I am currently experimenting with my smartphone, to see if its Mobile Access Point Functionality allows it to function as a wireless router independent of Internet connection. In theory, it should – it is capable of providing internet access to four attached devices, and that suggests that it should have router functionality, meaning that the attached devices should be able to talk with each other, rather than simply to the Internet. In practice, I know that sometimes seemingly important parts of networking implementations are, well, not implemented. The most egregious example, in my experience, was a commercial-grade firewall which was unable to pass UDP traffic under certain circumstances.

The lesson I learned then was that just because the hardware and software claim to be able to perform a function, it isn’t enough to assume that they actually work. Never assume – always test. Sometimes ports will be blocked; traffic won’t be passed, or there will be an absurd traffic shaping scheme that makes your particular application untenable. Sometimes these problems are resolvable, and sometimes they aren’t. This can be terribly vexing when trying to, for example, set up a VoIP connection.

But from a security standpoint, sometimes the reverse is even worse. What if the connection works, but the security doesn’t? This isn’t hypothetical. There have already been many cases of firewalls which implemented an IPv6 stack but didn’t apply the firewall rules to that stack – or expected a separate set of rules which had never been set up. And, of course, there’s always the risk of a lazy predecessor who, in the rush to Make Things Work set allow *.* in the rules – would you notice? After all, nothing would stop working. Well, until your systems got infected.

Fortunately, there’s a host of tools to save you from this problem. Your first is simple Defense In Depth – relying not just on one company-wide firewall but also on an IDS, software firewalls, and anti-malware software, so one foolish implementation doesn’t leave you wide open. Second, there are scanning and simulation tools – mostly port mapping, but a few others besides – which will tell you what ports are open and what services are actually available. And if that’s not enough, a proper 3rd-party penetration test will probably find anything. But your best line of defense is in your own head – knowing how your network setup should work, being able to read the configurations you have, and knowing if the actual results match up.

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