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When it comes to choosing a Linux distribution for a web server, two popular choices are Ubuntu and RHEL (AlmaLinux, Rocky Linux). RHEL-based distros have significant benefits compared to Ubuntu, making them the ultimate choice for web hosting. Here are the main strength of RHEL for web hosting.
One of the main differences between Ubuntu and CentOS/RHEL is their approach to security. While both distributions offer security features such as firewalls and access control mechanisms, CentOS/RHEL stands out with its implementation of SELinux.
SELinux is a mandatory access control (MAC) mechanism that provides fine-grained control over access to system resources. This means that even if an attacker gains access to the system, they will not be able to execute certain actions without explicit permission. Ubuntu, on the other hand, uses AppArmor, which is a more basic access control mechanism that does not offer the same level of granularity as SELinux.
Let’s say you have a web server running on a Linux system, and you want to ensure that the web server can only read and write files in the
/var/www/html directory. With SELinux, you can create a policy that allows the web server process (such as Apache or Nginx) to only access files in that directory and nothing else. Any attempt to access files outside of that directory would be denied by SELinux, even if the web server process has the necessary permissions.
In contrast, with AppArmor, you would create a profile that allows the web server process to access the
/var/www/html directory, but it may not be possible to prevent it from accessing other directories as well. If the web server process has a vulnerability that allows an attacker to escape the
/var/www/html directory and access other parts of the file system, AppArmor may not be able to prevent this.
This level of control that SELinux provides can prevent attackers from accessing sensitive data or modifying critical system files, even if they manage to compromise the web server process or gain unauthorized access to the system. It’s one of the reasons why SELinux is often used in high-security environments, such as government agencies and financial institutions.
In practice, this means that SELinux is better at preventing unauthorized access or modification of system resources by malicious actors. While AppArmor can provide some basic access control, it cannot match the level of control and security that SELinux provides. Additionally, because SELinux is a more widely-used and established security mechanism, it has a larger community of users and developers that can provide support and contribute to its ongoing development.
Another security feature that CentOS/RHEL offers is the FirewallD utility. FirewallD is a dynamic firewall management tool that allows administrators to manage firewall rules and zones on the fly. It also provides an easy way to block traffic from specific countries using the
For example, to block a specific country from accessing your web server, you can simply run:
fds block <country name>
Ubuntu also has a firewall management tool called UFW, but it is not as feature-rich as FirewallD.
For example, if you need to open a specific port to allow traffic from a new service, you can simply add a new rule to the appropriate zone in FirewallD, without needing to restart the entire firewall service. In contrast, with UFW, you would need to manually edit the configuration files and restart the firewall service to apply the changes.
In terms of stability, CentOS/RHEL has an advantage over Ubuntu. This is because CentOS/RHEL uses a more conservative approach to software updates, preferring to patch existing versions of software rather than rolling in new versions completely. This means that CentOS/RHEL is less likely to experience unexpected bugs or compatibility issues that can arise when updating to a new version of the software. Ubuntu, on the other hand, tends to offer newer versions of software as they are released, which can lead to compatibility issues with older software or hardware.
In conclusion, when it comes to web server security and stability, CentOS/RHEL emerges as the superior choice over Ubuntu. While Ubuntu may offer newer versions of software, it falls short in providing advanced access control mechanisms compared to CentOS/RHEL’s feature-complete security module with SELinux. Moreover, the dynamic firewall management tool offered by FirewallD is another noteworthy advantage of CentOS/RHEL over Ubuntu. Additionally, the conservative approach to software updates adopted by CentOS/RHEL guarantees a high level of stability for web servers. Therefore, if you prioritize top-notch security and stable performance for your web server, CentOS/RHEL should be your preferred choice over Ubuntu.