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The Apache HTTP Server Reference Manual
by Apache Software Foundation
Paperback (6"x9"), 862 pages
ISBN 9781906966034
RRP £19.95 ($29.95)

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8.3  Security Considerations

8.3.1  Authorization and Access Control

Using mod_cache is very much like having a built in reverse-proxy. Requests will be served by the caching module unless it determines that the backend should be queried. When caching local resources, this drastically changes the security model of Apache.

As traversing a filesystem hierarchy to examine potential .htaccess files would be a very expensive operation, partially defeating the point of caching (to speed up requests), mod_cache makes no decision about whether a cached entity is authorised for serving. In other words; if mod_cache has cached some content, it will be served from the cache as long as that content has not expired.

If, for example, your configuration permits access to a resource by IP address you should ensure that this content is not cached. You can do this by using the CacheDisable directive, or mod_expires. Left unchecked, mod_cache - very much like a reverse proxy - would cache the content when served and then serve it to any client, on any IP address.

8.3.2  Local exploits

As requests to end-users can be served from the cache, the cache itself can become a target for those wishing to deface or interfere with content. It is important to bear in mind that the cache must at all times be writable by the user which Apache is running as. This is in stark contrast to the usually recommended situation of maintaining all content unwritable by the Apache user.

If the Apache user is compromised, for example through a flaw in a CGI process, it is possible that the cache may be targeted. When using mod_disk_cache, it is relatively easy to insert or modify a cached entity.

This presents a somewhat elevated risk in comparison to the other types of attack it is possible to make as the Apache user. If you are using mod_disk_cache you should bear this in mind - ensure you upgrade Apache when security upgrades are announced and run CGI processes as a non-Apache user using suEXEC (p. 1509) if possible.

8.3.3  Cache Poisoning

When running Apache as a caching proxy server, there is also the potential for so-called cache poisoning. Cache Poisoning is a broad term for attacks in which an attacker causes the proxy server to retrieve incorrect (and usually undesirable) content from the backend.

For example if the DNS servers used by your system running Apache are vulnerable to DNS cache poisoning, an attacker may be able to control where Apache connects to when requesting content from the origin server. Another example is so-called HTTP request-smuggling attacks.

This section is not the correct place for an in-depth discussion of HTTP request smuggling (instead, try your favourite search engine) however it is important to be aware that it is possible to make a series of requests, and to exploit a vulnerability on an origin webserver such that the attacker can entirely control the content retrieved by the proxy.

ISBN 9781906966034The Apache HTTP Server Reference ManualSee the print edition