Category Archives: security

Ruby on Rails bottom up security – sql injection check

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This post will explain how to check your Ruby on Rails code base against sql injections [Wikipedia].

After you have read Wikipedia source link about sql injections, you are ready to proceed. It is important to state that Ruby on Rails offers one of the best (if not the best framework) out of the box sql injection protection.

But sometimes, developer needs to be able to override this protection for some “Twin Peaks” feature requests. In that case, even experienced Rails developer could make sql injection attack possible. On the other spectrum, if your company can only afford junior Rails developers, this check is a must.

Here is how you should hunt such protection overrides. First, head to Rails SQL Injection site. This page lists many query methods and options in ActiveRecord which do not sanitize raw SQL arguments and are not intended to be called with unsafe user input. You will use this site as a reference.

Open your terminal, go to root folder of Rails project repository, and use this cmd:

grep -H -r 'search for activerecord method' * | less

You need to replace search term with active record method name. Here you need to be creative in order to filter out results that do not represent active record method.

Here is the punch line:

Never, ever, trust the user input!

Which means that user input must not be directly used in active record methods. Again, refer to Rails SQL injection site in order to learn how to recognize code that is prone to sql injection.

Wait, but I am using Windows that do not have grep! Well, Google is your friend, there is a number of open source tools that will help you.

We also need to check all custom SQL queries using command:

grep -H -r 'execute' * | less

grep -H -r 'params\[' * | less

Same as for the active record methods, user input must not be directly used in custom SQL queries.

p.s. Twin Peaks feature request makes developer to have experience  very similar to experience of watching Twin Peaks: “The Return” [source].

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Ruby on Rails bottom up security – daily server check

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This is next post in series about Ruby on Rails security. In previous post I explained how to harden other servers. This time I will explain daily security check for CentOS servers.

After you securely set up your Ruby on Rails servers, you need to take care about their security on daily basis. Because time is the ultimate attack vector for all web applications.

Monitor Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE)

You need to create a collection of web pages that announce CVE advisories for components of your web application. Here is one typical Ruby On Rails application stack.

Next, check security logs that you had set up during the hardening phase.

logwatch | less
fail2ban-client status
less /var/log/audit/audit.log | grep AVC | less
Nginx log

This is where your application knowledge is important. In that file, I look for hacker patterns. First, I filter out regular application url paths, so what is left are robot scripts that are probing for known security issues for various applications.

For example:

zless /home/deploy/apps/betterdoc/current/log/nginx.access.log-YYYYMMDD* | egrep -v  'assets|images|favicon.ico|robots.txt|fonts

Note that I use zless, which is less for compressed files.

Do I need to restart servers?

There is a myth that you do not need to restart Linux servers after application update. Linux will not force you to do that, because running application would happily run with previous version. Which is bad if previous version has security issue. Remember, you set up automatic daily update for all server components. With command:

lsof -n | grep DEL | less

you will get a list of applications that still use in memory libraries that had been deleted from the server. If that command returns any list(DEL), you need to restart whole server (easier) or just the application that is listed.

In next post, I will describe security audit for Ruby on Rails application code.



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Ruby on Rails bottom up security – other servers

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In previous post I described how to do security hardening for your Ruby on Rails web server. In this post I will talk about other servers: database, openvpn, cache and job.

Database server holds web application data so hacker will definitely try to get direct access to it.

You first need to do basic server hardening explained in my previous post. After that you need to be sure:

  1. that other servers port is not publically available
  2. access to other server is properly securely configured

One is resolved by putting your servers behind firewall. Second depends which server do you use. Here is example for postgres database server. Here is you strategy. When you know you database server, Google for its security settings and apply official guidelines that you will found.

How to securely connect directly to your servers? You can publically expose ssh port, but this is not good strategy. You need to use vpn connection.


Simply explained, openvpn is ssh that uses certificate (public/private) authentication.  It will make hacker job much harder. You need one dedicate box with openvpn server.  Also, you will need openvpn client. So after VPN is set up, here is how you connect to your servers:

  • establish open vpn connection
  • connect using ssh to your servers that now have ip address from VPN network range

In next post I will explain how to do daily security check for servers and their software components.

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Ruby on Rails bottom up security – web server

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In previous post I explained security hardening for linux server. This post will describe hardening based on server purpose.

Modern web application typically consists from following components:

  • web server
  • database server
  • job server
  • cache server

Security hardening for those servers is different.

Web server

Here are detailed instructions how to harden nginx web server.

  1. SELinux

SELinux is security kernel feature. If some component on your server is not patched, or there is Zero Day Vulnerability, SELinux will help you to protect other server components. For example, logging component has zero day vulnerability and hacker would use it to try to get access to your web server. SELinux adds additional level of kernel security to make that attack much harder.

2. Allow Minimal Privileges Via Mount Options

This is applied to partition that holds your web application files.

nosuid means that it will be not possible to change user and group permissions for that partition

noexec it will be not possible to run any program from that partition

nodev means do not interpret character or block special devices on
the file system

One of hacker attack vector is to serve his own malicious program using your web application. Those settings will make his attack much harder.

3. Linux /etc/sysctl.conf Hardening

These are low level linux networking and kernel parameters. First attack vector is try to login remotely to your server. These settings will make that job much harder.

4. Remove All Unwanted Nginx Modules

You need to run your nginx with modules that you need. Otherwise, your attack vector surface becomes larger.

nginx -V

will list current nginx modules. Here are instructions how to configure modules.

5. Change Nginx Version Header

This basically makes your nginx server more hidden. It will make hacker job much harder.

server_tokens off

How to change Server header. For centOS use

yum install

6. Install SELinux Policy To Harden The Nginx Webserver

These are selinux policies that will make your web server more secure.

7. Controlling Buffer Overflow Attacks

Buffer overflow attack is one of the first attack that will hacker try. There are special tools that help them (like Metasploit) to automate that attack. Basically, hacer will try to feed more data to web server connection. Setting explicit boundary values, you will make that task much harder. But be aware that those boundaries could influence your web application operations.

8. Control Simultaneous Connections

Set maximal number of simultaneous connections from same IP address. This will help you to fight web spiders and ddos attacks.

10. Limit Available Methods

You probably know about HTTP GET and POST methods, but do you know about OPTIONS? Restrict HTTP methods that are not used by your web application.

11. Nginx SSL Configuration

You need to run on SSL. For that you will need to buy signed ssl certificate.

12. Firewall

Your web server needs to be behind dedicated firewall appliance. Period.

That it is, security hardening for web server. In next post, I will talk about hardening for database server.

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Ruby on Rails bottom up security – hardening the servers

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Next series of blog posts is about Ruby on Rails bottom up security. I will cover all aspects of web application written in Ruby on Rails framework. Described security concepts could be applied to any other modern web framework because we will describe which security problem particular concept resolves. I will start with hardening the server that runs the web application.

You probably think that hardening (reducing the surface of vulnerability) the server is impossible task. But I will prove you wrong. I found this excellent blog post that is foundation for hardening the server.

It has all instructions for Ubuntu linux how to harden the server. And you could be done with this task in 5 minutes!

Precondition is that server is up and running, and you know root password. You should first login as root.

  1. Select linux distribution

As you probably know, there are various linux distributions. I suggest latest CentOS for two reasons:

  1. it has excellent database about security patches
  2. it is tailored for servers that run server side services (e.g. web application)

2. Change root password

Unix command is


Tip. We suggest that you use LastPass password manager for creating and storing that password.

2. Update the system

You want to have latest software version as starting point.

yum -y -d 0 -e 0 update yum
yum -y -e 0 -d 0 update

3. Install fail2ban

yum install fail2ban

fail2ban is daemon written in Python that monitors suspicious activities and if detected, automatically bans client ip addresses for some time.

4. create new user

useradd deploy

mkdir /home/deploy

mkdir /home/deploy/.ssh

chmod 700 /home/deploy/.ssh

You will use only that user to connect to your server! Never use root user for establishing ssh connection. Note important command, chmod and number 700. At first, this look very cryptic. Read this for more info, and for now, remember that 700 gives all access ONLY to deploy user to .ssh folder (1+2+4 = 7).

5. ssh using public/private key authentication

In order to connect to your server, you will use ssh without password. How to set up that type of access? I recommend github tutorial:

Check for existing ssh keys is not needed, since you have new fresh server.

Generate new ssh key pair. You should set up password phrase (which is by default optional). Also, add private key  to ssh agent, so you will not need to enter password phrase. Be sure to store password phrase to lastpass!

Test your ssh connection.

Add your public key to the server. Previous link contains instructions how to copy your public key. The you have to paste it:

vim /home/deploy/.ssh/authorized_keys

Save file and run:

chmod 400 /home/deploy/.ssh/authorized_keys chown deploy:deploy /home/deploy -R

Mode 400 is read only. This is highest security, and without that mode, you will get cryptic error when you will try to establish ssh connection.

6. Test The New User

Keep existing terminal open, and from new terminal type:

ssh deploy@server_ip_address

7. Enable sudo

In your first terminal as root, first set deploy user password:

passwd deploy

Save deploy user password in LastPass!


You are now in vi editor. Comment all lines and add at the bottom:

root ALL=(ALL) ALL

deploy ALL=(ALL) ALL

That means when you will run sudo as deploy user, you WILL BE ASKED TO ENTER PASSWORD!

8. Lock Down SSH

Via ssh, you will not be able to:

  • connect as as root user
  • connect using password
  • connect from any client, but only from clients that you will list in setting.
vim /etc/ssh/sshd_config

Enter this, and be sure that original entries ARE DELETED:

PermitRootLogin no
PasswordAuthentication no
AllowUsers deploy@(your-ip) deploy@(another-ip-if-any)
systemctl sshd restart

9. What about firewall ?

I strongly do not recommend that your server is directly exposed to the Internet. It must be BEHIND dedicated FIREWALL. Ask your IAAS provider about details.

10. Enable Automatic Security Updates

This should be set, at least for security update. Set it in cron to run automatically on daily basis.

vi /etc/cron.daily/

 $YUM -y -d 0 -e 0 update yum
 $YUM -y -e 0 -d 0 update

11. Install Logwatch To Keep An Eye On Things

Logwatch is tool that automatically monitors server logs and its logs can give you a hint about server intrusion.

yum install logwatch

vi /etc/cron.daily/

/usr/sbin/logwatch --output mail --mailto --detail high

You are done with basic server hardening. In next post, I will explain how to harden servers based on their purpose. Web server, database server, cache server, job server have a slightly different security configuration.

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One character to rule them all

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In this post I will provide example how just one character can make a significant difference regarding security of Django web application.

The issue is sql injection. When I test for sql injections and I have access to client codebase (which can save significant amount of money for client), I first search code for using raw sql code. I am using simple unix utilities, less and grep:

grep -H -r 'what_you_search' * | less

In Django code system, you should search for raw function because it accepts for input raw sql.

You should learn what is proper way to send sql parameters to that function. For Django raw, this is proper way:

>>> lname = 'Doe'
>>> Person.objects.raw('SELECT * FROM myapp_person WHERE last_name = %s', [lname])

I searched the codebase, and found following:

>>> lname = 'Doe'
>>> Person.objects.raw('SELECT * FROM myapp_person WHERE last_name = %s' % lname)

Have you noticed the difference? % instead of ,

Here is how you can easily construct strings in Python (Django is Python framework):

"welcome sql injection %s" % hacker_string

This just replaces hacher_string with %s. And does not check hacker_string for possible sql code injection, which raw function does, but only when user input is send as raw function parameter, as explained in documentation.

%, one character to rule them all!

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How to smart test minor version Ruby on Rails upgrade?

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In this post I will explain what should be checked after Ruby on Rails minor version upgrade. Minor version upgrades are usually connected with security releases.

As I am subscribed to Ruby on Rails security Google group, when I receive information about latest security issue, I need to act very fast. Update must be pushed to production almost immediately, so there is no time for extensive regression testing.

How can we do quick test and be sure that everything still works as before upgrade?

Heuristic 1. Rails upgrade was extensively regression tested.

That heuristic proved itself to be always true.

Heuristic 2. Inspect Gemfile.lock to be sure that only Rails gem is upgraded.

How do we actually upgrade Ruby on Rails?

Edit gemfile:gem 'rails', ''
bundle update rails

Investigate Gemfile.lock changes using git diff to see what else was updated beside Rails. If some other gem (not part of Rails) was also updated, check, using Google search, possible issues for that gem that are connected with Rails upgrade.

Heuristic 3. Search Google for Ruby on rails upgrade to n.n.n.n version issues (bugs, problems)


For minor Ruby on Rails upgrades, using those three heuristics, you can do regression test in smart and quick way.

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How to set regression test scope for HTTPS only access?

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In this post I will provide an example how to set the scope of system regression test in order to achieve coverage of features that need to be tested.


The trigger for regression system test was HTTPS only access to client Ruby on Rails application. Prior to that feature, it was possible to use both HTTP and HTTPS protocols. Developers use TDD concept, and prior to my test, all developer tests passed on CircleCI environment.

There was also set of selenium-webdriver tests, but those tests do not cover all application features.

My strategy was to include them in the regression test. All test passed. But I had not finished regression test yet.

I did not know all application features at that time. So I started risk analysis, which features could fail if HTTPS only protocol was introduced to web application. Let’s call OWASP for help.

There is transport layer cheat sheet. Reading through the rules, I pinpointed rules that were potential risk for application functionality:

  • Do Not Mix TLS and Non-TLS Content – because browser (modern browsers) will AUTOMATICALLY prohibit access to non HTTPS urls.
  • Use a Certificate That Supports Required Domain Names – if this is not the case for your application, browser will present to user a security error

First risk could be mitigated by using the application in Chrome and observing javascript console for mixed content errors. Could I automate that task? First thought would be: write selenium-webdriver test suite that covers all the features! But I do not have that time. Was there a simpler way?

My heuristic was to search all the code base for keywords HTTP and IFRAME.

grep -H -r ‘iframe’ * | grep http:// | grep -v elements.txt | grep -v ‘’ | less

That piped command searched through the all code base in terminal and returned code that uses mixing content.

And we discovered additional issue, it was not possible to immediately set all HTTP urls to HTTPS protocol. Those urls were referencing external applications, like blog. For example, in order to set this blog to HTTPS protocol, I need to buy another plan that costs more money. And I need to have a certificate for domain. Which brings us to second risk.

Use a certificate that supports required domain names. And this is environment dependant test. This risk was mitigated on my testing environment, but I should also check it on production environment (production is hosted on different domain).

Doing risk analysis is fun. You will learn something new and the most importantly, you will properly set scope for your regression test.

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How to automate remember me feature using selenium webdriver and cucumber

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In this post I will explain problems I encountered and how I resolved them while I was designing automated test for remember me feature.


Context of this post is automation of end to end feature that are visible to user via the browser. You will see remember me checkbox on your login page, but that is the point where visibility of this feature ends.


How remember me feature actually works?

If you do not check remember me, then when you close browser after you have finished using web application, next time you come back to the application, you will need to login in again.


If you check remember me, then when you close browser and come back again to your application, you will be automatically logged in.

Magic behind this feature are cookies. Cookie contains session for your application and information how long that session in cookie is valid. Server side creates the cookie, but browser must act based on the information in that cookie.


So when you test remember me feature, you actually test browser and web application features.


First issue in test design


In order to have faster execution of browser automation tests, I do not close browser between scenarios (Watirmelon first page object anti pattern). But in order to test remember me feature, you need to close the browser. Here is the code that should be put in cucumber env.rb file that resolves this issue:


Second issue is scenario run order dependency


But that solution introduces another anti pattern, now scenario run from remember me feature file must be always run in same order:



That means you can not use following cucumber run option:


cucumber –order random :5738 remember_me.feature

Here is step that loads cookies:


Third issue selenium webdriver cookie domains

In my first implementation, in env.rb file, I just saved all browser cookies to file. But when I loaded those cookies, i got following exception:



Note: By observing that exception I learned that Firefox webdriver is actually Firefox extension written in javascript. That extension is automatically installed in Firefox before test run.

And here is the line of code that produces exception:



Observe comment in line 8 🙂 For me it implies that developer did not know how to properly implement cookie domain check. But as it is open source project, we will forgive him.


The issue here was that Google Analytics cookies had subdomain:

as cookie domain value. As application domain was:

Google Analytics cookie domain was rejected in firefox webdriver. So before saving cookie values in file, I deleted Google Analytics cookies.




I am moving this blog from Blogger. While I was publishing this post, I discovered that WordPress needs plugin in order to embed gists to posts. Blogger had that feature out of the post.


Finding proper WordPress heuristic: install one that has more stars.

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