I hear that there are now available firewall rule base tools that assist in consolidating messy rules schemes. Do you have any experience with these tools and could you recommend any for Cisco Systems PIX or Check Point firewalls?

Rule base management is certainly a problem area for many firewall administrators. It's easy for firewall rule bases to become riddled with incorrect, overlapping and unused rules, even in the presence of a change management system. There has been a bit of academic research into this topic during the past few years, and researchers have identified a number of anomalies worthy of an administrator's attention:

  • Overlapping/shadowed rules often occur when administrators create one high-priority rule that generalizes lower priority rules. For example, the administrator might create a rule that appears high in the rule base, allowing, say, all SMTP traffic. An older rule, lower in the base, might specifically allow SMTP traffic to a mail server. Because of its similarity and lower priority, however, this more specific rule will never be triggered. The situation could be made worse when the lower rule is intended to block traffic to a particular server. Since the generalized rule appears first, the block would never take effect.

  • Orphaned rules occur when services or systems disappear from the network, or other changes render a rule obsolete. All too often, these rules are never removed from the firewall, creating
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