7.2. Using iptables

The first step in using iptables is to start the iptables service. This can be done with the command:

service iptables start


The ip6tables services should be turned off to use the iptables service with the following commands:

service ip6tables stop
chkconfig ip6tables off

To make iptables start by default whenever the system is booted, you must change runlevel status on the service using chkconfig.

chkconfig --level 345 iptables on

The syntax of iptables is separated into tiers. The main tier is the chain. A chain specifies the state at which a packet is manipulated. The usage is as follows:

iptables -A chain -j target

The -A option appends a rule at the end of an existing ruleset. The chain is the name of the chain for a rule. The three built-in chains of iptables (that is, the chains that affect every packet which traverses a network) are INPUT, OUTPUT, and FORWARD. These chains are permanent and cannot be deleted. The -j target option specifies the location in the iptables ruleset where this particular rule should jump. Some built in targets are ACCEPT, DROP, and REJECT.

New chains (also called user-defined chains) can be created by using the -N option. Creating a new chain is useful for customizing granular or elaborate rules.

7.2.1. Basic Firewall Policies

Establishing basic firewall policies creates a foundation for building more detailed, user-defined rules. iptables uses policies (-P) to create default rules. Security-minded administrators usually elect to drop all packets as a policy and only allow specific packets on a case-by-case basis. The following rules block all incoming and outgoing packets on a network gateway:

iptables -P INPUT DROP
iptables -P OUTPUT DROP

Additionally, it is recommended that any forwarded packets — network traffic that is to be routed from the firewall to its destination node — be denied as well, to restrict internal clients from inadvertent exposure to the Internet. To do this, use the following rule:

iptables -P FORWARD DROP 

After setting the policy chains, you can create new rules for your particular network and security requirements. The following sections outline some rules you may implement in the course of building your iptables firewall.

7.2.2. Saving and Restoring iptables Rules

Firewall rules are only valid for the time the computer is on; so, if the system is rebooted, the rules are automatically flushed and reset. To save the rules so that they are loaded later, use the following command:

/sbin/service iptables save

The rules are stored in the file /etc/sysconfig/iptables and are applied whenever the service is started or restarted, including when the machine is rebooted.