How to Set Up Firewall Policies using Iptables

Updated on April 2, 2024

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Iptables is a built-in command-line utility that performs packet filtering functionalities using the Linux Kernel Netfilter firewall framework. It controls incoming and outgoing network traffic by matching network packets with available chain rules on the server. Iptables uses a hierarchical rule execution format which includes tables, chains, and rules to filter network traffic on the server.

This article explains how to set up firewall policies using iptables on a Vultr Cloud Server. You will set up basic traffic filtering rules with target decisions to accept, drop, or reject network packets on the server.


Set Up Firewall Policies

Iptables can filter network packets based on the target table and chain rules. Below are the main tables referenced by iptables.

  • Filter Table: Contains packet filtering rules that either allow or deny packets to continue to the intended destination.
  • NAT Table: Contains network packet modification rules that translate specific source addresses to your server network address for forwarding purposes on the server.
  • Raw Table: Enables access to network packets before the Linux Kernel state tracking process.
  • Security Table: Sets the internal host SELinux security context on network packets.
  • Mangle Table: Contains rules that alter network packet headers and information such as the time to live (TTL) value.

To configure firewall policies, iptables uses the following built-in chain rules to filter network traffic.

  • INPUT: Captures incoming network packets on the server. Rules for incoming traffic.
  • OUTPUT: Captures outgoing network packets.
  • FORWARD: Forwards network packets routed within the server.
  1. View all available iptables rules on the server.

    $ sudo iptables -L


    Chain INPUT (policy ACCEPT)
    target     prot opt source               destination         
    Chain FORWARD (policy ACCEPT)
    target     prot opt source               destination         
    Chain OUTPUT (policy ACCEPT)
    target     prot opt source               destination  
  2. Follow the sections below to set up example firewall policies using iptables.

Allow Incoming Network Requests

  1. Allow connection requests to the loopback interface

    $ sudo iptables -A INPUT -i lo -j ACCEPT

    The above rule enables incoming connection requests to the localhost loopback interface. Within the command:

    • -A: Adds the rule to the filter table INPUT chain.
    • -i lo: Applies the rule to the loopback (lo) interface.
    • -j ACCEPT: Accepts matching network packets without any extra processing.
  2. Allow already established and two-way network connections on the server.

    $ sudo iptables -A OUTPUT -m conntrack --ctstate ESTABLISHED -j ACCEPT

    The above rule accepts incoming network requests to already established connections and related connections in the form of two-way traffic.

  3. Allow incoming connections to a specific network port. For example, allow incoming SSH connection requests to the server TCP port 22 from your public IP address subnet

    $ sudo iptables -A INPUT -p tcp -s --dport 22 -m conntrack --ctstate NEW,ESTABLISHED -j ACCEPT
  4. Allow incoming connections from one network interface to another. For example, allow network requests from the enp1s0 interface to the enp8s0 interface.

    $ sudo iptables -A FORWARD -i enp1s0 -o enp8s0 -j ACCEPT

    The above command forwards connection requests from one interface to another. However, additional static routing or NAT processing is required to route connections between hosts on the different networks.

Allow Outgoing Network Requests

  1. Allow all outgoing network traffic from the server without any port or address restrictions.

    $ sudo iptables -A OUTPUT -j ACCEPT
  2. Allow outgoing network traffic from the loopback interface

    $ sudo iptables -A OUTPUT -o lo -j ACCEPT
  3. Allow established outgoing network connections that match an already established incoming connection.

    $ sudo iptables -A OUTPUT -m conntrack --ctstate ESTABLISHED -j ACCEPT

Block IP Addresses and Network Requests

  1. Block IP network connections that originate from a specific IPV4 address. For example,

    $ sudo iptables -A INPUT -s -j DROP

    The above command blocks the network IP from accessing any resources on the server.

  2. Block network connections to a specific server interface. For example, block the IP from accessing the internal enp8s0 in any way.

    $ sudo iptables -A INPUT -i enp8s0 -s -j DROP
  3. Block IP access to specific network ports from a specific address range. For example,

    $ sudo iptables -A INPUT -p tcp -m multiport --dports 22,5901 -s -j DROP
  4. Block all incoming network requests that don't match any allowed rules.

    $ sudo iptables -A INPUT -j DROP

Delete iptables Rules

Depending on your server network requests, you can delete specific iptables rules or modify the existing entries to match your needs. For example, if a specific IP address cannot access the server, you can delete the IP block rule or modify the existing rules to your needs.

  1. View the available iptables rules and identify the target rule to delete.

    $ sudo iptables -L
  2. Append the -D option instead of -A on your original iptables rule to delete the target entry. For example, delete the IP blocking rule for the host address

    $ sudo iptables -D INPUT -s -j DROP

Enable NAT and Port Forwarding

  1. Enable NAT resolution through the public interface enp1s0.

    $ sudo iptables -t nat -A POSTROUTING -o eth0 -j MASQUERADE

    The above NAT rule translates all network requests to the enp1s0 IP address. For example, hosts on the enp8s0 network route to external networks using the enp1s0 interface IP. Within the above command:

    • -t nat: Applies the rule to the NAT table.
    • -A POSTROUTING: Appends rule to the POSTROUTING chain within the NAT table.
    • -o eth0: Sets the target network interface to translate requests.
    • -j MASQUERADE: Enables modification of the source IP address to match the external interface IP.
  2. Forward traffic from a specific port such as 80 to an interface such as enp8s0.

    $ sudo iptables -t filter -A PREROUTING -i enp8s0 -p tcp --dport 8080 -j ACCEPT
  3. Forward traffic from a specific port to a single destination IP address such as using dynamic NAT.

    $ sudo iptables -t nat -A PREROUTING -i enp8s0 -p tcp --dport 8080 -j DNAT --to-destination

Log Iptables Rules

  1. Log all dropped network packets for debugging purposes with the prompt Dropped iptables packets.

    $ sudo iptables -A INPUT -j LOG --log-prefix "Dropped iptables packets:"
  2. Log all unknown network packets with the prompt Unknown network packets:.

    $ sudo iptables -A INPUT -j LOG --log-prefix "Unknown network packets:"
  3. View the system log file /var/log/syslog to verify the iptables log entries that match your rules.

    $ sudo cat /var/log/syslog

Permanently Save Iptables Rules

  1. Install the iptables-persistent package.

    $ sudo apt install iptables-persistent
  2. Save the iptables rules.

    $ sudo netfilter-persistent save


You have set up firewall policies using iptables on a Vultr Linux Server and configured multiple rules to filter network requests. iptables offers extended functionalities that filter multiple network requests on the server depending on the request type and origin. For more information and iptables commands, visit the utility manual page using the command man iptables.