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The intended audience for this document is the OPS235 linux admin class. It is a guide to iptables in the context of what OPS235 is currently studying and therefore a variety of its complexities will not be explored here. All are welcome to reference this document and refine what it is trying to convey to be more accurate or precise.

This is an outline of

  • how iptables command lines are structured and understood
  • an explanation of the rule specifications that we use
  • sample commands that can be seen in the labs to relate to this document

Command Line Structure

At its core basics, an Iptables command is made up of the following parts.

  • The first line below identifies the structure of the commands we would use.
  • The lines that follow are similar as found in the iptables man pages.
    • the items listed with [ ] square brackets are optional in the command
     #iptables  command   chain         rule-spec([match,] target/jump )
                -------   ---------     ----------------------
     #iptables   -A       chain         rule-spec          (Appends a rule)
        ''       -D       chain  rule#                     (Delete by rule number)
        ''       -D       chain         rule-spec          (Delete by rule-spec match)
        ''       -I       chain [rule#] rule-spec          (Insert by rule-spec)
                                                            The rule# is 1 by default
                                                            Otherwise it is optional
        ''       -R       chain  rule#  rule-spec          (Replace by rule#)
        ''       -P       chain         target             (Policy set for chain)

        ''       -F      [chain]                           (Flush the rules from memory)
        ''       -L      [chain]        [--line-numbers]   (List current rules in memory)
        ''       -S      [chain]                           (Shows the rules in memory in
                                                            their command format)

     Other commands using "service"

     # service iptables status                             (List rules currently in memory)

     # service iptables save                               (Saves the current configuration
                                                            into /etc/sysconfig/iptables   )

Options for Elements in the Structure

Considering the commands, chains, matches and targets/jumps... there are only a few of those that we will actually use, at least for this course. Matches can get a bit more complex and will be discussed next, but the others will be listed here.

The items that are listed in ( ) round brackets are there for informational purposes as we don't use them in our course for our configurations.

Brief Listing of Choices

       Commands          Chains      Matches                        Targets -j
      ------------       ---------   -------                        ----------
      -A ...Append       INPUT       -p protocol                    ACCEPT
      -I ...Insert       OUTPUT      -s src-address[/mask][,...]    DROP
      -D ...Delete       (FORWARD)   -d dst-address[/mask][,...]    LOG
      -R ...Replace                  --dport port                   (REJECT)
      -P ...Policy                   --sport port               
      -F ...Flush                                              
      -L ...List
      -S ...Show

Above we can see that when it comes down to it, our chains and targets are limited and few. The commands we are dealing with aren't that many either. These few things help us establish the core basic foundation for our understanding of Iptables and what it offers.

"REJECT" - This target is the same as DROP, except that it returns a define-able error message to the sender. This informs the sender that the port, host, or service is unreachable and defeats the potential stealth mode that "DROP" alone offers.

Match Statements

Here's a bit more definition to our match statements. Essentially:

  • a match is based on a protocol ( TCP, UDP, ICMP,...)
  • source and destination addresses can define
    • a single ip address with or without a netmask
    • a network ip address with its netmask
    • a network name or a hostname (defined locally - not through DNS)
    • and a comma separated list of these
  • source and destination ports can use either:
    • port number
    • port name (resolved in /etc/services)

INPUT / OUTPUT ... Source / Destination

So where is that packet, coming or going?

  ---------------                                               ---------------
  |       INPUT | <--destination-------------------<--source--< |OUTPUT       |
  |             |                                               |             |
  |  F12Host    |                                               |     Fedora2 |
  |             |                                               |             |
  |       OUTPUT| >-source-->----------------->-destination-->  |INPUT        |
  ---------------                                               ---------------

The question of whether a packet is arriving, or leaving can be more easily visualized by the above chart. As you can see, source and destination are a matter of perspective. If you are configuring your iptables on your F12host machine, your point of reference for your Fedora2 machine will be different, or opposite.

Hopefully this chart will provide a visual for determining how to configure your scripts.

INPUT/OUTPUT Chain processing

The following diagrams hope to visually define the hand off process of a packet as it enters or leaves a given server. This outlines in a brief sketch, what is happening on the INPUT and OUTPUT chains.


 src.                  -------------------
---------              |           routing                     localhost     Local process
|F12Host|>-wire--->eth0|Fedora2 -> decision --> INPUT chain -->filtering --> or application
---------              |            is made \                   of rules
                       -------------------   \
                                       some routed elsewhere
                                       or sent to FORWARD chain


----------------------                                                               dest.
|            Local process     routing                      localhost              ---------
|Fedora2 --> or applicaiton -> decision-> OUTPUT chain -->filtering-> eth0-> wire->|F12Host|
|                              is made                      of rules   interface   ---------

Sample Scripts from our Lab Material

 # iptables -F                            // flushes the rules from the table
 # iptables -L                            // lists the rules running in memory
 # iptables -P INPUT DROP                 // creates a policy to DROP packets inbound
 # iptables -A OUTPUT -j LOG              // logs outgoing traffic to /var/log/messages
 # iptables -I 1 OUTPUT -p tcp -s 0/0 -d 0/0 --dport 80 -j DROP  // drop outbound web
                                                                 // requests and inserts
                                                                 // at line 1 in the chain

 # iptables -I INPUT 3 -p tcp -s -d f12host --dport ssh -j DROP