ModSecurity Trustwave

ModSecurity: Overview

With over 70% of all attacks now carried out over the web application level, organisations need every help they can get in making their systems secure. Web application firewalls are deployed to establish an external security layer that increases security, detects, and prevents attacks before they reach web applications.

HTTP Traffic Logging

Web servers are typically well-equipped to log traffic in a form useful for marketing analyses, but fall short when it comes to logging of traffic to web applications. In particular, most are not capable of logging the request bodies. Your adversaries know this, and that is why most attacks are now carried out via POST requests, rendering your systems blind.

ModSecurity makes full HTTP transaction logging possible, allowing complete requests and responses to be logged. Its logging facilities also allow fine-grained decisions to be made about exactly what is logged and when, ensure only the relevant data is recorded.

Real-Time Monitoring and Attack Detection

In addition to providing logging facilities, ModSecurity can monitor the HTTP traffic in real time in order to detect attacks. In this case ModSecurity operates as a web intrusion detection tool, allowing you to react to suspicious events that take place at your web systems.

Attack Prevention and Just-in-time Patching

ModSecurity can also act immediately to prevent attacks from reaching your web applications. There are three commonly used approaches:

  1. Negative security model. Negative security model monitors requests for anomalies, unusual behaviour, and common web application attacks. It keeps anomaly scores for each request, IP addresses, application sessions, and user accounts. Requests with high anomaly scores are either logged or rejected altogether.
  2. Known weaknesses and vulnerabilities. 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 organisations. 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.
  3. 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.

Flexible Rule Engine

A flexible rule engine sits in the heart of ModSecurity. It implements the ModSecurity Rule Language, which is a specialised programming language designed to work with HTTP transaction data. The ModSecurity Rule Language was designed to be easy to use, yet flexible: common operations are simple while complex operations are possible.

Certified ModSecurity Rules, included with subscription to ModSecurity, contain a comprehensive set of rules that implement general-purpose hardening, common web application security issues. Heavily commented, these rules can be used as a learning tool.

Embedded Deployment

ModSecurity is an embeddable web application firewall, which means it can be deployed as part of your existing web server infrastructure (Apache, IIS7 and Nginx).

This deployment method has certain advantages:

  1. No changes to existing network. It only takes a few minutes to add ModSecurity to your existing web servers. And because it was designed to be completely passive by default, you are free to deploy it incrementally and only use the features you need. It is equally easy to remove or deactivate it should decide you don't want it any more.
  2. No single point of failure. Unlike with network-based deployments, you will not be introducing a new point of failure to your system.
  3. Implicit load balancing and scaling. Because it works embedded in web servers, ModSecurity will automatically take advantage of the additional load balancing and scalability features. You will not need to think of load balancing and scaling unless your existing system needs them.
  4. Minimal overhead. Because it works from inside the web server process there is no overhead for network communication and minimal overhead in parsing and data exchange.
  5. No problem with encrypted or compressed content. Many IDS systems have difficulties analysing SSL traffic. This is not a problem for ModSecurity because it is positioned to work when the traffic is decrypted and decompressed.

ModSecurity is known to work well on a wide range of operating systems. Our customers are successfully running it on Linux, Windows, Solaris, FreeBSD, OpenBSD, NetBSD, AIX, Mac OS X, and HP-UX.

Network-Based Deployment

ModSecurity works equally well when deployed as part of a reverse proxy server, and many of our customers choose to do so. In this scenario, one installation of ModSecurity can protect any number or type of back-end web servers.