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Building a Secure Web Server


In this second part of a five-part series that focuses on securing your web server, you will learn how to build a secure server with Ubuntu. This article is excerpted from chapter four of Securing Ajax Applications: Ensuring the Safety of the Dynamic Web, written by Christopher Wells (O'Reilly, 2007; ISBN: 0596529317). Copyright © 2007 O'Reilly Media, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission from the publisher. Available from booksellers or direct from O'Reilly Media.

Author Info:
By: O'Reilly Media
Rating: 4 stars4 stars4 stars4 stars4 stars / 10
September 18, 2008
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
  1. · Building a Secure Web Server
  2. · OS Hardening
  3. · Accounts management
  4. · Running services

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Building a Secure Web Server
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Host Security

Image your web server as a gladiator about to go into battle. If it’s going to have any chance of survival it must be battle ready. Basically, you want something more like Russell Crowe and less like Mel Brooks.

Additionally, the server should be hardened as though there were no firewall on the network. Firewalls, such as in the case of port 80, are not a silver bullet. Servers behind firewalls can still be compromised. So, each server needs to look after and take care of itself.

In the following section I am going to build a secure server using a distribution of Linux called Ubuntu Server Edition. However, most, if not all, of these concepts can be applied equally to other operating systems.

Ubuntu

Ubuntu comes from an African word, meaning humanity to others. The Ubuntu distribution of Linux brings the spirit of Ubuntu to the software world.

Built on a branch of the Debian distribution of Linux—known for its robust server installations and glacial release cycle—the Ubuntu Server has a strong heritage for reliable performance and predictable evolution. The first Ubuntu release with a separate server edition was 5.10, in October 2005. Figure 4-2 shows the bootup screen for the Ubuntu server installation disk.

A key lesson from the Debian heritage is that of security by default. The Ubuntu Server has no open ports after installation and contains only the essential software needed to build a secure server. This makes for an ideal place to start when thinking about building a web server.

Automatic LAMP

Additionally, in about 15 minutes, the time it takes to install Ubuntu Server Edition, you can have a LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP) server up and ready to go.


Figure 4-2.  The Ubuntu installation screen

When booting off the Ubuntu installation disk you are presented with the option to install a LAMP server. This option saves all the time and trouble associated with integrating Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP. Ubuntu integrates these things for you with security and ease of deployment in mind.

If you want to follow along with me, you may download and install the Ubuntu Server Edition from http://www.ubuntu.com. There is also an excellent tutorial available online at http://www.howtoforge.com/ perfect_setup_ubuntu_6.06.


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