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[Jan 15, 2006] Preventing Web Attacks with Apache

by Ryan C. Barnett

[Mar 15, 2005] Apache Security by Ivan Ristic

Not just about Apache security, June 20, 2005
Reviewer: Jack D. Herrington "engineer and author" (Silicon Valley, CA) - See all my reviews
I'm sure it was tempting for the author to just concentrate on the Apache portions of the web application security world. But in reality the security of web applications is a whole, and a vulnerability in the application layer is just as bad as one in the web server layer. Ivan Ristic does a good job of talking about security at every layer and uniting it into a single reference. This is an excellent, focused, resource that is well written and makes difficult security topics easy to understand.

Recommended books

Pro Apache, Third Edition by Peter Wainwright

One of the better books for getting a good handle on Apache, May 2, 2005
Reviewer: Harold McFarland (Florida) - See all my reviews
In this voluminous title author Peter Wainwright covers the Apache web server in detail. Chapters include Installing Apache and basic configuration, building Apache the way you want it, configuring Apache the way you want it, deciding what the client needs, delivering dynamic content, hosting more than one web site, improving Apache's performance, monitoring Apache, Securing Apache, Improving Web Server Security, and Extending Apache. It has some excellent sections on advanced configuration, handling robots, dealing with errors and handling them correctly, name-based and IP-based virtual servers, and improving the performance of your server. The section on securing Apache covers authentication (including digest and LDAP) and using SSL (including some advanced configuration techniques).

There are better books that deal with some of the specific areas of this text (for example, Hardening Apache is much more thorough on the subject of securing your server) but you won't find a more comprehensive text in a single volume than this one. Pro Apache, Third Edition is highly recommended and my first choice for anyone looking for a single book to learn how to setup and configure an Apache server or serve as their primary reference.

Apache Cookbook by Ken Coar, Rich Bowen

Recipes for success from two experts, April 5, 2004
Reviewer: A Williams "honestpuck" (Neutral Bay, NSW Australia) - See all my reviews
While Apache is possibly the most popular and ubiquitous open source project it is certainly not the most simple. One module alone, mod_rewrite, causes me almost more problems and regex wrestling matches than all other products combined. The `httpd.conf' file is a long and critical one. In these circumstances the Apache Cookbook from O'Reilly might be a godsend. It is certainly a well-written, well-researched volume. Ken Coar has spent many years working on Apache and Rich Bowen has long laboured on the Apache documentation. They both know their stuff -- and if this is an example, both know how to write.

The book has twelve chapters, covering everything from installation and adding modules through to proxies and performance. The chapter on security is the largest, it covers the topics well. By contrast I thought the chapter `Aliases, Redirection and Rewriting' too short and could have benefited from some more `recipes', but that may be due to my own bias - mod_rewrite is not an easy topic, and as I've said it causes me a great deal of grief.

It is laid out in a similar way to the Perl Cookbook: each recipe has a `Problem' section followed by a `Solution' and then `Discussion.' In almost all the `recipes' the `Discussion' is longer than the `Solution,' and I often found it far more useful and informative than the problem and its solution.

The Apache Cookbook covers almost all aspects and all parts of the learning curve for Apache. That will either be a strength or a weakness of this volume for you; with such a large and complex piece of software as Apache a single book cannot hope to cover it in a great deal of depth. For me this book was not really a cookbook, more a good source of well documented examples from which to create my own recipes,

My biggest problem reviewing a book like this is that after several years building and configuring Apache (even on an infrequent basis) quite a lot of this volume seems simple. You may also find it the same if you are the sort of person who is not afraid to pore over the documentation, get your hands dirty and make a few mistakes. If you like some hand holding and are just starting with Apache you may benefit from all of it.

That's not to say that I didn't personally find large chunks of this volume useful. Certainly I've gone over several of the recipes and their excellent explanatory text to shed some light on previously dark corners of Apache, particularly as the authors cover both Apache 1.3 and 2.0.

O'Reilly have the usual web page with a Table of Contents and example chapter. The example chapter, on error handling is well chosen as it is typical of the others and useful but not the most useful chapter.

I have recently been thinking that tech books fall into various sorts and there is one sort I'd call `library books' - books you may not need to own, but will want to read every so often and would be good to have in your local or company library. Apache Cookbook is one of these, a book I'd recommend everyone coming to grips with Apache has close to hand, but it is not going to be constantly on your desk in the same way that Perl Cookbook might be for Perl programmers: to start off with, it's half the size and doesn't cover nearly as many topics. This one falls short of essential due to it's concentration on breadth. rather than depth. So my recommendation for this book is not that all Apache administrators should buy it, but you should have a copy close at hand.

Security Hardening Apache Books Tony Mobily

by Tony Mobily

Excellent resource for web masters, February 20, 2006
Reviewer: Abe Usher "information security nut" (Virginia) - See all my reviews
I read this book about a year ago and recently re-read it. Coar and Bowen provide an excellent pragmatic approach to taking care of common Apache administration tasks. The Apache "recipes" are well organized, and presented with sufficient depth to be understandable for intermedia users.

The tips in the "miscellaneous topics" section and the troubleshooting guidelines are excellent, and will save Apache administrators significant amounts of time and frustration.

The good:
* Broad coverage of all tasks that Apache administrators will commonly encounter.
* Excellent writing style - concise yet sufficiently descriptive.
* Good organization of topics and very useful book index.
* Very good coverage of virtual hosts (required in most web hosting environments).
* Very appropriate "see also" references associated with each recipe.

The bad:
* Almost 25% of the book is taken up by installation, loading modules, and logging. These are good topics, but they take up too much of the book in my perspective.
* No information on the use of mod_python. mod_snake (a dead sourceforge) project is referenced. Blech.
* No information on co-hosting two versions of PHP (PHP4 and PHP5 on the same server).

Overall, this is a great book. If it had slightly better coverage on mod_python and mod_PHP I would give it five stars for certain.

Relevant even for application developers, August 28, 2004
Reviewer: Foti Massimo (Savosa Switzerland) - See all my reviews
I am not a server admin, but a web applications developer, so my opinion on this book has a very specific bias. I really enjoyed it, especially because similar material available on-line is usually scattered across a multitude of different sources. Most content is interesting even for application developers and I especially liked the chapters covering different security related modules.
The chapter on automation, being totally based around Bash scripts was almost useless to me (but then, again, I am biased). The book is 100% Unix centric, it's somewhat of a shame, especially since Apache 2 on Windows is a viable option, but it's a choice I can understand
Your return will exceed the price in a very short time, January 31, 2005
Reviewer: Charles Ashbacher "([email protected])" (Hiawatha, Iowa United States([email protected])) - See all my reviews
Computer security is hard, very hard. Any reasonable attempt to make a system secure has to involve more than a choice between {none, some security features, unusable}. There are so many different things that we want to do with our software and there are probably just as many ways in which it can be attacked. In order to be able to fend off attacks, it is necessary to know what kind of attacks can occur. Finally, many security procedures must be automated, which requires generic defense strategies that are capable of recognizing an attack when it differs slightly from one that has already been planned for.
This book about the Apache server does all of that, starting with which version to use and how to install it with security enabled at the appropriate level. After these topics are covered in chapter one, Mobily moves on to descriptions of the most common attacks in chapter two and logging the interesting events in chapter three. If you are versed in security, most of the material in chapter two will be familiar, but it is hard to overstate the importance of chapter three. Being able to read an account of what has happened on a system is the only way to prove that your security measures are working and the only way to learn when you are successfully attacked. Mobily also shows you the critical steps in testing to determine if your log system is actually working properly.
Chapter four is devoted to explanations of cross-site scripting attacks (XSS). This is an attack where a web page is designed to accept input, but that input may be used to drive erroneous results. A simple, yet excellent demonstration of how this can be done is presented. While it is not sophisticated, it demonstrates how careful you must be when accepting even the most basic of inputs from a web page.
Chapters five and six deal specifically with security in the Apache server. Five explains the security modules available in Apache and six describes how you can lock down Apache by "putting it in jail." These specifics, of which there are many, should be required reading for anyone who has any hand in managing an Apache server. The last chapter shows you how to automate the security functions, clearly necessary if you are ever to get any sleep.
There is a great deal of source code used to describe how the features are implemented. Demo code is in Perl, but XML, HTML and database access commands are used when appropriate.
All around this country, companies and organizations are quietly paying out large sums of money to settle issues when their computer security was lax. Sometimes that payment is through the legal system, but the vast majority does not appear on the books. Reduced efficiency of the server, dropped and misplaced orders and greater effort by the staff are just some of the consequences of security problems. This book should be mandatory reading for all people who manage an Apache server, at $29.99 a copy it will probably pay for itself in less than 24 hours.

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