Developing a Troubleshooting Checklist

There is an old saying that when you practice what you need to do in the time of a crisis, when the crisis occurs the reaction tends to be automatic. When the firewall is down is not the time to try to figure out what you should be looking at to resolve the problem. Instead, develop a troubleshooting checklist in advance. The reason is simple: There will already be enough stress and confusion as a result of the failure; there is no need to increase either by not having a plan. Your troubleshooting checklist is that plan.

Obviously, you cannot plan for every failure that will occur, but you can put together a strategy that, if executed properly, increases the likelihood of being able to isolate the problem more rapidly. The primary objective of the troubleshooting checklist is to provide a methodical and logical approach to troubleshoot the problem. After all, computer systems (including firewalls) are binary devices, they are on or off. The logic is simple, and the devices always do exactly what they are supposed toeven when they fail. A troubleshooting checklist should guide you through that logical troubleshooting process. I often use an analogy of eating an elephant when I talk about troubleshooting. Trying to eat an elephant introduces a big, big problem. If you try to sit down and eat the elephant all at once, you are going to quickly find yourself overwhelmed with the task at hand. Troubleshooting is no different. If you try to troubleshoot the entire problem all at once, you are going to quickly find yourself overwhelmed with the task at hand. However, instead of trying to deal with the whole elephant, if you chop it into smaller, easier-to-manage steak-sized pieces, you will find the task of eating the elephant more manageable. Troubleshooting is no different, and after you have developed a checklist of methodical and logical approaches to troubleshooting a problem, a secondary objective of a troubleshooting checklist is to use the results obtained by following the checklist to narrow down the potential causes of whatever failure is occurring.

Keeping in mind that every firewall, environment, and problem is unique, the following represent a good baseline troubleshooting checklist:

Step 1. Verify the problem reported.

Step 2. Test connectivity.

Step 3. Physically check the firewall.

Step 4. Check for recent changes.

Step 5. Check the firewall logs for errors.

Step 6. Verify the firewall configuration.

Step 7. Verify the firewall ruleset.

Step 8. Verify that any dependent, non-firewall-specific systems are not the culprit.

Step 9. Monitor the network traffic.

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