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Configuring Forefront Threat Management Gateway (TMG) URL Filtering to Fail Closed

May 24, 2010

The URL filtering feature in Microsoft Forefront Threat Management Gateway (TMG) 2010 leverages the Microsoft Reputation Services (MRS) for URL categorization. MRS is a cloud-based, multi-vendor URL database that is supplemented by intelligence gathered from various Microsoft online service offerings, telemetry from TMG, and direct user feedback. At a high level, when a request is made for a public URL, the firewall service will contact MRS to determine which category or categories the URL belongs to. TMG then compares this against the configured firewall policy to determine if the request is allowed or denied (this categorization is cached locally, so subsequent requests for the same URL do not require another trip to the cloud).

What happens if TMG cannot contact the MRS services to categorize a URL? By default, if TMG does not receive a reply from MRS the URL is categorized as Unknown and an alert is raised. In essence, the fail open or fail closed policy can be determined by either allowing or denying the category unknown. Allow the unknown category to fail open, or deny it to fail closed.

Of course there are some implications to denying the unknown category. There may be legitimate sites that users visit that are not yet categorized by MRS. Although you could manually categorize these URLs in the TMG management console, doing so would be a tedious and time consuming process. Blocking access to unknown sites until an administrator could categorize them manually would also be intrusive and disruptive, and a potential productivity killer.

A better solution to enable a fail closed policy would be to configure the URL Categorization Server Unavailable alert to stop the TMG firewall service when triggered. To do this, open the TMG management console and highlight the monitoring node in the navigation tree.

Select the alerts tab and in the tasks pane click the Configure Alert Definitions link.

Highlight the URL Categorization Server Unavailable alert and choose Edit…

Select the Actions tab, and then check the Stop selected services option and choose Select…

Select Microsoft Forefront TMG Firewall.

For Enterprise arrays, consider creating separate alerts for each array member. In the event a single array member is unable to contact MRS, only that firewall will stop processing traffic. To do this, select the Events tab and select an array member from the By server: dropdown box.

Note: To avoid interrupting service due to temporary unavailability of MRS, you may want to configure the alert to be triggered after a certain number of occurrences, and perhaps specify the number of minutes since the last execution of the event occurred.

Once complete, create an identical alert for each of the remaining array members. You can do this by choosing clicking the Configure Alert Definitions link and selecting Add…, then follow the New Alert Configuration Wizard.

Categories: Forefront TMG 2010