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Network Firewall Dynamic Performance Evaluation and Formalisation

Saliou, Lionel


Lionel Saliou


Computer network security is key to the daily operations of an organisation, its growth and its future. It is unrealistic for an organisation to devote all of its resources to computer network security, but equally an organisation must be able to determine whether its security policy is achievable and under which criteria. Yet, it is not often possible for an organisation: to define its security policy, especially to fully comply with the laws of the land; ensure the actual implementation on network devices; and finally audit the overall system for compliance. This thesis argues that one of the obstacles to the complete realisation of such an Integrated Security Framework is the lack of deep understanding, in particular in terms of dynamic performance, of the network devices on which the security policy will be deployed.

Thus, one novelty of this research is a Dynamic Evaluation Environment for Network Security that allows the identification of the strengths and weaknesses of networked security devices, such as in network firewalls. In turn, it enables organisations to model the dynamic performance impact of security policies deployed on these devices, as well as identifying the benefit of various implementation choices, or prioritisations. Hence, this novel evaluation environment allows the creation of
instances of a network firewall dynamic performance model, and this modelling is part of the Integrated Security Framework, thus enabling it to highlight when particular security requirements cannot be met by the underlying systems, or how best to achieve the objectives. More importantly, perhaps, the evaluation environment enables organisations to comply with up-coming legislation that increases an organisation’s legal cover, which demands consistent and scientific evidence of fitness prior
to security incidents.

Dynamic evaluations produce a large amount of raw data and this often does not allow for a comprehensive analysis and interpretation of the results obtained. Along with this, it is necessary to relate the data collected to a dynamic firewall performance model. To overcome this, this research proposes a unique formalisation of the inputs and outputs of the proposed model, and this, in turn, allows for performance analysis from multiple view-points, such as: the increase security requirements in
the form of larger rule-set sizes; effects of changes in terms of the underlying network equipment; or the complexity of filtering. These view-points are considered as evaluation scenarios and also have unique formalisations.

Evaluations focused on two types of network firewalls and key findings include the fact that strong security policy overhead can be kept acceptable on embedded firewalls provided that out-going filtering is used. Along with this, dynamic evaluation allows the identification of the additional performance impact of unoptimised configurations, and such findings complement work that focuses on the logical properties of network firewalls. Also, these evaluations demonstrate the need for scientific rigour as the data show that the embedded and software network firewalls evaluated have different areas of strengths and weaknesses. Indeed, it appears that software firewalls are not as affected as embedded firewalls by the complexity of filtering. On the other hand, the number of rules software firewalls enforce is the main performance factor, especially for high network speeds.

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date May 20, 2009
Peer Reviewed Not Peer Reviewed
Keywords Distributed Systems; Firewalls, Security, research, Computer Networks; formalisation
Public URL
Contract Date May 20, 2009
Award Date Mar 27, 2009


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