In the first part we have set the stage for this series: the goal is to protect one shared hosting customer from an ‘inside attack’ by another shared hosting customer on the same ColdFusion instance.

If no precautions have been taken, attacking is a simple job. The starting point is a template that does a directory listing of every drive from “a:\” to “z:\” using cfdirectory. When you find something interesting, like the “coldfusion8″ directory, the “jrun4″ directory or a “customers” directory, just drill down from there. Not elegant, but very effective. The only way to hide from it is to use netwerk shares with hard to guess names, but even then it is just a matter of drilling down from the #server.coldfusion.rootdir# to the logfiles and see what the directory paths in some of the mappings and logged errors are.
Hiding (i.e. obscurity) provides no effective hurdle against an inside job and hence no real security.

To get real security against this reading of directories we need to enable Sandbox Security. Sandbox Security allows us to define a directory on the filesystem as a Sandbox and subject every request that starts from that Sandbox to a set of constraints. These constraints can include which tags are allowed, i.e. forbid cfregistry outright, or which resources can be accessed. Typically each Sandbox is defined at the root of a customers FTP and / or WWW directory and then allows for access of only some directories and datasources. Setting up the allowed resources and tags in a Sandbox can occasionally be a bit counterintuitive, for instance to allow a file to be used in a cfinclude it needs execute permissions and several extra directories need to be accessible for some tags.

The thing with Sandbox Security is that it is a feature that is only available in Enterprse Edition. ColdFusion 8 Standard Edition has the ability to restrict the usage of tags, functions and resources as well, but everybody operates in the same Sandbox. So while we can disallow customer A from reading the files of customer B through cfdirectory, that would also disallow customer B from reading his own files. And disabling tags and functions won’t be foolproof either because there is always a way around that. For instance, even if you can’t read a certain file with cffile that doesn’t stop you from mailing it to yourself using cfmailparam.

So here we see the first issue with shared hosting and security: in order to combine them and get a system that is even remotely securable, the hoster needs to invest significantly in a ColdFusion 8 Enterprise Edition license and needs to figure out how to configure Sandbox Security properly. Obviously (if the hoster even decides to bother with all that in the first place) that expense gets charged to the hosted customers, making ColdFusion hosting more expensive then for instance PHP hosting.


  1. duncan says:

    Will you be looking at Railo and/or BlueDragon too?

  2. Jochem says:

    I will be looking at Railo, but it will e a while because I haven’t looked at Railo as a hosting platform in years.