Nginx as Reverse Proxy for multiple servers binded to proxy using UNIX sockets - how to reached in LAN

Stefan Müller stefan.mueller.83 at
Fri Oct 19 21:27:09 UTC 2018

Hi Francis,
thank you for the update

 1. documentation
    I've read up and down the documentation and other sources. I could
    not find anything saying that if you run the nginx binary, you run a
    new instance of nginx, independent of any other. Where is it
    mentioned that nginx is multi instance capable  application only
    indirectly in Upgrading To a New Binary On The Fly in Starting,
    Stopping, and Restarting NGINX
    and How To Upgrade Nginx In-Place Without Dropping Client
    I found rather sources telling me to install it twice as here: How
    to install Multiple Nginx instances in same Server

 2. command line
    Slowly I being understanding reading Starting, Stopping, and
    Restarting NGINX
    and Controlling NGINX Processes at Runtime
    If you run multiple instances you use the signal -s with a reference
    to the desired PID otherwise it will pick the default on what is
    /var/run/ , isn't?
    e.g. I have a master and two user nginx instances relaoding each of
    them would be:
    master: nginx -s reload
    user1:  nginx -s reload "pid /var/run/"
    user2:  nginx -s reload "pid /var/run/"
    or by its PIDs listed by ps aux -P | grep nginx
    master: nginx -s reload
    user1:  nginx -s reload PID_NoOfUser1Instance
    user2:  nginx -s reload PID_NoOfUser1Instance

    Making sure that I understood correctly nginx -g "pid
    /var/run/; worker_processes `sysctl -n hw.ncpu`;" means to
    replace the number of workers by the count of CPUs in nginx master
    process with the process id given in /var/run/, doesn't it?

 3. root and non-root
    done :-)

 4.   all in all there two layers of isolation
    I didn't mean the nginx does not do the e.g. php interpretation, you
    just tell nginx where to find the php interpreter, what will do the
    job and feeds the content through a CGI.
    That what you described is more or less what I meat but I'm bit
    confused as you say, that if the main nginx is compromised the
    hacker could gain root privileges? Is this also possible after the
    main process changed its user after the binding of the ports >1024?
    After all, I just want to have a clear picture of what is at risk
    when some part of the entire server environment is compromised and
    how can I minimize the risk by isolation of all involved parts.
    I agree that not many of us will be a target to hack into nginx and
    if someone tries to hack our servers there are properly weaker parts
    as the so often mentioned  "badly written PHP" scripts. All that I
    want is to have a good idea about the risks to put me in a position
    to do a proper effort vs. risk assessment.
    I reckon the information gathered so far put me in a quite good
    position, doesn't it?



On 17.10.2018 22:59, Francis Daly wrote:
> On Tue, Oct 16, 2018 at 09:23:33PM +0200, Stefan Müller wrote:
> Hi there,
>> 1. documentation
>>     Is there any additional document for the -c command. I find only:
>>      1.
> That page indicates that "-c" means that this nginx instance uses this
> named config file instead of the compiled-in default one. I'm not sure
> what other documentation is possible.
>>     but none of them says that it will start an independent instances of
>>     nginx.
> Every time you run the nginx binary, you run a new instance of nginx,
> independent of any other.
> Not all command-line argument combinations to nginx mean that it should
> run a web server that never exits; many combinations mean "do this one
> thing and exit".
> The one command-line argument that is used to interact with an
> already-running nginx -- -s -- does that interaction by sending a signal
> to the appropriate process-id, in exactly the same way that the "kill"
> or "pkill" binaries would. The new short-term nginx instance is still
> independent of the already-running one, in the same way that "kill"
> would be independent of it.
>> 2. command line
>>     I assume, that the command line parameters refer to a single
>>     instance environment. How do I use the command line parameters for a
>>     specific instance? Is it like this nginx -V "pid
>>     /var/run/"?
> Command-line parameters are used when you start a new instance of
> nginx. They do not refer to any other instance (with the one "-s"
> exception mentioned above).
>> 3. root and non-root
>>     only the master / proxy server instance need root access in order to
>>     bind to ports <1024 and change its user-id to the one defined in
>>     the|user<>|
>>     directive in the main context of its .conf file.
>>     The other / backend instances don't have to be started as root as
>>     they don't need to bind to ports, they communicate via UNIX sockets
>>     so all permission are managed by the user account management.
>>     That is the same, what you said, isn't it?
> Yes.
> An nginx that wants to "listen" on a place that only root can "listen"
> on, or write to places that only root can write to, needs to start as
> root. Any other nginx does not need to. (Again, excepting "-s".)
>> 4. all in all there two layers of isolation
>>      1. dynamic content provide such as PHP
> nginx does not "do" PHP. Or much in the way of "dynamic" content (in
> the sense that it seems to be meant here).
>>         each "virtual host" / server{} blocks has its own PHP pool. So
> That's not an nginx thing, but it is a thing that you can configure if
> you want to.
>>         the user for pool server{}/user1/ cannot see  the pool
>>         server{}/user2/. If /user1/ gets hacked, the hacker won't get
>>         immidate acceass to /user2/ or the nginx  master process, correct?
> "PHP" is (probably) run under a fastcgi server, as whatever system user
> you want that service to run as. You can run multiple fastcgi servers
> if you want to, each under their own user account.
> nginx can be a client of that server if you use "fastcgi_pass" in your
> nginx config that points to the server.
> You have nginx-main, starts as root then switches to userM. "The browser"
> is a client of this server.
> You have (multiple) nginx-userN, runs as userN. nginx-main is a client
> of this server.
> You have (multiple) php-userP, runs as userP. nginx-userN is a client
> of this server.
> What specific threat model are you concerned with here?
> When a thing gets hacked, is that thing running under the control of root,
> or userM, or one of the multiple userNs, or one of the multiple userPs?
> The access the outsider gains will (presumably) not exceed the access
> that that user has. "root" will be able to access lots of things. "userM"
> must be able to access the "userN" listening socket. "userN" must be
> able to access the matching "userP" listening socket. "userP" must be
> able to access the php files.
>>      2. independent instances of nginx.
>>         In case the master process is breach for what ever reason, the
>>         hacker cannot see the other serves as long as he won't get root
>>         privileges of the machine and there is the same exploit in the
>>         other servers, correct?
> Again, I'm unsure what threat model you are concerned about here.
> If someone breaks the main nginx to get "root" access, they have root
> access. If they break the main nginx to get "userM" access, they will
> be able to access nginx-userN (because userM can do that). Is that
> enough access to also break nginx-userN so that they can get "userN"
> access? (nginx-main and nginx-userN run the same binary. Is the breakage
> due to configuration, which might be different between the two? Or due
> to something inherent, which will be the same between the two?)
> Without trying to be dismissive: if someone can break nginx to gain user
> access, it is unlikely to be you or me that they will be attacking first.
> I think that based on history, "badly written CGI scripts" (which in
> this case corresponds to "badly written PHP") is the most likely way
> that web things will be broken. In this design, that PHP runs under
> the control of the fastcgi server, as a user userP. If that happens,
> the outsider will have access as userP to do whatever the PHP script
> and fastcgi server allow them to do. nginx is not involved except as
> (probably) an initial pass-through tunnel.
> If userP has access to turn off your fridge or reconfigure your nginx-main
> or send a million emails or read secret files on your filesystem, then
> the outsider will probably have access to do those things too.
> Only you can decide what level of risk you're happy with.
> Good luck with it,
> 	f
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