ModSecurity and Puppet Spelunking

This week I have made my first (non-README) contribution to a puppet module.

I was attempting to configure ModSecurity using the puppetlabs-apache puppet module when I discovered that the '/var/log/httpd/modsec_audit.log' file contained the request body for rejected requests. For PCI-DSS reasons, this was not desirous, so I set out to learn how I could configure ModSecurity to stop doing that.

First, I consulted the ModSecurity audit log documentation and learnt that you can choose which sections to include in the audit log with the 'SecAuditLogParts' directive. Helpfully the audit log file contains section separators (e.g. '--be604c0a-C--') which have a section identifier—in this case 'C'—which corresponds to the “request body” part. So, all I had to do was ensure that I removed 'C' from the 'SecAuditLogParts' directive. Simples!

There was just one teeeny tiny problem. My '/etc/httpd/conf.d/security.conf' contained the below line, and look ma, no 'C' to be seen. Drat.

SecAuditLogParts ABIJDEFHZ

My first thought was that perhaps my config file was not read and ModSecurity was running with its defaults, which are documented to be 'ABCFHZ'. Or perhaps there was an error in the config file further up so it was only partly read. (Although I judged the chance of the latter slim, since no warnings or errors were logged about corrupt config.) To test this I changed the 'SecAuditLog' directive (which was the last directive in the file) and restarted Apache. I provoked ModSecurity again, and lo and behold it logged to the audit log with the new name. So at least I had confirmed that the config file was read.

I also discovered that my audit log had the 'E' section in them, which is not in the default, so I went back to re-read the documentation for the audit log sections. I won’t bother you with details of how my lips moved when carefully reading the text, but here’s our culprit:

I: This part is a replacement for part C. It will log the same data as C in all cases except when multipart/form-data encoding in used. In this case, it will log a fake application/x-www-form-urlencoded body that contains the information about parameters but not about the files. This is handy if you don’t want to have (often large) files stored in your audit logs.

Using the 'C' section identifier in the log file when all the other sections map directly from the section part selector to the section identifier is unintuitive, to say the least. I wasted quite a lot of time because of this and filed an issue about it. I wouldn’t be surprised if it is never fixed as third-party tools rely on the current behavior though.

Moving on! I now had a plan. All I had to do was remove the 'I' part selector from the 'SecAuditLogParts' directive. Unfortunately, this was not configurable through 'puppetlabs-apache'. It was hardcoded in the 'security.conf.erb' template. The plan now became “moaning to friends” about my situation. In private. (I am a grown-up, and a professional, after all.)

Turns out I moaned to the right friends. After receiving some encouragement and pointers from Dean Wilson I set out to contribute the ability to configure which sections you want printed to the 'modsec_audit.log' file to 'puppetlabs-apache'. It was much simpler than I thought, and culminated in a pull request that was merged pretty swiftly.

If you’re thinking: “that’s cool. I could use that actually. What do I have to do?” then don’t worry—I’ve got your back! It may be a little while before there’s a new release, but if you use librarian-puppet to manage your puppet modules you can easily install the tip of the current master branch by putting this in your 'Puppetfile':

mod 'puppetlabs-apache',
 :git => ''

You can then select which sections you want printed to the 'modsec_audit.log' file by putting something like this in a relevant hiera file:

apache::mod::security::audit_log_parts: ABZ

f you don’t use hiera, you can set it directly from a puppet manifest like so: 

class { '::apache::mod::security':
 audit_log_parts => 'ABZ' 

By the way, please do not blindly copy 'ABZ' from the above example, but refer to the audit log documentation and make an informed choice as to which sections you want to log to your audit log. Every app is different and what’s right for mine is not necessarily right for yours. (Especially since that isn’t actually what I use: I just felt it rolled off the tongue nicely for this example, if you pronounce the 'Z' like a 'C', as some are wont.)