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Configure Network Security (part 2 ) - Windows Firewall

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3/18/2011 9:53:48 PM

Windows Firewall

One of the major complaints on Windows operating system security has always been the issue of a built-in firewall. With Windows XP Service Pack 1, a limited firewall was first implemented. Windows Vista now provides a more complete security configuration in the included firewall by allowing for control of outbound connection requests as well as inbound connection attempts.

Configuring the Windows Vista Firewall begins with the firewall profile selected when you set up the network location type. Figure 3 shows the three firewall profiles described earlier in the discussion of network profiles.

Figure 3. The Windows Firewall with Advanced Security displaying the firewall profiles.

Configuring firewall settings within the Windows Firewall with Advanced Security console involves setting granular controls for specific protocols and for inbound and outbound directions. You can access Windows Firewall with Advanced Security by clicking Start > Administrative Tools > Windows Firewall with Advanced Security.

Initially, you should configure the firewall profiles first to satisfy how Windows Firewall will function when a network location type is selected for any new connection. To access the properties of the firewall profiles, select the top node in the MMC on the left labeled Windows Firewall with Advanced Security on Local Computer. Right-click this item and select the Properties option from the menu. Figure 4 shows what is displayed after you follow these steps.

Figure 4. Configuring the properties of the Windows firewall profiles.


For each of the firewall profiles, you are able to configure the characteristics of the firewall state, Inbound and Outbound firewall functionality, settings that control notifications, Unicast response, whether rules are merged, and logging of firewall traffic for troubleshooting.

The firewall state refers to whether Windows Firewall is set to On for that particular firewall profile.

Inbound and Outbound connection settings can be configured to one of three settings:

  • Block— Blocks all connections that do not have firewall rules that explicitly allow the connection.

  • Block All Connections— Blocks all connections even if there is an explicit firewall rule that allows a connection. This applies to only inbound connections.

  • Allow— Allows all connections unless there is a firewall rule that explicitly blocks a particular connection.

There is a notification setting available when you customize the settings of a firewall profile. The notification settings determine whether a notification is sent to the local user if a program is blocked from receiving an inbound connection. The default setting for this is Yes.

A Unicast response setting determines whether a unicast response may be sent for multicast or broadcast traffic. This setting can help certain types of malicious attacks where multicast or broadcast traffic from a bad guy is used to illicit traffic, such as ICMP responses or requests from the local computer.

Rule merging settings are managed through Group Policy, but their outcome is displayed here. These settings determine whether the local firewall rules and local connection security rules merge with Group Policy settings that are applied to the local computer.

The settings for Logging configuration for the Windows Firewall allow the local administrator to log packets that are dropped as well as log successful connections.

Alert

Note that the name of the log file created by default for Windows Firewall logging is pfirewall.log. Because the firewall policy can be set to block outgoing as well as incoming connections, when logging dropped packets, you are able to log packets that are dropped by the local firewall when attempting an outbound connection as well. This capability aids in troubleshooting granular configuration of outbound rules that permit a particular protocol for an application. By reviewing the log when an application fails to make an outbound connection, you are then able to determine if all ports outbound as well as inbound for an application are configured appropriately.


Figure 5 shows configuration of the logging settings for Windows Firewall.

Figure 5. Configuring log settings for the Windows Firewall.


To view the contents of the log when it is in use, you can select the Monitoring node in the console screen of Windows Firewall with Advanced Security. In the right pane, you see a hyperlink to the log in use. Figure 6 shows how to access this log and view its contents.

Figure 6. Viewing the log contents of the Windows Firewall.

Alternatively, you can use Windows Explorer to access the firewall log found by default at C:\Windows\system32\Logfiles\Firewall\pfirewall.log. The log file must be stored in a directory where the Windows Firewall service account has Write permissions. Failure to ensure this permission assignment to that account prohibits the firewall service from logging to the pfirewall.log file.

Caution

Why Isn’t Anything Logged? The Windows Firewall service account is known more affectionately as NT Service\MpsSvc. When you are creating a custom location for this log file, ensure that the account NT Service\MpsSvc is assigned the Write NTFS permission to the folder where the log file is located. Support article 929455 describes this issue when the permission assignment has not been made and discusses the corresponding resolution.

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