Port Forwarding with NAT in pfSense

Firewall Configuration: NAT port forwarding

Firewall -> NAT configuration page in the pfSense web GUI.

In computer networking, Network Address Translation (NAT) is the process of modifying IP address information in IPv4 headers while in transit across a traffic routing device. In most cases, it involves translating from the WAN IP address to the 192.168.x.x addresses of your local network. In this article, I will describe how to set up NAT port forwarding.

NAT and firewall rules are distinct and separate. NAT rules forward traffic, while firewall rules block or allow traffic. In the next article, I will cover firewall rules, but for now keep in mind that just because a NAT rule is forwarding traffic does not mean the firewall rules will allow it.

NAT Port Forwarding

NAT port forwarding rules can differ in complexity, but in this example, let’s assume we set up an Apache server at 192.1.168.125 on the local network, and we want to direct all HTTP traffic (port 80) to that address. First, browse to Firewall -> NAT. The options are “Port Forward“, “1:1” and “Outbound“. Select the “Port Forward” tab. Click the “plus” button in order to create a new NAT port forward rule. “Disable the rule” and “No RDR” can be left unchanged. For “Interface” you can choose WAN and LAN; we are concerned about incoming requests from the Internet, so you can keep it as WAN.

For “Protocol”, there are five choices: TCP, UDP, TCP/UDP, GRE, and ESP. TCP stands for Transmission Control Protocol, and is the transport level protocol of the Internet protocol suite. This is usually what we want to use. Next is UDP, or User Datagram Protocol, another transport level protocol which is also part of the Internet protocol suite. It is suitable for purposes where error checking and correction are either not necessary or are performed in the application. GRE stands for Generic Routing Encapsulation, a tunneling protocol that can encapsulate a wide variety of network layer protocols inside virtual point-to-point links. It can be used, among other things, in conjunction with PPTP to create VPNs. ESP stands for Encapsulating Security Payload, a member of the IPsec protocol suite which provides authenticity, integrity and confidentiality protection of packets. In this port forwarding scenario, you can leave the protocol unchanged (TCP).

Firewall Configuration: NAT

Adding a NAT port forwarding rule.

For “Source“, you can specify the allowed client source. Typically you can leave it as “any”, but there are several choices: “Single host or alias“, “Network“, “PPTP clients“, “PPPoE clients“, “L2TP clients“, “WAN subnet“, “WAN address“, “LAN subnet“, and “LAN address“. In this case, you can leave the default (any) unchanged.

For “Source port range“, we want to redirect HTTP traffic (port 80), so choose HTTP for the from and to drop-down boxes. “Destination” offers the same choices as “Source” and can be left unchanged. “Destination port range” should be changed to HTTP for the from and to drop-down boxes. For “Redirect target IP“, specify the web server the traffic to be forwarded to (in our case, 192.168.1.125). For “Redirect target Port“, choose HTTP. Next is “No XMLRPC Sync“; enable this option to prevent this rule from being applied to any redundant firewalls using CARP. This option can be left unchecked now. “NAT Reflection” can be enabled or disabled, usually it is disabled. “Filter Rule association” will automatically create a firewall rule and associate it to this NAT rule. Check this box to avoid having to create a separate firewall rule. Add a description if you wish, and press “Save” to save the changes. The port forwarding rule set up should now be in effect.

NAT Port Redirection

In this case, we passed traffic from port 80 on the source to port 80 on the destination, which is the classic port forwarding scenario. But there’s no reason you can’t redirect traffic to a different port. There are two reasons you might want to do this:

[1] Security: A good way to thwart hackers is to put services on non-standard ports. For example, everyone knows the standard port for FTP is 21, but an outsider is unlikely to find your FTP server if you place it on port 69, or better yet, an even higher port number (e.g. 51782). The same can be said of SSH. Users will have to know the port in order to access it.

[2] Single Public IP Address, more than one computer with the same services: Smaller networks with only a single public IP address may be stuck if the want to expose a lot of public services. For example, imagine that we want to have two separate FTP servers, but on two separate computers. With port redirection, we create two different NAT rules: the first rule will redirect port 51782 to port 21 on FTPServer1, and the second will redirect port 51783 to port 21 on FTPServer2. We can then remote into two separate FTP servers on two different computers using the same IP address.

External Links:

Port Forwarding Troubleshooting at doc.pfsense.org

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  3. [...] Delete any existing FTP ort forwards or firewall rules and add new port forwarding and firewall rules for the destination port 21 and the destination private NAT IP address. For more information on port forwarding with NAT, see my earlier posting on NAT/port forwarding. [...]

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