The best practice before deploying a machine into a production environment or connecting your network to the Internet is to determine your organizational needs and how security can fit into the requirements as transparently as possible. Since the main goal of the Red Hat Enterprise Linux Security Guide is to explain how to secure Red Hat Enterprise Linux, a more detailed examination of hardware and physical network security is beyond the scope of this document. However, this chapter presents a brief overview of establishing security policies with respect to hardware and physical networks. Important factors to consider include how computing needs and connectivity requirements fit into the overall security strategy. The following explains some of these factors in detail.
Computing involves more than just workstations running desktop software. Modern organizations require massive computational power and highly-available services, which can include mainframes, compute or application clusters, powerful workstations, and specialized appliances. With these organizational requirements, however, come increased susceptibility to hardware failure, natural disasters, and tampering or theft of equipment.
Connectivity is the method by which an administrator intends to connect disparate resources to a network. An administrator may use Ethernet (hubbed or switched CAT-5/RJ-45 cabling), token ring, 10-base-2 coaxial cable, or even wireless (802.11x) technologies. Depending on which medium an administrator chooses, certain media and network topologies require complementary technologies such as hubs, routers, switches, base stations, and access points. Determining a functional network architecture allows an easier administrative process if security issues arise.
From these general considerations, administrators can get a better view of implementation. The design of a computing environment can then be based on both organizational needs and security considerations — an implementation that evenly assesses both factors.
The foundation of a LAN is the topology, or network architecture. A topology is the physical and logical layout of a LAN in terms of resources provided, distance between nodes, and transmission medium. Depending upon the needs of the organization that the network services, there are several choices available for network implementation. Each topology has unique advantages and security issues that network architects should regard when designing their network layout.
As defined by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), there are three common topologies for the physical connection of a LAN.
The Ring topology connects each node using exactly two connections. This creates a ring structure where each node is accessible to the other, either directly by its two physically closest neighboring nodes or indirectly through the physical ring. Token Ring, FDDI, and SONET networks are connected in this fashion (with FDDI utilizing a dual-ring technique); however, there are no common Ethernet connections using this physical topology, so rings are not commonly deployed except in legacy or institutional settings with a large installed base of nodes (for example, a university).
The linear bus topology consists of nodes which connect to a terminated main linear cable (the backbone). The linear bus topology requires the least amount of cabling and networking equipment, making it the most cost-effective topology. However, the linear bus depends on the backbone being constantly available, making it a single point-of-failure if it has to be taken off-line or is severed. Linear bus topologies are commonly used in peer-to-peer LANs using co-axial (coax) cabling and 50-93 ohm terminators at both ends of the bus.
The Star topology incorporates a central point where nodes connect and through which communication is passed. This central point, called a hub can be either broadcasted or switched. This topology does introduce a single point of failure in the centralized networking hardware that connects the nodes. However, because of this centralization, networking issues that affect segments or the entire LAN itself are easily traceable to this one source.
Section A.1.1.3 Star Topology introduced the concept of broadcast and switched networking. There are several factors to consider when evaluating the type of networking hardware suitable and secure enough for your network environment. The following distinguishes these two distinct forms of networking.
In a broadcast network, a node will send a packet that is received by every other node until the intended recipient accepts the packet. Every node in the network can conceivably receive this packet of data until the recipient processes the packet. In a broadcast network, all packets are sent in this manner.
In a switched network, packets are not broadcasted, but are processed in the switched hub which, in turn, creates a direct connection between the sending and recipient nodes. This eliminates the need to broadcast packets to each node, thus lowering traffic overhead.
The switched network also prevents packets from being intercepted by malicious nodes or users. In a broadcast network, where each node receives every packet on the way to its destination, malicious users can set their Ethernet device to promiscuous mode and accept all packets regardless of whether or not the data is intended for them. Once in promiscuous mode, a sniffer application can be used to filter, analyze, and reconstruct packets for passwords, personal data, and more. Sophisticated sniffer applications can store such information in text files and, perhaps, even send the information to arbitrary sources (for example, the malicious user's email address.)
A switched network requires a network switch, a specialized piece of hardware that replaces the role of the traditional hub in which all nodes on a LAN are connected. Switches store MAC addresses of all nodes within an internal database, which it uses to perform its direct routing. Several manufacturers, including Cisco Systems, D-Link, SMC, and Netgear offer various types of switches with features such as 10/100-Base-T compatibility, gigabit Ethernet support, and IPv6 networking.
An emerging issue for enterprises today is that of mobility. Remote workers, field technicians, and executives require portable solutions, such as laptops, Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs), and wireless access to network resources. The IEEE has established a standards body for the 802.11 wireless specification, which establishes standards for wireless data communication throughout all industries. The currently approved IEEE standard is 802.11g for wireless networking, while 802.11a and 802.11b are legacy standards. The 802.11g standard is backwards-compatible with 802.11b, but is incompatible with 802.11a.
The 802.11b and 802.11g specifications are actually a group of standards governing wireless communication and access control on the unlicensed 2.4GHz radio-frequency (RF) spectrum (802.11a uses the 5GHz spectrum). These specifications have been approved as standards by the IEEE, and several vendors market 802.11x products and services. Consumers have also embraced the standard for small-office/home-office (SOHO) networks. The popularity has also extended from LANs to MANs (Metropolitan Area Networks), especially in populated areas where a concentration of wireless access points (WAPs) are available. There are also wireless Internet service providers (WISPs) that cater to frequent travelers requiring broadband Internet access to conduct business remotely.
The 802.11x specifications allow for direct, peer-to-peer connections between nodes with wireless NICs. This loose grouping of nodes, called an ad hoc network, is ideal for quick connection sharing between two or more nodes, but introduces scalability issues that are not suitable for dedicated wireless connectivity.
A more suitable solution for wireless access in fixed structures is to install one or more WAPs that connect to the traditional network and allow wireless nodes to connect to the WAP as if it were on the Ethernet-based network. The WAP effectively acts as a bridge between the nodes connected to it and the rest of the network.
Although wireless networking is comparable in speed and certainly more convenient than traditional wired networking mediums, there are some limitations to the specification that warrants thorough consideration. The most important of these limitations is in its security implementation.
In the excitement of successfully deploying an 802.11x network, many administrators fail to exercise even the most basic security precautions. Since all 802.11x networking is done using high-band RF signals, the data transmitted is easily accessible to any user with a compatible NIC, a wireless network scanning tool such as NetStumbler or Wellenreiter, and common sniffing tools such as dsniff and snort. To prevent such aberrant usage of private wireless networks, the 802.11b standard uses the Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) protocol, which is an RC4-based 64- or 128-bit encrypted key shared between each node or between the WAP and the node. This key encrypts transmissions and decrypts incoming packets dynamically and transparently. Administrators often fail to employ this shared-key encryption scheme, however; either they forget to do so or choose not to do so because of performance degradation (especially over long distances). However, enabling WEP on a wireless network can greatly reduce the possibility of data interception.
Red Hat Enterprise Linux supports various 802.11x products from several vendors. The Network Administration Tool includes a facility for configuring wireless NICs and WEP security. For information about using the Network Administration Tool, refer to the Red Hat Enterprise Linux System Administration Guide.
Relying on WEP, however, is still not a sufficiently sound means of protection against determined malicious users. There are specialized utilities specifically designed to crack the RC4 WEP encryption algorithm protecting a wireless network and to expose the shared key. AirSnort and WEP Crack are two such specialized applications. To protect against this, administrators should adhere to strict policies regarding usage of wireless methods to access sensitive information. Administrators may choose to augment the security of wireless connectivity by restricting it only to SSH or VPN connections, which introduce an additional encryption layer above the WEP encryption. Using this policy, a malicious user outside of the network that cracks the WEP encryption has to additionally crack the VPN or SSH encryption which, depending on the encryption method, can employ up to triple-strength 168-bit DES algorithm encryption (3DES), or proprietary algorithms of even greater strength. Administrators who apply these policies should restrict plain text protocols such as Telnet or FTP, as passwords and data can be exposed using any of the aforementioned attacks.
A recent method of security and authentication that has been adopted by wireless networking equipment manufacturers is Wi-fi Protected Access (WPA). Administrators can configure WPA on their network by using an authentication server that manages keys for clients accessing the wireless network. WPA improves upon WEP encryption by using Temporal Key Integrity Protocol (TKIP), which is a method of using a shared key and associating it with the MAC address of the wireless network card installed on the client system. The value of the shared key and MAC address is then processed by an initialization vector (IV), which is used to generate a key that encrypts each data packet. The IV changes the key each time a packet is transferred, preventing most common wireless network attacks.
However, WPA using TKIP is thought of as a temporary solution. Solutions using stronger encryption ciphers (such as AES) are under development, and have the potential to improve wireless network security in the enterprise.
For more information about 802.11 standards, refer to the following URL:
For administrators who want to run externally-accessible services such as HTTP, email, FTP, and DNS, it is recommended that these publicly available services be physically and/or logically segmented from the internal network. Firewalls and the hardening of hosts and applications are effective ways to deter casual intruders. However, determined crackers can find ways into the internal network if the services they have cracked reside on the same network segment. The externally accessible services should reside on what the security industry regards as a demilitarized zone (DMZ), a logical network segment where inbound traffic from the Internet would only be able to access those services and are not permitted to access the internal network. This is effective in that, even if a malicious user exploits a machine on the DMZ, the rest of the internal network lies behind a firewall on a separated segment.
Most enterprises have a limited pool of publicly routable IP addresses from which they can host external services, so administrators utilize elaborate firewall rules to accept, forward, reject, and deny packet transmissions. Firewall policies implemented with iptables or using dedicated hardware firewalls allow for complex routing and forwarding rules. Administrators can use these policies to segment inbound traffic to specific services at specified addresses and ports while allowing only LAN access to internal services, which can prevent IP spoofing exploits. For more information about implementing iptables, refer to Chapter 7 Firewalls.