positioning a firewall within a network, we can ensure that all network accesses that we want to control must pass through it. This restriction meets the "always invoked" condition. A firewall is typically well isolated, making it highly immune to modification. Usually a firewall is implemented on a separate computer, with direct connections only to the outside and inside networks. This isolation is expected to meet the "tamperproof" requirement. And firewall designers strongly recommend keeping the functionality of the firewall simple.
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