How to Prevent RackConnect from Overwriting Custom Iptables Rules on Linux Cloud Servers

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.  For most users this is exactly the functionality that they 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 by which an advanced user may modify the default behavior of RackConnect Automation's software firewall management on Linux Cloud Servers in order to allow them to create their own iptables rules.

Who is the target audience for this article?

This article is aimed at 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 is highly recommended 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.

OK, I'm an advanced user and I have a need for custom rules.  What do I need to do?

Each time 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, simply do the following:

  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 servers 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 to all Cloud Servers.  Once 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 (it is unlikely that someone with IP will try to access your server, but better safe than sorry).

    Add Network Policy Screenshot; Name TempPolicy, Access Scenario Dedicated to Cloud Server, Source, 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. You can 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  --  *      *              state RELATED,ESTABLISHED /* RackConnectChain-INBOUND-RE */
      ###  #### ACCEPT     all  --  lo     *              /* Local-Loopback */
      ###  #### ACCEPT     icmp --  *      *              /* RCAutoMP-NP_34908 */
      ###  #### RETURN     all  --  *      *             

That's it?  Create one file and everything magically works?  What's the catch?

For the most part, yes; touching the file and forcing automation to update iptables is all that is required.  There are a few important things to note, however:

  1. RackConnect rules always run before custom rules

    All RackConnect-related ACCEPT/DENY rules are kept in filter chains named "RS-RackConnect-<something>" (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 may 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.

  2. No changes may 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 next update.

  3. 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 will 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) may cause RackConnect Automation to save the running ruleset to disk in the background while you are experimenting.

  4. RS-RackConnect-* rules are only updated when Network Policies change

    If you use the iptables-save command to back up your iptables rules, take note of 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 using iptables-restore you may 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 may have updated the iptables rules for a server since the backup 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.


  • I created /etc/rackconnect-allow-custom-iptables, but it doesn't appear that my rules are being processed!

    There are two possible causes:

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

      RackConnect Automation only creates a RETURN rule at the end of the RS-RackConnect-* chains when 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 in setup Step 2 above.  As long as /etc/rackconnect-allow-custom-iptables exists, RackConnect Automation will not remove the custom rules you have created - it will simply add the RETURN rule necessary for iptables to process them.

    2. 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 will do as that rule says (ACCEPT or DROP it) and will stop processing further rules.  If the matching RS-RackConnect-* rule is insufficient for your needs you may 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.

  • Who can I contact if I have any questions?

    Should you have any questions about RackConnect, Managed Cloud Service Level, or this change, please don't hesitate to contact your Rackspace Support team.

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