HTTP and Shortlived Sessions

When an SPA daemon adds a temporary rule within a packet filter ruleset to allow the establishment of a TCP connection, a legitimate client usually has ample time for the TCP three-way handshake to complete. However, an SSH session usually lasts a lot longer than just the time required to push a TCP connection into the established state.

What happens when the rule is deleted from the ruleset? By using a connection-tracking mechanism (such as provided by Netfilter) to accept packets that are part of established connections before they are caught by the

7 The piggy-backing problem behind a NAT address can be mitigated through the use of the MapAddress functionality available in the Tor network, but that functionality introduces other disadvantages, as we'll discuss in "SPA over Tor" on page 254.

default-drop rule, a connection can remain open even though the initial rule that allowed the session to be established has been removed.

Using a connection-tracking mechanism to keep established TCP connections open provides an elegant solution for long-running TCP sessions, but what about short-lived connections such as those that transfer HTTP data over the Web8 or SMTP data between mailservers? It would be inconvenient to generate a new SPA packet for every web link a user wishes to view; this problem is compounded by the fact that every link is transferred over a separate TCP connection. In general, SPA is not well suited to protect such services.

One solution to this problem is to simply extend the time-out to client IP addresses so that it doesn't require a new SPA packet for, say, one hour. While this extension reduces the effectiveness of SPA to some extent, it might make sense to do so if your webserver is running a critical application and security is the most important consideration. It may also be possible to have an SPA client automatically generate an SPA packet by caching an encryption password within the local filesystem. In general, however, it is not a good idea to put encryption passwords (which can weaken the security of GnuPG private keys) within the filesystem. One step that is useful, though, is to strongly integrate the SPA client with as many client programs as possible. For an example of this with OpenSSH, see "fwknop OpenSSH Integration Patch" on page 252.

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