Installing ModSecurity with Apache on Ubuntu 14.04

ModSecurity is an open source web application firewall (WAF) designed as a module for Apache web servers. ModSecurity provides a flexible rule engine, allowing users to write (or use third-party) rules for protecting websites from attacks such as XSS, SQLi, CSRF, DDoS, and brute force login (as well as a number of other exploits). This tutorial walks through the basics of installing and configuring ModSecurity for an Apache web server. This tutorial assumes that Apache is already installed and running.

Installing ModSecurity

Ensure that the system package sources are up to date:

[root@server]# apt-get update

Next, install ModSecurity:

[root@server]# apt-get install libapache2-mod-security2

This automatically installs and activates ModSecurity. In order to begin using ModSecurity, a usable configuration file must be put into place. The ModSecurity package provided for Ubuntu contains a default recommended config file that can be used as a starting point:

[root@server]# mv /etc/modsecurity/modsecurity.conf-recommended \

Once this is in place, reload Apache for the default ModSecurity config file to take effect:

[root@server]# service apache2 reload

Configuring ModSecurity

The recommended default config file provided for ModSecurity has very few actual protective rules configured, but is a good starting point. In this tutorial the OWASP Core Rule Set (CRS) is used to provide additional protection.

Enabling CRS Rulesets

The Ubuntu package for ModSecurity recommends a separate package containing the CRS rulesets, which can be used as an extra source of rules for WAF. Navigate to the directory containing these rules:

[root@server]# cd /usr/shared/modsecurity-crs

Configure ModSecurity to read rule files from the activated_rules directory. Add the following directives to the /etc/apache2/mods-enabled/security2.conf file:

IncludeOptional "/usr/share/modsecurity-crs/*.conf"
IncludeOptional "/usr/share/modsecurity-crs/activated_rules/*.conf"

This instructs ModSecurity to attempt to use any files ending in conf as configuration files. More information is available in the README file in the activated_rules directory.

Once this is done, link the desired rulesets into the newly included locations. For example, to add rules designed to protect against SQL injection attacks, link in the sql_injection_attacks file:

[root@server]# cd /usr/share/modsecurity-crs/
[root@server]# ln -s ./base_rules/modsecurity_crs_41_sql_injection_attacks.conf \

Of course, it’s possible to link only certain rulesets, or entire groups, depending on your needs. The CRS is also distributed with custom and experimental rulesets to detect and mitigate a wide variety of emerging threats. Rulesets for specific CMS/application installations, such as WordPress and Joomla, are also available in the slr_rules directory (though as a free WAF ruleset offering, these rulesets are not always current with the latest threats).

Any time the ModSecurity configuration is adjusted, Apache must be reloaded in order for the rules to take effect:

[root@server]# service apache2 reload

Activating ModSecurity

ModSecurity initially runs in DetectionOnly mode, in which the WAF examines HTTP(S) traffic, but not actually block malicious requests. This must be adjusted in order for ModSecurity to deny attack traffic. In the file /etc/modsecurity/modsecurity.conf, find the directive SecRuleEngine:

SecRuleEngine DetectionOnly

And set its value to On:

SecRuleEngine On

And of course, reload Apache to effect the changes:

[root@server]# service apache2 restart

Further Configuration

WAF environments can be complex and time-consuming to tune and adjust based on your server’s needs; this is largely why the CRS was created. If you need to write or change custom rules, it’s recommended to read though the ModSecurity reference manual. Additionally, the modsecurity-users mailing list and #modsecurity room on Freenode IRC are excellent resources for experienced ModSecurity users and developers.

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