Reducing the Attack Surface

This book is about using the facilities in Netfilter and iptables to detect and respond to network-based attacks, so at first glance, it might appear that this chapter and the next (which covers the fwknop implementation of SPA) are out of place. However, any service that is protected by a default-drop packet filter is fundamentally inaccessible from arbitrary would-be clients unless the packet filter is reconfigured to allow access. This implies that the only sessions that can exist with such services are those that have been authorized; in turn, this also implies that the attack rate and the false positive rate against these services are reduced. This is particularly true for TCP-based services, since most intrusion detection systems today maintain a notion TCP session state in order to filter out bogus attacks that are spoofed over the network without an established TCP session.

A spoofed attack monitored by such an IDS will not generate a false positive, and an attempt to deliver a real attack over an established TCP session will fail because a session cannot be established due to the default-drop packet filter. Hence, port knocking and SPA result in a reduction of the means to perpetrate attacks against network services. We will see that the functionality provided by iptables can make it easy to implement effective port-knocking and SPA systems. Adding this extra layer of security to services like SSHD can mean the difference between being compromised and remaining secure.

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