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Apache > HTTP Server > Documentation > Version 2.4 > Miscellaneous Documentation

Security Tips

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Some hints and tips on security issues in setting up a web server. Some of the suggestions will be general, others specific to Apache.

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Keep up to Date

The Apache HTTP Server has a good record for security and a developer community highly concerned about security issues. But it is inevitable that some problems -- small or large -- will be discovered in software after it is released. For this reason, it is crucial to keep aware of updates to the software. If you have obtained your version of the HTTP Server directly from Apache, we highly recommend you subscribe to the Apache HTTP Server Announcements List where you can keep informed of new releases and security updates. Similar services are available from most third-party distributors of Apache software.

Of course, most times that a web server is compromised, it is not because of problems in the HTTP Server code. Rather, it comes from problems in add-on code, CGI scripts, or the underlying Operating System. You must therefore stay aware of problems and updates with all the software on your system.

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Denial of Service (DoS) attacks

All network servers can be subject to denial of service attacks that attempt to prevent responses to clients by tying up the resources of the server. It is not possible to prevent such attacks entirely, but you can do certain things to mitigate the problems that they create.

Often the most effective anti-DoS tool will be a firewall or other operating-system configurations. For example, most firewalls can be configured to restrict the number of simultaneous connections from any individual IP address or network, thus preventing a range of simple attacks. Of course this is no help against Distributed Denial of Service attacks (DDoS).

There are also certain Apache HTTP Server configuration settings that can help mitigate problems:

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Permissions on ServerRoot Directories

In typical operation, Apache is started by the root user, and it switches to the user defined by the User directive to serve hits. As is the case with any command that root executes, you must take care that it is protected from modification by non-root users. Not only must the files themselves be writeable only by root, but so must the directories, and parents of all directories. For example, if you choose to place ServerRoot in /usr/local/apache then it is suggested that you create that directory as root, with commands like these:

mkdir /usr/local/apache
cd /usr/local/apache
mkdir bin conf logs
chown 0 . bin conf logs
chgrp 0 . bin conf logs
chmod 755 . bin conf logs

It is assumed that /, /usr, and /usr/local are only modifiable by root. When you install the httpd executable, you should ensure that it is similarly protected:

cp httpd /usr/local/apache/bin
chown 0 /usr/local/apache/bin/httpd
chgrp 0 /usr/local/apache/bin/httpd
chmod 511 /usr/local/apache/bin/httpd

You can create an htdocs subdirectory which is modifiable by other users -- since root never executes any files out of there, and shouldn't be creating files in there.

If you allow non-root users to modify any files that root either executes or writes on then you open your system to root compromises. For example, someone could replace the httpd binary so that the next time you start it, it will execute some arbitrary code. If the logs directory is writeable (by a non-root user), someone could replace a log file with a symlink to some other system file, and then root might overwrite that file with arbitrary data. If the log files themselves are writeable (by a non-root user), then someone may be able to overwrite the log itself with bogus data.

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Server Side Includes

Server Side Includes (SSI) present a server administrator with several potential security risks.

The first risk is the increased load on the server. All SSI-enabled files have to be parsed by Apache, whether or not there are any SSI directives included within the files. While this load increase is minor, in a shared server environment it can become significant.

SSI files also pose the same risks that are associated with CGI scripts in general. Using the exec cmd element, SSI-enabled files can execute any CGI script or program under the permissions of the user and group Apache runs as, as configured in apache2.conf.

There are ways to enhance the security of SSI files while still taking advantage of the benefits they provide.

To isolate the damage a wayward SSI file can cause, a server administrator can enable suexec as described in the CGI in General section.

Enabling SSI for files with .html or .htm extensions can be dangerous. This is especially true in a shared, or high traffic, server environment. SSI-enabled files should have a separate extension, such as the conventional .shtml. This helps keep server load at a minimum and allows for easier management of risk.

Another solution is to disable the ability to run scripts and programs from SSI pages. To do this replace Includes with IncludesNOEXEC in the Options directive. Note that users may still use <--#include virtual="..." --> to execute CGI scripts if these scripts are in directories designated by a ScriptAlias directive.

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CGI in General

First of all, you always have to remember that you must trust the writers of the CGI scripts/programs or your ability to spot potential security holes in CGI, whether they were deliberate or accidental. CGI scripts can run essentially arbitrary commands on your system with the permissions of the web server user and can therefore be extremely dangerous if they are not carefully checked.

All the CGI scripts will run as the same user, so they have potential to conflict (accidentally or deliberately) with other scripts e.g. User A hates User B, so he writes a script to trash User B's CGI database. One program which can be used to allow scripts to run as different users is suEXEC which is included with Apache as of 1.2 and is called from special hooks in the Apache server code. Another popular way of doing this is with CGIWrap.

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Non Script Aliased CGI

Allowing users to execute CGI scripts in any directory should only be considered if:

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Script Aliased CGI

Limiting CGI to special directories gives the admin control over what goes into those directories. This is inevitably more secure than non script aliased CGI, but only if users with write access to the directories are trusted or