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Secure Software Best Practices: Prevent Security Misconfigurations

Configure your software properly to avoid security issues.

OWASP includes security misconfigurations in their Top 10 Web Application Security Risks (2021).

Description

Security misconfigurations are failures to implement the required security controls in a software component. Misconfigurations may lead to:

  • Disclosure of sensitive information
  • Data or system compromise

Let’s explore some common examples:

Debug Mode Enabled

A developer may leave the debug mode enabled in the production environment. Debug information may contain sensitive data such as:

  • Application internal paths
  • Secret keys
  • Code snippets

To prevent this:

  • Configure security settings for your language and framework
  • Disable the debug mode in the production environment
    • For a .NET application, update the Web.config or Machine.config file:
      <compilation debug="false"/>

Verbose Error Messages

Similar to the previous example, an attacker may retrieve sensitive data from verbose error messages or a stack trace.

To prevent this:

  • Don’t expose a stack trace to users
  • Configure custom error messages for your software
    • For a .NET application, modify the Web.config file:
      <system.web>
      <customErrors mode="RemoteOnly" defaultRedirect="Error.aspx">
      <error statusCode="401" redirect="CustomPage.aspx" />
      <error statusCode="403" redirect="CustomPage.aspx" />
      <error statusCode="404" redirect="NotFound.aspx" />
      <error statusCode="500" redirect="Error.aspx" />
      </customErrors>
      </system.web>

Directory Listing

Directory listing allows users to see all files and directories stored on a web server. A malicious actor may get unauthorized access to sensitive files. Search the web with intitle: "index of /" to see websites that have directory listing enabled.

In the following example, we show how to prevent this problem for a Tomcat web server:

  1. Open the conf/web.xml file in the directory where Tomcat is installed.

  2. In the file, set <param-value>false</param-value> to false for <param-name>listings</param-name>:

    <servlet>
    <servlet-name>default</servlet-name>
    <servlet-class>org.apache.catalina.servlets.DefaultServlet</servlet-class>
    <init-param>
    <param-name>debug</param-name>
    <param-value>0</param-value>
    </init-param>
    <init-param>
    <param-name>listings</param-name>
    <param-value>false</param-value>
    </init-param>
    <load-on-startup>1</load-on-startup>
    </servlet>
  3. In the Apache web server, create a .htaccess file in the related directory.

  4. Add the following lines to the Apache web server configuration file, or replace existing lines with:

    <Directory /{YOUR DIRECTORY}>
    Options FollowSymLinks
    </Directory>

To turn directory listing off, modify the configuration files of your web server.

Default Accounts

A developer may forget to remove default accounts when releasing the application.

Examples of default accounts:

  • Application accounts
  • Web server logins
  • Cloud instances
  • Databases

To prevent this:

  • Delete default accounts from the development environment once the development is complete
  • Change default passwords that come with installation packages
  • Restrict the exposure of administrator pages and web server logins in the production environment
  • Establish a strong password policy for your accounts

Files or Directories in a URL Path

Sensitive files that may appear in a URL path include:

  • Backup files
  • Log files
  • Database files
  • Configuration files

An attacker may discover sensitive files by brute-forcing the URL paths.

To prevent this:

  • Remove any sensitive files or directories from the URL paths
  • Check your code before releasing it
    • Avoid committing code that is meant only for the development environment
  • Apply a web application firewall with rate limiting checks to prevent URL fuzzing or a brute-force attack
  • Set up mandatory access control systems such as SELinux to protect key files

Misconfigured Cloud Services

Misconfigurations in the cloud infrastructure or services may lead to data compromise. For example, an Amazon S3 bucket with insufficient configuration may grant read and write access to an attacker.

To prevent this:

  • Implement security automation to identify misconfigurations
    • Use a DAST tool such as OWASP Zap to identify vulnerabilities
  • Install updates and review your cloud security configurations on a regular basis

Best Practices

  • Create and follow a security checklist
  • Use security design review and threat modeling in your development lifecycle
  • Perform a security check for each software layer before releasing it to the production environment
  • Scan the production environment with a security scanner

References

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About Shashank Dixit
Shashank Dixit is the principal security consultant with Sumeru Cyber Security Team. He is the co-creator of Boman.ai(an AIML-powered DevSecOps plug-and-play tool). He carries more than a decade of experience in cyber security mostly in offensive security. Over the years he has helped multiple organizations across the globe to adopt security in the development lifecycle and to level up their application security. Currently, he is busy simplifying the adoption DevSecOps for organizations. More By Shashank Dixit
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