Prevent RackConnect from overwriting custom iptables rules on Linux cloud servers

  • Last updated on: 2016-01-21
  • Authored by: Russell Lambert

By default, RackConnect Automation takes complete control of the iptables software firewall on your Linux cloud servers, using it to enforce your configured network policies for those network connections that do not traverse your hardware firewall device. This is exactly the functionality that most users need.

For a few advanced users, however, the way that RackConnect Automation replaces all existing iptables rules can be frustrating. They have specific needs that require the ability to create and maintain their own custom iptables rules in addition to those used to enforce their network policies.

This article describes a method that advanced users can use to modify the default behavior of RackConnect Automation’s software firewall management on Linux cloud servers to allow them to create their own iptables rules.

Target audience for this article

This article is for advanced Linux users who are familiar with the iptables software firewall and who have a need to create custom iptables rules to perform tasks that are beyond the scope of network policies.

If you are unfamiliar with iptables syntax or how to write custom iptables rules in Linux, or if you do not have a pressing need to create and maintain your own iptables rules, it we recommend that you do not modify the default behavior of RackConnect Automation. RackConnect network policies provide a friendlier and more scalable solution for software firewall management than writing your own custom iptables rules on each individual cloud server.

Create custom rules

Each time that RackConnect Automation updates the iptables rules on a server, it checks for the existence of a file called /etc/rackconnect-allow-custom-iptables. If this file exists, it uses a slightly different method to update the iptables rules on the server. Instead of completely replacing the iptables filter rules, it rebuilds only the RackConnect created rules while preserving all other iptables rules. Because it merges RackConnect rules with custom rules, this new method is often referred to as the merge method (as opposed to the traditional clobber method). To tell RackConnect Automation to use the merge method on a particular server, perform the following steps:

  1. Create an empty file in /etc named rackconnect-allow-custom-iptables.

    touch /etc/rackconnect-allow-custom-iptables
    
  2. Force a software firewall update by creating a network policy in the MyRackspace portal that affects the server on which you created the /etc/rackconnect-allow-custom-iptables file. The easiest way to do this is to create a temporary Dedicated to Cloud Server policy for a bogus IP address to all cloud servers. After the policy has been pushed to all cloud servers (the indicator to the left of the policy changes from yellow to green), you should delete it.

    Add Network Policy Screenshot; Name TempPolicy, Access Scenario Dedicated to Cloud Server, Source 1.1.1.1, Destination All, Destination Protocol All

    Network Policy Indicator Screenshot; Yellow, still syncing

    Network Policy Indicator Screenshot; Green, sync complete

    Network Policy Delete Screenshot; Check TempPolicy, Click Delete Policy

  3. Verify that RackConnect Automation is using the merge method by looking at the last iptables rule in the RS-RackConnect-INBOUND chain on the server. If it is a RETURN rule, the merge method is now being used for software firewall updates on this server.

    # iptables -vnL RS-RackConnect-INBOUND
    Chain RS-RackConnect-INBOUND (2 references)
     pkts bytes target     prot opt in     out     source               destination
      ###  #### ACCEPT     all  --  *      *       0.0.0.0/0            0.0.0.0/0            state RELATED,ESTABLISHED /* RackConnectChain-INBOUND-RE */
      ###  #### ACCEPT     all  --  lo     *       0.0.0.0/0            0.0.0.0/0            /* Local-Loopback */
      ...
      ###  #### ACCEPT     icmp --  *      *       0.0.0.0/0            0.0.0.0/0            /* RCAutoMP-NP_34908 */
      ###  #### RETURN     all  --  *      *       0.0.0.0/0            0.0.0.0/0
    

Considerations

For the most part, touching the file and forcing automation to update iptables is all that is required. However, there are a few important things to note.

RackConnect rules always run before custom rules

All RackConnect related ACCEPT/DENY rules are kept in filter chains named RS-RackConnect-* (such as RS-RackConnect-INBOUND). The first rule of a primary iptables filter chain (such as INPUT) will always be an unconditional jump to the relevant RS-RackConnect-* chain. This jump rule needs to remain the first rule in the basic chains; otherwise, your custom rules might prevent RackConnect Automation from being able to log in to your server.

If you try to add iptables rules above this jump rule, RackConnect Automation will automatically move it back to the top of the list the next time network policies affecting that server are updated. Because the merge method adds an unconditional RETURN statement to the end of each of the RS-RackConnect-* chains, iptables will automatically continue processing rules underneath the jump rule if none of the rules in the RS-RackConnect-* chain match.

No changes can be made to the RS-RackConnect-* chains except through network policies

All of the RS-RackConnect-* chains are rebuilt whenever network policies affecting a server are updated. As a result, any manual changes to a RS-RackConnect-* chain will be overwritten on the next update.

RackConnect Automation saves iptables rules so they are restored on reboot

Every time RackConnect Automation runs, it saves the current rules to the default system location for the Linux distribution running on that server, ensuring that they will be restored on reboot. Normally, this is desired behavior; after all, you don’t want your server to be unprotected if it reboots. Occasionally, advanced users exploit the fact that iptables rules are held in memory until manually committed to disk in order to experiment with new rules, knowing that they can simply restart the iptables “service” to restore the old ruleset. If you are one of these users, be aware that updates to your network policies (by yourself or by another user in your organization with access to your account in the MyRackspace portal) might cause RackConnect Automation to save the running ruleset to disk in the background while you are experimenting.

RS-RackConnect-* rules are updated only when network policies change

If you use the iptables-save command to back up your iptables rules, note when your backup files are created. By default, the iptables-save utility saves all chains in all tables. If you restore from such a backup by using iptables-restore, you might be restoring an older version of the RS-RackConnect-* chains than you should currently have. If you have any doubt or suspicion that RackConnect Automation might have updated the iptables rules for a server since the backup that you’re restoring was taken, restore the backup and then use the create a temporary network policy method listed earlier in this article to force RackConnect Automation to update the RS-RackConnect-* chains to the latest version.

Troubleshooting

If you created /etc/rackconnect-allow-custom-iptables, but it doesn’t appear that your rules are being processed, there are two possible causes:

  • RackConnect Automation has not updated iptables on the server since /etc/rackconnect-allow-custom-iptables was created.

    RackConnect Automation creates a RETURN rule at the end of the RS-RackConnect-* chains only when it is operating in merge mode. If you have created the /etc/rackconnect-allow-custom-iptables file but RackConnect Automation has not yet updated iptables on your server, there will not be a RETURN rule and iptables will stop processing rules as soon as it reaches the end of the relevant RS-RackConnect-* chain. You can remedy the situation by forcing a software firewall refresh using the create a temporary network policy method detailed earlier in this article. As long as /etc/rackconnect-allow-custom-iptables exists, RackConnect Automation does not remove the custom rules that you have created; it simply adds the RETURN rule necessary for iptables to process them.

  • A RackConnect rule is already handling the packet.

    Iptables rules are handled on a “first match” basis. If a rule in the relevant RS-RackConnect-* chain matches a packet, iptables does as that rule says (ACCEPT or DROP it) and stops processing further rules. If the matching RS-RackConnect-* rule is insufficient for your needs, you might need to adjust your network policies to remove the matching rule in order to allow iptables to continue down the rule list to your custom rule.

If you have any questions about RackConnect or this change, contact your Rackspace Support team.

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