/usr/portage

Security "to go"? 5

I’m a huge fan of PHP-IDS. Mario Heiderich and Christian Matthies did an incredible job polishing this tool, adding new features and trying to catch every esoteric attack signature. However I have the feeling there is some confusion (german) about what intrusion detection is for. On a server, intrusion detection is used to diagnose a break in. First of all you do everything not to let your server go down. You have a firewall, you try not to expose services to the outside, you do SSH with port knocking, you put a risky service into jail or chroots, you use the Suhosin patchset and so on. There are various strategies how to harden a server. The hardening is the barrier against break-in attempts.
If the hell freezes, the intrusion detection mechanism comes into play to make sure the attempt is not overseen and the machine does not become yet another zombie in a bot net. PHP-IDS is an intrusion detection tool on the application level. Application firewalls know about a certain protocol and its structure (e.g. HTTP) and inspect the protocol to detect attack patterns. Some of them are even capable of learning from usual request signatures and enforcing rules based on the learned data. There are various commercial products to achieve application firewalling. PHP-IDS does the same for free and sits directly on the webserver in the scope of the application. For personal usage or projects with a lower budgets who can’t effort expensive products, it might be a good supplement. Beside being a supplement, application firewalls are a valid use when security becomes an urgent problem: a lot of heavily flawed software is designed (often it is not even designed) and developed without a developer even heard about security: “Yes you can inject HTML, that’s a feature!”, “‘ OR true/* lists you every item, isn’t that cool?”. If such projects become popular, application firewalls might be an option to hotfix the disaster. But nevertheless the application needs to be fixed.
The very immanent issue with application firewalls is that there is no other place to know exactly what’s proper incoming data for the application – except in the application itself. That’s why application firewalls can never be perfect. IDS is needed for the 2% the developer forgot. So it is not like coffee to go. It is like having the coffee and adding milk or sugar. Having milk without coffee seems pointless to me anyway.

Filed on 20-05-2008, 21:09 under , , , & five comments & one trackback

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