Seriously, Though: Reverse Proxies
Sep 16, 2015, 5:28 PM
So, Domino administrators: what are your feelings about SSL lately? Do they include, perhaps, stress? It's "oh crap, my servers are broken" season again, and this time the culprit is a change in Apple's operating systems. Fortunately, in this case, the problem isn't as severe as an outright security vulnerability like POODLE and, better still, there is a definitive statement from IBM indicating that they are going to bring their security stack up to snuff almost in time.
But this isn't the first time we've been in this position, nor will it be the last. The focus on cracking and hardening TLS, particularly in the context of HTTPS, is not going to let up any time soon, nor will the basic movement towards encryption everywhere. So I would like to reiterate my stance: Domino is not suitable for direct external exposure via HTTP. The other protocols are problematic as well, but HTTP is the big one and, fortunately, the easiest to solve.
Whenever I've made this exhortation, part of the response I get is that administrators "should not" have to take this step. That Domino should be fully modern in its security stack or, at least, that IBM should handle this problem for them in one way or another. Or that one of Domino's traditional strengths is its all-on-one nature, with a single easy installation that takes care of everything, and that installing a separate web server is a complicated step that administrators shouldn't have to take.
The promise of an integrated server system that took care of everything is a great promise, but it's always been extremely difficult to achieve, even for a platform firing on all cylinders. No matter the ideal, Domino does not perform at this level, and I still maintain that it should not need to. Outside of Domino and PHP, the application server is not generally expected to also be a full-fledged front-end web server, for exactly this sort of reason. Domino's job with respect to the web is to generate and serve up HTML, JSON, and other content; it's something else's job to make sure that that leaves your company's network securely.
If you still maintain that this should be Domino's job due to how much you pay for licensing, then that's a conversation between you and your IBM sales rep. I, though, am entirely fine with a paid-for app server not covering this ground, and that's in large part because the products that do perform this task are superb and often open-source.
These other products – nginx, Apache, HAProxy, and so forth – are made for this job. This flurry of SSL/TLS features and bugs you've been hearing about? These are all implemented or fixed in dedicated products, sometimes years before they come to your attention. And when new problems crop up, they're fixed and talked about immediately across the web, with guides for what to do appearing as soon as the problem arises.
Is it easier to continue using Domino HTTP directly than to set up a reverse proxy? Sure! Well, sort of, when there's not an active disaster to mitigate. And, much like how keeping an XPages (or other web) app up to spec and working on all target devices is more complicated than a legacy Notes app, sometimes that's just how the world goes. Deciding that it's complexity you don't want, or that your company's policy doesn't allow for an additional server, is not a tenable stance. Unless you're Apple, your company's policy will not bend the arc of the industry.
So, I implore you, at least give this kind of setup a real look and a trial run. I think you'll find that the basic setup is not dramatically more complicated than just Domino alone and will also open the door to new non-security features like improving page load speeds on the fly. If you want, with eyes open, to maintain an externally-facing Domino HTTP stack, that's fine, but I'll see you when the next security apocalypse comes around.