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Contents of This Book

While doing research for the book, I discovered there are two types of people: those who read books from cover to cover and those who only read those parts that are of immediate interest. The book's structure (12 chapters and 1 appendix) aims to satisfy both camps. When read sequentially, the book examines how a secure system is built from the ground up, adding layer upon layer of security. However, since every chapter was written to cover a single topic in its entirety, you can read a few selected chapters and leave the rest for later. Make sure to read the first chapter, though, as it establishes the foundation for everything else.

Chapter 1, presents essential security principles, security terms, and a view of security as a continuous process. It goes on to discuss threat modeling, a technique used to analyze potential threats and establish defenses. The chapter ends with a discussion of three ways of looking at a web system (the user view, the network view, and the Apache view), each designed to emphasize a different security aspect. This chapter is dedicated to the strategy of deploying a system that is created to be secure and that is kept secure throughout its lifetime.

Chapter 2, gives comprehensive and detailed coverage of the Apache installation and configuration process, where the main goal is not to get up and running as quickly as possible but to create a secure installation on the first try. Various hardening techniques are presented along with discussions of the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Chapter 3, discusses PHP installation and configuration, following the same style established in Chapter 2. It begins with a discussion of and installation guidance for common PHP deployment models (as an Apache module or as a CGI), continues with descriptions of security-relevant configuration options (such as the safe mode), and concludes with advanced hardening techniques.

Chapter 4, discusses cryptography on a level sufficient for the reader to make informed decisions about it. The chapter first establishes the reasons cryptography is needed, then introduces SSL and discusses its strengths and weaknesses. Practical applications of SSL for Apache are covered through descriptions and examples of the use of mod_ssl and OpenSSL. This chapter also specifies the procedures for functioning as a certificate authority, which is required for high security installations.

Chapter 5, discusses some dangers of establishing a public presence on the Internet. A denial of service attack is, arguably, one of the worst problems you can experience. The problems discussed here include network attacks, configuration and programming issues that can make you harm your own system, local (internal) attacks, weaknesses of the Apache processing model, and traffic spikes. This chapter describes what can happen, and the actions you can take, before such attacks occur, to make your system more secure and reduce the potential effects of such attacks. It also gives guidance regarding what to do if such attacks still occur in spite of your efforts.

Chapter 6, discusses the problems that arise when common server resources must be shared with people you may not trust. Resource sharing usually leads to giving other people partial control of the web server. I present several ways to give partial control without giving too much. The practical problems this chapter aims to solve are shared hosting, working with developers, and hosting in environments with large numbers of system users (e.g., students).

Chapter 7, discusses the theory and practice of user identification, authentication (verifying a user is allowed to access the system), and authorization (verifying a user is allowed to access a particular resource). For Apache, this means coverage of HTTP-defined authentication protocols (Basic and Digest authentication), form-based and certificate-based authentication, and network-level access control. The last part of the chapter discusses single sign-on, where people can log in once and have access to several different resources.

Chapter 8, describes various ways Apache can be configured to extract interesting and relevant pieces of information, and record them for later analysis. Specialized logging modules, such as the ones that help detect problems that cause the server to crash, are also covered. The chapter then addresses log collection, centralization, and analysis. The end of the chapter covers operation monitoring, through log analysis in batch or real-time. A complete example of using mod_status and RRDtool to monitor Apache is presented.

Chapter 9, discusses a variety of security issues related to the environment in which the Apache web server exists. This chapters touches upon network security issues and gives references to web sites and books in which the subject is covered in greater detail. I also describe how the introduction of a reverse proxy concept into network design can serve to enhance system security. Advanced (scalable) web architectures, often needed to securely deploy high-traffic systems, are also discussed here.

Chapter 10, explains why creating safe web applications is difficult, and where mistakes are likely to happen. It gives guidance as to how these problems can be solved. Understanding the issues surrounding web application security is essential to establish an effective defense.

Chapter 11, establishes a set of security assessment procedures. Black-box testing is presented for assessment from the outside. White-box and gray-box testing procedures are described for assessment from the inside.

Chapter 12, builds on the material presented in previous chapters to introduce the concept of web intrusion detection. While the first part of this chapter discusses theory, the second part describes how Apache and mod_security can be used to establish a fully functional open source web intrusion detection system.

The Appendix, Appendix A, describes some of the more useful web security tools that save time when time is at a premium.

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