Monday, October 12, 2009

Protecting Apache Directories Using Apex Authentication Cookie

Regarding my previous post on how to place your images outside Oracle XE, you might want to ensure that only logged in users have access to the image folders. The technique described here applies for Oracle Apex applications running behind an Apache, there are probably similar configurations available for other web servers. It is tested for Apache 2.2, but will most likely work for versions down to 1.3.

There is security, and then there is Security with a big, fat, capital S. This falls in the category below the big S. I do not know how to circumvent this simple trick to protect your folders, but there are probably those that can. If you just want to keep out the general public from accessing content from your web server, this is a very simple, unobtrusive way of doing it.

Configure Cookie Attributes in Apex
When you log on to an application in Apex with native (and unedited) Apex authentication scheme, you will get a cookie named something like this:
It contains some mystic id. The attributes (not value) of this session cookie can easely be changed for the Apex application.

In the builder
  • Go to Shared Components for your application
  • Go to Authentication Schemes
  • Click your current Authentication Scheme
  • Scroll down to Cookie Attributes
  • Fill in the Cookie Name and Cookie Path values (see example below)

In my example, I named my cookie TTR_IMAGES, and the Path value ensures that the cookie is valid through my entire domain.

Configure Directory in Apache
This means getting your hands dirty with mod_rewrite. In my application I have an alias called "ttrimg" that maps to a physical directory where my image files are stored. Since I only want this directory open for users with valid Apex sessions, I include the rewrite rule in the Directory directive (as opposed to under VirtualHost). In my simple world, I imagine it must be better to evaluate the condition for this directory only, and not every request. Then again, my knowledge of Apache is a bit limited to say the least (there was some reference to re-injecting URL for server processing when substituting).

To achieve redirect based on TTR_IMAGES-cookie, include the following in httpd.conf (remember to back it up first!):
Alias /ttrimg "C:/www/ttr/images"
  <Directory "C:/www/ttr/images">
     ## Allow access if Apex session cookie is set and value not like -1
     RewriteEngine On
     RewriteCond %{HTTP_cookie} !TTR_IMAGES=([a-zA-Z0-9]{1})
     RewriteRule /(.*) /403.html [R=403,L] 

     Options Indexes FollowSymLinks MultiViews ExecCGI
     AllowOverride All
     Order allow,deny
     Allow from all
Some explanation is in order (well, at least I do try! :-)):
  • You must explicitly set RewriteEngine On for your Directory directive
  • %{HTTP_cookie} contains all cookies for your domain/path
  • TTR_IMAGES=([a-zA-Z0-9]{1} means that cookie TTR_IMAGES must have value starting with a letter or digit. When you log out of the Apex application the cookie gets value -1.
  • The exclamation mark in front of the last expression negates the result, meaning if it does not match TTR_IMAGES=([a-zA-Z0-9]{1}, the rewrite rule will be applied
RewriteBase is not necessary with Apache 2.2.

For my particular need; secure enough. Only you know your own needs (well, hopefully...).

Unencrypted cookies on an unsecured channel, can be prone to any number of things. Let me throw this at you: cookie hijacking (packet sniffing), cross site scripting cookie theft (send cookie to third party), cookie poisoning (tampering with cookie values)... Feel safer now?

Oh well, as I stated earlier: Safe enough for my particular application.

1 comment:

  1. oramonkey,

    Thanks for the nice post. I can see this will be very useful!