nginx security: Tips to harden your configuration; part 2

This is the second part in the series on nginx server security. This article follows on from Part 1 with more tips on hardening your nginx configuration.

5. Make use of ModSecurity

ModSecurity is an open-source module that works as a web application firewall. Different functionalities include filtering, server identity masking, and null byte attack prevention. Real-time traffic monitoring is also allowed through this module. Therefore it is recommended to follow the ModSecurity manual to install the mod_security module in order to strengthen your security options.

6. Set up and configure nginx access and error logs

Nginx access and error logs are enabled by default and are located at logs/error.log for error logs and at logs/access.log for access logs. The error_log directive in the nginx configuration file will allow you to set the directory where the error logs will be saved as well as specify which logs will be recorded according to their severity level. For example, a ‘crit’ severity level will log important problems that need to be addressed and any other issues which have a higher severity level than ‘crit’. To set the severity level of error logs to ‘crit’ the error_log directive needs to be set up as follows – error_log logs/error.log crit;. A complete list of error_log severity levels can be found in the official nginx documentation available here.

Alternatively, the access_log directive can be modified from the nginx configuration file to specify a location where the access logs will be saved (other than the default location). Also the log_format directive can be used to configure the format of the logged messages as explained here.

7. Monitor nginx access and error logs

Continuous monitoring and management of the nginx log files will give a better understanding of requests made to your web server and also list any errors that were encountered. This will help to expose any attempted attacks made against the server as well as identify any optimizations that need to be carried out to improve the server’s performance. Log management tools, such as logrotate, can be used to rotate and compress old logs in order to free up disk space. Also the ngx_http_stub_status_module module provides access to basic status information, and nginx Plus, the commercial version of nginx, provides real-time activity monitoring of traffic, load and other performance metrics.

8. Configure Nginx to include an X-Frame-Options header

The X-Frame-Options HTTP response header is normally used to indicate if a browser should be allowed to render a page in a <frame> or an <iframe>. This could prevent clickjacking attacks and therefore it is recommended to enable the Nginx server to include the X-Frame-Options header. In order to do so the following parameter must be added to the nginx configuration file under the ‘server’ section – add_header X-Frame-Options "SAMEORIGIN";

Nginx fig2

Figure 2 – The ‘server’ section in the nginx configuration file

9. Updates

As with any other server software, it is recommended that you always update your Nginx server to the latest stable version. These often contain fixes for vulnerabilities identified in previous versions, such as the directory traversal vulnerability that existed in Nginx versions prior to 0.7.63, and 0.8.x before 0.8.17. These updates frequently include new security features and improvements. Nginx security advisories can be found here and news about latest updates can be found here.

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