Setting Up ipfw on Mac OS X5 April 2012
Using multiple layers of security has long been recognized as a useful strategy in hardening your computers against attack or exploit. In this post, I want to explain how to set up and configure the BSD-level
ipfw firewall that is present in Mac OS X. While
ipfw is certainly not a security panacea, it can be a solid part of a broader security strategy.
ipfw on Mac OS X has three basic steps:
Create a shell script that launches
Create a configuration file that the shell script from step 1 uses when launching
Create a LaunchDaemon in Mac OS X that calls the shell script from step 1 to start and configure
ipfwevery time your Mac boots.
Let’s take a deeper look at each of these steps.
Create a Startup Shell Script
This part is harder than it sounds. At its most basic level, the script only needs to call
/sbin/ipfw and a configuration file, like this:
I did quite a bit of digging to see if something more than that was suggested, and finally came up with this startup shell script:
This startup shell script can generally be put anywhere; I chose to put it in
/usr/local/bin (which may not exist by default on your system).
With the startup shell script in place, you’re now ready to proceed to the next step, which is perhaps the most involved and detailed step in the process.
Create the Configuration File
The configuration file contains all of the firewall rule definitions for
ipfw and is therefore one of the most complicated steps. This complexity is not because the configuration file itself is difficult, but rather because the rules that should be included will vary greatly from user to user and network to network. I strongly encourage you to do your own research to understand what sort of firewall rules are most appropriate in your environment and for your setup.
You can (theoretically) place the configuration file anywhere; I chose to place the file in
ipfw.conf (very original, I know). If you do use something other than
/etc/ipfw.conf, then adjust the startup shell script accordingly.
Rather than provide any sort of suggested firewall ruleset here, let me suggest some other sites that provide excellent information on suggested rulesets for
From those sites—and there are many others besides just those—you should be able to put together an
ipfw ruleset that is right for your network and your environment. Once you have the configuration file created and in place, then you’re ready for the final step: ensuring that
ipfw launches automatically when you boot your Mac.
Create a LaunchDaemon
The final step is ensuring that
ipfw launches automatically every time your Mac boots. This is accomplished by creating a text file—known as a property list file, or a plist file—with very specific contents into the
Here’s a screenshot of my plist file, named
com.apple.ipfw.plist (you can use a different name, like your own domain name, in the filename):
Don’t just copy and paste this file “as is” into your system! You’ll need to customize it to fit your system. Specifically, under the ProgramArguments key, the path to and name of the startup shell script should be adjusted to match the shell script you created earlier. In my case, the script is named
ipfwstartup.sh and is found in
/usr/local/bin. This startup shell script should, in turn, refer to the
ipfw configuration file you created.
I believe—but I could be mistaken—that you’ll need to set ownership of the LaunchDaemon plist file to root:wheel. You can do this using the
chown command in Terminal.
Once the plist file is in place, reboot your Mac. Once your Mac boots up and you’ve logged in, fire up the Terminal and run this command (you will need to use
sudo if your account has administrative privileges; if your account doesn’t have administrative privileges, you should log in as an account that does in order to test things):
sudo ipfw list
This command should return the list of firewall rules you embedded in the configuration file. If it doesn’t, then go back and double-check your setup. Be sure that the plist file has the correct reference to the startup shell script, and that the startup shell script has the correct reference to the configuration file. You should also check to ensure that you made the startup shell script executable (using the
If the command does return your firewall ruleset, then you’re all set.
Note that using
ipfw does not in any way prevent you from using other firewalls—such as the built-in application-level firewall in Mac OS X—to further secure your system.
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