A stateful firewall like the ASA, however, takes into consideration the state of a packet:
•Is this a new connection?
If it is a new connection, the ASA has to check the packet against access lists and perform other tasks to determine if the packet is allowed or denied. To perform this check, the first packet of the session goes through the “session management path,” and depending on the type of traffic, it might also pass through the “control plane path.”
The session management path is responsible for the following tasks:
–Performing the access list checks
–Performing route lookups
–Allocating NAT translations (xlates)
–Establishing sessions in the “fast path”
The ASA creates forward and reverse flows in the fast path for TCP traffic; the ASA also creates connection state information for connectionless protocols like UDP, ICMP (when you enable ICMP inspection), so that they can also use the fast path.
Note For other IP protocols, like SCTP, the ASA does not create reverse path flows. As a result, ICMP error packets that refer to these connections are dropped.
Some packets that require Layer 7 inspection (the packet payload must be inspected or altered) are passed on to the control plane path. Layer 7 inspection engines are required for protocols that have two or more channels: a data channel, which uses well-known port numbers, and a control channel, which uses different port numbers for each session. These protocols include FTP, H.323, and SNMP.
•Is this an established connection?
If the connection is already established, the ASA does not need to re-check packets; most matching packets can go through the “fast” path in both directions. The fast path is responsible for the following tasks:
–IP checksum verification
–TCP sequence number check
–NAT translations based on existing sessions
–Layer 3 and Layer 4 header adjustments
Data packets for protocols that require Layer 7 inspection can also go through the fast path.
Some established session packets must continue to go through the session management path or the control plane path. Packets that go through the session management path include HTTP packets that require inspection or content filtering. Packets that go through the control plane path include the control packets for protocols that require Layer 7 inspection.