Security Design Principles - Configuration Management

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- J.D. Meier, Alex Mackman, Michael Dunner, Srinath Vasireddy, Ray Escamilla and Anandha Murukan

Protect Your Administration Interfaces.

It is important that configuration management functionality is accessible only by authorized operators and administrators. A key part is to enforce strong authentication over your administration interfaces, for example, by using certificates.

If possible, limit or avoid the use of remote administration and require administrators to log on locally. If you need to support remote administration, use encrypted channels, for example, with SSL or VPN technology, because of the sensitive nature of the data passed over administrative interfaces. Also consider limiting remote administration to computers on the internal network by using IPSec policies, to further reduce risk.

Protect your configuration store.

Text-based configuration files, the registry, and databases are common options for storing application configuration data. If possible, avoid using configuration files in the application's Web space to prevent possible server configuration vulnerabilities resulting in the download of configuration files. Whatever approach you use, secure access to the configuration store, for example, by using Windows ACLs or database permissions. Also avoid storing plaintext secrets such as database connection strings or account credentials. Secure these items using encryption and then restrict access to the registry key, file, or table that contains the encrypted data.

Maintain separate administration privileges.

If the functionality supported by the features of your application's configuration management varies based on the role of the administrator, consider authorizing each role separately by using role-based authorization. For example, the person responsible for updating a site's static content should not necessarily be allowed to change a customer's credit limit.

Use least privileged process and service accounts.

An important aspect of your application's configuration is the process accounts used to run the Web server process and the service accounts used to access downstream resources and systems. Make sure these accounts are set up as least privileged. If an attacker manages to take control of a process, the process identity should have very restricted access to the file system and other system resources to limit the damage that can be done.