Translating Snort Rules Into Iptables Rules

In this chapter we'll introduce fwsnort or Firewall Snort1 (see http://www.cipherdyne .org/fwsnort). This software is written in Perl and translates Snort rules into equivalent iptables rules. The fwsnort project utilizes the filtering and inspection capabilities of iptables—including heavy use of the iptables string match extension—in order to match Snort rules as closely as possible within an iptables ruleset.

Although it is not always possible to cleanly translate many Snort rules, due to the complexity of the Snort rules language, fwsnort is nonetheless able to translate about 60 percent of all rules contained in Snort version 2.3.3.2

1 The first versions of fwsnort were based originally on the shell script snort2iptables written by William Stearns (see http://www.stearns.org/snort2iptables).

2 Both the Snort-2.3.3 ruleset and the Bleeding Snort ruleset (see http://www.bleedingsnort.com) are freely distributed with the fwsnort sources, and are not subject to the licensing terms of the VRT signatures distributed by Sourcefire.

Although fwsnort is not able to translate the complete Snort signature set into iptables rules, fwsnort is always deployed inline to network traffic. Snort is typically deployed in a passive stance and used to monitor a network for suspicious activity—it is not usually deployed inline, although it does offer this capability. Any policy built by fwsnort is not constrained to passive packet inspection—an fwsnort policy can be configured to drop malicious packets via the iptables DROP target.

Chapters 10 and 11 will demonstrate how to use fwsnort in full reactive mode to respond to a few example attacks, but first we need some background on the process fwsnort uses to translate Snort rules into equivalent iptables rules. We'll begin with an explanation of why you might want to deploy fwsnort on your Linux system, and we'll examine some sample Snort rules that fwsnort has translated into iptables rules.

The flexibility and completeness of the Snort rules language allows Snort to search for highly descriptive representations of network-based attacks and responses to those attacks as they travel across the network. This is one feature that has firmly solidified Snort's place as one of the best tools for network intrusion detection and prevention.

A good intrusion prevention system (IPS) will never be a complete replacement for an effective firewall, however. Firewalls and intrusion prevention systems generally approach security enforcement from opposite viewpoints; firewalls define the set of permissible traffic based upon a security policy and block (and frequently log) traffic that does not conform to the policy. In contrast, intrusion prevention systems define a set of impermissible network traffic and block (or otherwise respond to) only those activities.

At the same time, the boundaries between firewall and IPS implementations are blurring as the two begin to converge. Firewalls are being engineered to have more application layer processing capability (a long-time strength of intrusion detection systems), and intrusion prevention systems are being engineered to offer basic filtering capabilities that don't depend on application layer processing. Examples of this in the world of commercial software, respectively, are the Application Intelligence feature in Check Point's NG firewall and the Dynamic Firewall feature in the IPS mode of the Enterasys Dragon IDS/IPS.

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