Book Excerpt: Cisco Secure Internet Security Solutions, Part 1

Are you considering the purchase of a Cisco firewall? This excerpt from the Cisco Press book, Cisco Secure Internet Security Solutions, deals with their Secure Private Internet Exchange Firewall, or PIX. Part 1 of Chapter 4 outlines the security features and different models available.

 By Cisco Press
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Cisco Secure Internet Security Solutions - Chapter 4
by Andrew Mason, Mark Newcomb

Cisco Secure PIX Firewall - Part 1
Cisco Secure Internet Security Solutions -- click to go to publisher's site

This chapter focuses on the Cisco Secure Private Internet Exchange (PIX) Firewall. The strength of the security features within the PIX lay in the fact that it was designed solely as a firewall. Although a PIX Firewall will do a limited amount of routing, the real purposes of the PIX are to deny unrequested outside traffic from your LAN and to form secure Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) between remote locations. A router requires a great deal of configuration to act effectively as a firewall. The PIX, however, only requires six commands before it can be placed into service. The PIX is easy to configure and generally requires no routine maintenance once configured.

The larger a sphere is, the larger the surface area of that sphere. If you analogize the security concerns of an operating system to a sphere, you soon realize that the larger the operating system, the larger the "surface area" that must be defended. A router with a much larger operating system must be carefully configured to stop intruders, prevent denial of service (DoS) attacks, and secure the LAN. The PIX operating system, originally designed as a Network Address Translation (NAT) device, is not a general-purpose operating system and operates in real time, unlike both Windows NT and UNIX. Therefore, the PIX has a very small operating system that presents fewer opportunities for a security breach. The smaller the operating system, the less chance that an area has been overlooked in the development process.

The PIX does not experience any of the many security holes present within either UNIX or Windows NT. The operating system is proprietary, and its inner workings are not published for use outside of Cisco Systems. The general networking public does not have access to the source code for the PIX, and therefore, the opportunities for exploiting a possible vulnerability are limited. The inner workings of the PIX Firewall are so secret that the authors of this book were not able to gain access to them.

Several advantages to using the PIX over a router or a UNIX, Linux, or Windows NT-based firewall exist. The benefits of using a PIX include the following:

  • PIX's Adaptive Security Algorithm (ASA), combined with cut-through proxy, allows the PIX to deliver outstanding performance
  • Up to 500,000 connections simultaneously
  • Throughput speeds up to 1000 Mbps
  • Failover capabilities on most models
  • An integrated appliance
  • IPSec VPN support
  • NAT and Port Address Translation (PAT) fully supported
  • Low packet delay
  • Low cost of ownership due to no OS maintenance
  • Integrated Intrusion Detection System (IDS)
  • High reliability, no hard disk, Mean Time Between Failure greater than 60,000 hours
  • Common criteria EAL 2 certification

This article was originally published on Sep 12, 2001
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