Securing Ports and Services

Securing portsA computer system that is not connected to a network is a rarity. While this provides some flexibility in terms of remote services, data and information that are available, it also brings considerable risks. It is probably correct to assume that any computer connected to a network is in danger of being attacked in some way. Secure computer environments, in many cases used by government defense organizations, often have no contact with the outside world, even if they are networked to each other, and as a result, they often have greater success in securing ports and services.

The predominant network communications protocol is TCP/IP. It is the protocol used by the Internet and thus has supplanted most of the formerly popular protocols used for local area networks (LANs). However, TCP/IP was conceived to send and receive data reliably, not to secure it. Securing the data (and securing ports) is the job of applications listening and sending on specific ports.

TCP/IP defines a total of 65,535 ports of which 1023 are considered to be well-known ports. These are, of course, not physical ports into which network cables are connected, but rather virtual ports on each network connection which can be used by applications and services to communicate over a TCP/IP connection. In reality, the number of ports that are used by popular network clients and services comprises an even smaller subset of the well-known group of ports, which makes the task of securing ports somewhat easier.

There are a number of different TCP/IP services which can be provided by an operating system. Such services include HTTP for running a web server, FTP for allowing file transfers, SSH and Telnet for providing remote login access and SMTP for the transport of e-mail messages. Each service in turn is assigned a standard TCP/IP port. For example, port 80 is for HTTP requests; port 21 is for File Transfer Protocol (FTP); port 17 is for the quote of the day.

Securing Ports and Services: How It’s Done

A large part of securing ports and securing servers involves defining roles, and based on the roles, defining which services and ports should be enabled. For example, a server that is to act solely as a web server should only run the HTTP service, and perhaps SSH for remote administration access. All other services should be disabled, and ideally, removed entirely from the operating system. Removing the service will make it harder for an intruder to re-enable the service. Thus, while it is necessary for some ports to be open to Internet traffic, it is also necessary to ensure that only the bare minimum are exposed and that the software on the system is as up to date as possible.

Securing a system involves (a) removing any unnecessary services from the operating system and (b) ensuring that the ports associated with these non-essential services are blocked using a firewall.

Many operating systems are installed with a number of services installed and activated by default. Before installing a new operating system, it is essential that the installation be carefully planned. This involves deciding which services are not required and identifying which services have been installed and enabled by default. It helps if deployment is not rushed; the fewer services and open ports available on a system, the smaller the surface area and opportunities for attackers. In addition, it is essential to turn on automatic updates, both for Windows and Linux, as well as for your antivirus software.

As for the firewall, you will want to have a dedicated firewall between your network and the Internet. Although not absolutely essential, it is good practice to have a personal firewall on each computer. In securing ports, you should make sure your firewall is closed to all traffic other than to the ports you know should be open. Because some malicious software can silently open ports, it is a good idea to check them yourself and close any that you do not need open.

External Links:

TCP/UDP ports on Wikipedia

How to secure your TCP/IP ports at

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