Maintaining the Underlying Platform

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Maintaining the Underlying Platform

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As with any device on the network, firewalls run software (whether it is embedded in an application-specific integrated circuit [ASIC] or runs from Flash memory or runs from a disk file system) to be able to perform their functions.

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Nội dung Text: Maintaining the Underlying Platform

  1. Maintaining the Underlying Platform As with any device on the network, firewalls run software (whether it is embedded in an application-specific integrated circuit [ASIC] or runs from Flash memory or runs from a disk file system) to be able to perform their functions. Typically, as in the case of the Cisco PIX and ASA platforms as well as NetScreen and other vendor firewalls, these firewalls run a custom operating system whose source code is not available to the general community for review or tampering. If a bug or vulnerability is discovered by an outside party, it is left to the manufacturer to develop a patch and release a new version of the operating system to be installed by the end user to solve the problem. In addition, any new feature added to the device is done according to the schedule of the manufacturer. At the opposite end of the spectrum are the open source systems with firewall capabilities. These include Linux, OpenBSD, and Solaris 10, to name a few. Each of these systems' (Linux's NetFilter, OpenBSD's PF, and Solaris 10's IPFilter) firewall source code is available for inspection by outside groups. This does not necessarily mean that the filter code in these operating systems is better, but it can be more easily extended by someone who has the skill set necessary to code the additional capabilities into the software. However, each of these filtering systems runs under a more generic operating system (Linux, OpenBSD, and Solaris, respectively), and therefore the possibility of bugs or vulnerabilities (some tied to the filtering code and others not) may be greater because the underlying operating systems are meant for more general use. Such systems require care, patience, and effort to both maintain and to secure to ensure that the firewall is not compromised. If a bug or vulnerability is discovered in one of these firewalls, the patch for it is likely to be available sooner than a closed source appliance system. Typically, this is because the number of people who may be able to provide a fix for the bug or vulnerability is significantly greater than those involved in the development of commercial closed source systems. This does not mean that vendors such as Cisco, NetScreen, Watchguard, Linksys, and the like do not provide timely patches; in some cases, it depends on the severity of the problem. Statistically, however, Linux and OpenBSD bugs are fixed quickly relative to closed-source vendors (http://csoinformer.com/research/solve.shtml). Consider the case of a firewall consisting of a simple Intel PC with two interfaces running Fedora Core 4 Linux and NetFilter as the filtering firewall. The number of packages in Fedora Core 4 is on the order of approximately 1500 packages (1806 to be exact). Many packages may contain a bug that could result (however unlikely) in the possible compromise of the system. In addition, the level of effort to secure the system properly or to maintain the system may be beyond the capabilities of most people without a sufficient technical background. For a more novice group of users, a packaged, closed source system may be the better choice. A Linksys router/firewall, a Cisco PIX 501, or a
  2. NetScreen 5XP may be better suited for the less-technically-savvy individual or for someone who wants a closed source appliance because of the lower effort required to configure and maintain it. Nevertheless, for those who are willing to make the effort and for those who are skilled, an open source firewall can fit the bill. Maintaining the underlying platform requires time. The more complex the underlying platform, the more time required. This is where closed source appliances such as PIX, NetScreen, and Linksys have an advantage. They provide a device that, although configured and maintained by the user, eliminates many of the variables inherent in more general operating systems. This makes it much easier for a less-experienced user to be able to maintain the firewall.  
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