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ModSecurity Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
ModSecurity is supported by Trustwave's SpiderLabs Team https://www.trustwave.com/spiderLabs.php and includes the following team members:
- Ryan Barnett - ModSecurity Project Lead and OWASP ModSecurity Core Rule Set Project Lead
- Felipe Zimmerle Costa - ModSecurity Lead Developer
ModSecurity™is an open source, free web application firewall (WAF) Apache module. With over 70% of all attacks now carried out over the web application level, organizations need all the help they can get in making their systems secure. WAFs are deployed to establish an external security layer that increases security, detects and prevents attacks before they reach web applications. It provides protection from a range of attacks against web applications and allows for HTTP traffic monitoring and real-time analysis with little or no changes to existing infrastructure.
The ModSecurity website is the definitive location for all information - http://www.modsecurity.org/help.html.
- ModSecurity Users Mail-list (SourceForge) - http://lists.sourceforge.net/lists/listinfo/mod-security-users
- ModSecurity Developers Mail-list (SourceForge) - http://lists.sourceforge.net/lists/listinfo/mod-security-developers
- OWASP ModSecurity Core Rules Mail-list (OWASP) - https://lists.owasp.org/mailman/listinfo/owasp-modsecurity-core-rule-set
- You can also join the #modsecurity channel on irc.freenode.net.
- Commercial Support through Trustwave's Technical Assistance Center (TAC) - https://www3.trustwave.com/modsecurity-rules-support.php
- Professional Services offer by Trustwave SpiderLabs Research Team
- ModSecurity Training
Yes, only subscribers are able to post messages. As mentioned in the previous section, you will need to visit the mail-list website to register.
Yes. There is a good chance that the issue you are facing has already been discussed and, most likely, a fix has already been presented. You can review the mail-list archive online at the ModSecurity project site on SourceForge. You can also use the Search interface available for topic threads that are archived to the various mirror sites. For example, if you had a question about Exceptions and ModSecurity, you could use the following search to find past mail-list threads on this topic. If you can not find an answer to your question after doing some research, you should then send an email to the mod-security-users mail-list.
Will I always get an immediate answer to my question on the open source mod-security-users mail-list?
The open source mod-security-users mail-list is "best effort" support meaning that we will aspire to respond to emails as quickly as possible however the actual response time may vary depending on factors such as time of day, time of week and complexity of the question. If your email is sent on the week-end or if your question involves setting up test systems, unique configurations or interactions with a custom application then it may take some time to respond.
If I don't get an immediate response, should I send an email to the Trustwave Technical Support email address?
No. The Trustwave Technical Support email address is for commercial ModSecurity customers only.
Training Trustwave's SpiderLabs offers a variety of web application security training options include open source ModSecurity rule writing classes. Please use this contact form for more information. Ask about:
ModSecurity: Deployment and Management ModSecurity: Rules Writing Workshop ModSecurity: Virtual Patching Workshop
ModSecurity Handbook is "The definitive guide to the popular open source web application firewall", written by Ivan Ristic (original author of ModSecurity). The book is available from Feisty Duck in hard copy or with immediate access to the digital version which is continually updated.
The Web Application Defender's Cookbook: Battling Hackers and Protecting Users is a book written by the ModSecurity Project Lead and OWASP ModSecurity Project Lead Ryan Barnett. The book outlines critical defensive techniques to protect web applications and includes example ModSecurity rules/scripts.
ModSecurity 2.5 is "A complete guide to using ModSecurity", written by Magnus Mischel. The book is available from Packt Publishing in both hard copy and digital forms.
Apache Security is a comprehensive Apache Security resource, written by Ivan Ristic for O'Reilly. Two chapters (Apache Installation and Configuration and PHP) are available as free download, as are the Apache security tools created for the book.
Preventing Web Attacks with Apache. Building on his groundbreaking SANS presentations on Apache security, Ryan C. Barnett reveals why your Web servers represent such a compelling target, how significant exploits are performed, and how they can be defended against.
There is a common misconception that ModSecurity can only be used for negative policy enforcement. This is not the case. ModSecurity does not have any default security model "out-of-the-box." It is up to the user to implement appropriate rules to achieve the desired security model. That being said, these are the security models which are most often employed:
Negative Security Model - looks for known bad, malicious requests. This method is effective at blocking a large number of automated attacks, however it is not the best approach for identifying new attack vectors. Using too many negative rules may also negatively impact performance.
Positive Security Model - When positive security model is deployed, only requests that are known to be valid are accepted, with everything else rejected. This approach works best with applications that are heavily used but rarely updated.
Virtual Patching - Its rule language makes ModSecurity an ideal external patching tool. External patching is all about reducing the window of opportunity. Time needed to patch application vulnerabilities often runs to weeks in many organizations. With ModSecurity, applications can be patched from the outside, without touching the application source code (and even without any access to it), making your systems secure until a proper patch is produced.
Extrusion Detection Model - ModSecurity can also monitor outbound data and identify and block information disclosure issues such as leaking detailed error messages or Social Security Numbers or Credit Card Numbers.
There are many significant changes and enhancements in ModSecurity 2.5 over the 1.x branch, including:
In order to use the OWASP ModSecurity Core Rules, you must use the 2.x version of ModSecurity as it takes advantage of specific features not available in previous versions.
Five processing phases (where there were only two in 1.9.x). These are: request headers, request body, response headers, response body, and logging. Those users who wanted to do things at the earliest possible moment can do them now.
Per-rule transformation options (previously normalization was implicit and hard-coded). Many new transformation functions were added.
Transaction variables. This can be used to store pieces of data, create a transaction anomaly score, and so on.
Data persistence (can be configured any way you want although most people will want to use this feature to track IP addresses, application sessions, and application users).
Support for anomaly scoring and basic event correlation (counters can be automatically decreased over time; variables can be expired).
Support for web applications and session IDs.
Regular Expression back-references (allows one to create custom variables using transaction content).
There are now many functions that can be applied to the variables (where previously one could only use regular expressions).
XML support (parsing, validation, XPath).
For more information, it is suggested that you review the SecurityFocus interview that Ivan Ristic gave on ModSecurity 2.0 as it outlines these new features in more detail.
Due to the many changes in the ModSecurity 2.0 rules language, you can not directly use existing rulesets. You will need to translate the functionality of any custom rules into the new rules language. A migration matrix is available here http://www.modsecurity.org/documentation/ModSecurity-Migration-Matrix.pdf that will assist with this process.
The installation procedures for installing ModSecurity 2.5 has changed from previous versions. It now includes a configure script that should help to identify all local settings. After running configure, you then run the make and make install commands. You no longer use apxs directly.
The term "embedded" simply refers to the fact that ModSecurity, running as an Apache module, is running inside the webserver process. Most WAFs function as totally separate hosts and sit in front of the web servers. Running in embedded-mode has some advantages and disadvantages that should be considered:
Advantages Easy to add to an existing Apache server.
Not a point of failure with respect to traffic.
Disadvantages ModSecurity can only protect the local web server.
ModSecurity will consume local resources such as CPU and RAM.
Management of log files and configurations can become difficult if you have multiple installations.
The only difference with this deployment vs. an embedded one is that Apache itself is configured to function as a reverse proxy.
Advantages Single point of access – functions as a choke point so you consolidate applying security settings and makes management easier.
Network topology is hidden from the outside world - so it will be more difficult for attackers to enumerate your web platforms.
Increased performance – if SSL accelerators/caching used.
You can implement vulnerability filters to protect and vulnerable web server or application on the back-end (IIS, Netscape, ASP, PHP, etc...). See related section on Virtual Patching.
Disadvantages A potential traffic bottleneck if the reverse proxy can not handle the network load.
A potential point of failure - if the reverse proxy goes down it may cause a denial of service to the web applications that are behind it.
Requires changes to the network.
No. Every Ruleset can have false positive in new environments and any new installation should initially use the log only Ruleset version or if no such version is available, set ModSecurity to Detection only using the SecRuleEngine DetectionOnly command. After running ModSecurity in a detection only mode for a while review the evens generated and decide if any modification to the rule set should be made before moving to protection mode.
You need to set the the following two directives:
You need to enable the debug log with SecDebugLog and increase the log level with SecDebugLogLevel. It you set the debug log level to 9, it will tell you exactly what tasks it is completing along with what data it is acting upon. Do be aware that while the increased debug log level does help from a troubleshooting perspective, it does negatively impact performance.
Using ModSecurity requires rules. In order to enable users to take full advantage of ModSecurity immediately, Trustwave's SpiderLabs is sponsoring the OWASP ModSecrity Core Rule Set (CRS) Project. Unlike intrusion detection and prevention systems which rely on signature specific to known vulnerabilities, the Core Rule Set provides generic protection from unknown vulnerabilities often found in web application that are in most cases custom coded. You may also consider writing custom rules for providing a positive security envelope to your application or critical parts of it. The Core Rule Set is heavily commented to allow it to be used as a step-by-step deployment guide for ModSecurity.
In order to provide generic web applications protection, the Core Rules use the following techniques:
- HTTP protection - detecting violations of the HTTP protocol and a locally defined usage policy.
- Common Web Attacks Protection - detecting common web application security attack.
- Automation detection - Detecting bots, crawlers, scanners and other surface malicious activity.
- Trojan Protection - Detecting access to Trojans horses.
- Errors Hiding – Disguising error messages sent by the server
Unfortunately, no. The Core Rules takes advantage of the ModSecurity 2.0 rules language and is therefore not backward compatible.
You are likely using an older version of ModSecurity. As of ModSecurity 2.8 the @detectXSS operator was added to support libInjection based XSS detection. Unfortunately, many package managers are quite far behind our current release and as a result do not support this feature yet. On these systems there typically exists other repositories or packages that will provide ModSecurity 2.8 or greater. If these are not available, CRS should still function with offending rule(s) commented out. We apologize for the inconvenience.
The first issue to realize is that in ModSecurity 2.0, the allow action is only applied to the current phase. This means that if a rule matches in a subsequent phase it may still take a disruptive action. The recommended rule configuration to allow a remote IP address to bypass ModSecurity rules is to do the following (where 192.168.1.100 should be substituted with the desired IP address):
SecRule REMOTE_ADDR "@ipMatch 192.168.110" phase:1,nolog,allow,ctl:ruleEngine=Off
If you want to allow uninterrupted access to the remote IP address, however you still want to log rule alerts, then you can use this rule -
SecRule REMOTE_ADDR "@ipMatch 192.168.110" phase:1,nolog,allow,ctl:ruleEngine=DetectionOnly
If you want to disable both the rule and audit engines, then you can optionally add another ctl action:
SecRule REMOTE_ADDR "@ipMatch 192.168.110" phase:1,nolog,allow,ctl:ruleEngine=Off,ctl:auditEngine=Off
Yes there are. Many of these differences are outlined in the Migration Matrix document listed previously. Another common rule difference issue that arises is when you want to create white-listed ModSecurity rulesets which enforce that certain headers/variables are both present and not empty. In ModSecurity 1.x, you could create one rule that handles this while in ModSecurity 2.x you would need to write a chained rule.
On the surface, you might think "The 1.x rules way is better since you only need 1 rule..." however you need to realize that anytime you have rules or directives that implicitly enforce certain capabilities, you run the risk of having false positives as it could match things that you didn't want them to. For instance, what if you have a situation where certain web clients (such as mobile devices) legitimately include some headers, however they are empty? Do you want to automatically block these clients? With the ModSecurity 1.x Rule Language, you would have to remove the entire rule. With the ModSecurity 2.x Rule Language, however, you are able to create rules to more accurately apply the logic that you desire.
Please refer to the following blog post for more information.
It is inevitable; you will run into some False Positive hits when using web application firewalls. This is not something that is unique to ModSecurity. All web application firewalls will generate false positives from time to time. The following Blog post information will help to guide you through the process of identifying, fixing, implementing and testing new custom rules to address false positives. http://blog.spiderlabs.com/2011/08/modsecurity-advanced-topic-of-the-week-exception-handling.html
Yes. Each and every rule that you implement will consume resources (RAM, CPU, etc...). The two most important factors to consider with creating ModSecurity rules are the total number of rules and the Regular Expression optimizations. A single rule with a complex regular expression is significantly faster than multiple rules with simple regular expressions. Unfortunately, it is quite easy to create inefficient RegEx patterns. Optimizing RegExs by utilizing Grouping Only/Non-Capturing Parentheses can cut the validation time by up to 50%. The Core Ruleset is optimized for performance.
Fixing identified vulnerabilities in web applications always requires time. Organizations often do not have access to a commercial application's source code and are at the vendor's mercy while waiting for a patch. Even if they have access to the code, implementing a patch in development takes time. This leaves a window of opportunity for the attacker to exploit. External patching (also called "just-in-time patching" and "virtual patching") is one of the biggest advantages of web application firewalls as they can fix this problem externally. A fix for a specific vulnerability is usually very easy to design and in most cases it can be done in less than 15 minutes.
If you have more then 1 ModSecurity installation, you have undoubtedly run into issues with consolidating, analyzing and responding to alert messages. Unfortunately, the original "Serial" format of the audit log was multi-line with all records held within one file. This made remote logging difficult. What was really needed was to have a mechanism to send logs onto a centralized logging host made specifically for processing ModSecurity Alert data. This is the purpose of the mlogc program. It comes with the ModSecurity source code and can be used to send individual audit log entries to a remote host in near real-time.
Christian Bockermann has developed an outstanding free tool called AuditConsole that allows you to centralize and analyze remote ModSecurity audit log data.
Yes. If you already have a central Syslog infrastructure setup and/or if you are using some sort of SIEM application (such as Intellitactics, etc...), then you might want to include the short version ModSecurity alert messages that appear in the Apache error_log file. You can easily reconfigure Apache to send its error logs through Syslog onto a remote, central logging server. However, the data being forwarded is a very small subset of the entire transaction. It is only a warning message and not enough information to conduct proper incident response to determine if there was a false positive or if it was a legitimate attack. In order to determine this information, you need access to the ModSecurity Audit log files.