Zone Based Firewall Configuration Example

Zone Based Firewall is the most advanced method of a stateful firewall available on Cisco IOS routers. The idea behind ZBF is that we don’t assign access-lists to interfaces, but we will create different zones. Interfaces will be assigned to the different zones, and security policies will be assigned to traffic between zones. To show you why ZBF is useful, let me show you a picture:

network lots of acl

Above, you see a small network that has a LAN, DMZ, and WAN with two ISPs. Let’s say our security policy looks like this:

  • Traffic from the LAN is allowed to the WAN but only to HTTP and HTTPS servers.
  • Traffic from the LAN is allowed to the DMZ unrestricted.
  • Traffic from the DMZ is not allowed to the LAN.
  • Traffic from the DMZ is allowed to the WAN but only for the DNS and HTTP servers.
  • Traffic from the WAN is allowed to the LAN but only to an FTP server.

If you want to achieve this using access lists, you’ll have to create multiple access lists and attach them to different interfaces inbound and/or outbound. To say the least, it becomes an administrative pain to do this. It’s possible but annoying.

With the zone-based firewall, we won’t apply the security policies to the interfaces but to security zones. Interfaces will become members of the different zones. Here’s an example of the topology above with zones:

ZBF 3 Zones

Above, you see three zones; LAN, WAN, and DMZ. The interfaces are assigned to the correct zone, and now we can apply security policies to traffic between zones. For example:

  • LAN to WAN
  • LAN to DMZ
  • WAN to LAN
  • WAN to DMZ
  • DMZ to WAN
  • DMZ to LAN

To create a security policy for traffic between zones we have to create a zone pair. We have to configure zone pairs and apply a security policy to them to determine what traffic is permitted from one zone to another. All security policies are attached to the zone pairs. Now you have an idea of what a zone-based firewall is, let me show you how to configure this.


We will use the following topology:

zone based firewall lan wan

Above, you see three routers and two zones called LAN and WAN. We will configure ZBF on R2. For connectivity, I’ll create a static route on R1 and R3 that points to R2:

R1(config)#ip route
R3(config)#ip route

Now we can configure the firewall.

Configure the Zones

First, we will create two zones. We only have two of them:

R2(config)#zone security LAN
R2(config)#zone security WAN

Secondly, we will assign the interfaces to the correct zone:

R2(config)#interface fastEthernet 0/0
R2(config-if)#zone-member security LAN
R2(config)#interface fastEthernet 0/1 
R2(config-if)#zone-member security WAN

Let’s verify the configuration of the zones:

R2#show zone security 
zone self
  Description: System defined zone

zone LAN
  Member Interfaces:

zone WAN
  Member Interfaces:

The zones are active, and interfaces have been assigned to them, now we can create the zone pairs.

Configure the Zone Pairs

R2(config)#zone-pair security LAN-TO-WAN source LAN destination WAN
R2(config-sec-zone-pair)#description LAN-TO-WAN TRAFFIC
R2(config)#zone-pair security WAN-TO-LAN source WAN destination LAN
R2(config-sec-zone-pair)#description WAN-TO-LAN TRAFFIC

Above I create two zone pairs. One for traffic from our LAN to the WAN, and another for traffic from the WAN to our LAN. A description is optional but recommended if you have many zones. Let’s verify our configuration:

R2#show zone-pair security 
Zone-pair name LAN-TO-WAN
    Source-Zone LAN  Destination-Zone WAN 
    service-policy not configured
Zone-pair name WAN-TO-LAN
    Source-Zone WAN  Destination-Zone LAN 
    service-policy not configured

Now we have zones, zone pairs, and interfaces that are assigned to the zones. By default, all traffic will be blocked. Let’s see if this is true:

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Forum Replies

  1. Hi Rene,

    Really good post to understand the concepts behind the zone based firewall.

    Can you advise under what kind of network environments you would use zone based firewall?

    Thank you,

  2. Hi Jay,

    The Zone Based Firewall is nice to use if you have an ISR with many interfaces that doesn’t run too much traffic and when you don’t have the budget to buy a separate firewall.


  3. Thank you Rene . Clean , Simple and very informative.

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