Unified Security Hardening Script for Sitecore

I wanted to share here some good work we shared on the Rackspace developer blog last week about Sitecore security hardening.

If one is pursuing security hardening for Sitecore, the whole piece is worth reading, but it’s particularly targeting those looking for repeatable, scripted processes to apply the website configs and IIS changes that secure Sitecore to a general standard.

We get a ton of use out of this unified PowerShell script that applyies the standards from the Sitecore Security Hardening Guide: unified PowerShell script for Sitecore security hardening.

We’ve also posted to GitHub the necessary .config patches for the security hardening:

The “unified” PowerShell script follows a pattern of downloading the .config and copies it to proper directory in the Sitecore installation:

# this .config is what we're applying: https://gist.github.com/grant-killian/b64aa6cabd18e9b0097257ee4a2dc614
$downLoadURI = "https://gist.githubusercontent.com/grant-killian/b64aa6cabd18e9b0097257ee4a2dc614/raw"
$downLoadPath = "C:\localStaging\Rackspace.SecurityHardening.Step5.IncreaseLoginSecurity.config"
Invoke-WebRequest -Uri $downLoadURI -OutFile $downLoadPath
Copy-Item -Path $downLoadPath -Destination $rackspaceInclude #we use a "Z.Rackspace" directory under /app_config/include

This PowerShell isn’t the end of the process of securing a Sitecore implementation, but more just a start.  Sitecore publishes these recommendations as part of their best practices, and what we’ve done at Rackspace it taken those recommendations and scripted them for ease of deployment across a spectrum of environments.  We’ve made slight adjustments here and there to suit our perspective and experience, as there is rarely a one size fits all solution to this kind of work.

Sitecore and TTL Index Heresy for MongoDB


Part of our role at Rackspace is to be pro-active in tuning and optimizing Sitecore implementations for our customers.  Sometimes, the “optimizations” come more in terms of cost-savings instead of performance benefits, and sometimes there is a correlation.

Here’s an optimization that is more oriented to cost-savings.  We have customers using MongoDB for both private and shared session state in Sitecore, as well as xDB data collections; they’re using a hosted MongoDB service through ObjectRocket which provides provisioning elasticity, good performance, and access to really strong MongoDB pros.  We noticed old HTTP session data accumulating in the session collections for one customer, and couldn’t find an obvious explanation.  These session records shouldn’t be leaking through the MongoDB clean-up logic that’s part of the Sitecore API (Sitecore.SessionProvider.MongoDB.MongoSessionStateProvider), but we wanted to correct it and understand why.

The catch was, the customer’s development had several higher priority issues they were working on, and sifting through a root cause analysis of something like this could take some time.  In the interim, we addressed how to clean out the old session data from MongoDB — if the customer was using SQL Server for sessions state, a SQL Server agent deleting expired sessions could be easily employed . . . but that isn’t an option for MongoDB.


At Rackspace, we began evaluating options for a MongoDB equivalent to the “clean up old session records” process and so I started by reviewing everything I could find about data retention for MongoDB and Sitecore.  It turns out there isn’t much.  There isn’t mention of data clean-up in the Sitecore documentation on shared and private session for MongoDB.  There isn’t an explicit <agent> configured anywhere, either.  With Reflector, I started looking through the Sitecore.SessionProvider.MongoDB.MongoSessionStateProvider class and I didn’t see any logic related to data clean-up.

I did finally find some success, however, in reviewing the Sitecore.SessionProvider.MongoDB.MongoSessionStateProvider class that extends the abstract Sitecore.SessionProvider.SitecoreSessionStateStoreProvider class.

The abstract class uses a timer (controlled by the pollingInterval set for the provider); it runs OnProcessExpiredItems . . . and then GetExpiredItemExclusive . . . and eventually RemoveItem for that record.  That finally calls through to the MongoDB API with the delete query:

RemoveItemThis was all helpful information to the broader team working to determine why the records were remaining in MongoDB, but we needed a quick non-invasive solution.

TTL Indexes

MongoDB supports “Time to Live (TTL) Indexes” which purge data based on time rules.  Data older than 1 week, for example, could automatically be removed with this index type.  That’s surely acceptable for sessions state records that leak through the Sitecore API.  We coordinated with the ObjectRocket team and are setting the customer up with TTL Indexes instead of the default; this should dramatically reduce the data storage footprint.


While pursuing this effort on behalf of session state management, I realized this could be an intriguing solution to data retention challenges with Sitecore’s xDB.  Using MongoDB TTL indexes for the xDB collections would prevent that data from growing out of control.  Set a TTL value of 180 days, for example, and make use of just the most recent 6 months of user activity as part of content personalization, profiling, etc.  Of course, one sacrifices the value of the old data if one expires it after a set time.  Remember, I’m acknowledging this is heresy! 🙂

I really wonder, though, how many Sitecore implementations intend to store all the xDB data indefinitely and have a strategy for making use of all that old, ever-accumulating, data?  I think the promise of xDB analytics-based presentation rules is far greater than the reality.  I see many organizations lacking a cohesive plan for what data to gather into xDB, and how to effectively make use of it.

I think TTL Indexes for MongoDB would be a good safety net for those companies still sorting out their path with xDB and analytics, without having to bank massive volumes of data in MongoDB during the maturation process.

One final note: since conserving disk space is a priority, performing a weekly data compaction for MongoDB is a good idea.  This fully reclaims the space for all the expired documents.

Sitecore RemoteRebuild Strategy Best Practices

I spent entirely too long troubleshooting a customer’s approach to the RemoteRebuild indexing strategy for Sitecore.  The official documentation is fairly straight-forward, but there are some significant gaps left up to the reader to infer or figure out.

I think the heading “Best Practice” on that documentation page is great, and I hope Sitecore continues to expand those notes to be as thorough as possible.  That being said, I would include the following example patch configuration showing how to apply the change without manually editing Sitecore base install files:

<configuration xmlns:patch="http://www.sitecore.net/xmlconfig/">
      <configuration type="Sitecore.ContentSearch.ContentSearchConfiguration, Sitecore.ContentSearch">
        <indexes hint="list:AddIndex">
           <index id="sitecore_web_index" type="Sitecore.ContentSearch.LuceneProvider.LuceneIndex, Sitecore.ContentSearch.LuceneProvider">
            <strategies hint="list:AddStrategy">
              <strategy ref="contentSearch/indexConfigurations/indexUpdateStrategies/remoteRebuild" />

This patch should be applied on the Sitecore CD servers where you want to perform the Lucene re-indexing operations.  There are no configuration changes necessary to the Sitecore CM servers.

Speaking of CM server, one might think the posted Sitecore prerequisites cover it:

  • The name of the index on the remote server must be identical to the name of the index that you forced to rebuild.
  • You must enable the EventQueue.
  • The database you assign for system event queue storage (core by default) must be shared between the Sitecore instance where the rebuild takes place and the other instances.

But the biggest addition to this I found was that the Indexing Manager feature in the Control Panel does not call the proper API to trigger the RemoteRebuild activity, so this screen is not where one initiates the remote rebuild:

Won’t work:


The only way to properly activate the RemoteRebuild is via the Developer ribbon in the Sitecore Content Editor

This works:


See this quick video on how to enable this Developer area in the Content Editor, in case this is new to you.

Apparently this dependence on the Developer ribbon is a bug in Sitecore and scheduled to be corrected in a future release.  I know I spent several hours troubleshooting configuration changes and attempted many permutations of the configuration for the RemoteRebuild strategy before Sitecore support confirmed this fact (as did the ever-helpful Ivan Sharamok).

The only other detail I’ll share on the Sitecore RemoteRebuild strategy is that one should verify if the Lucene index adding RemoteRebuild to is using Sitecore.ContentSearch.LuceneProvider.SwitchOnRebuildLuceneIndex or just Sitecore.ContentSearch.LuceneProvider.LuceneIndex.  The patch .config file one uses should reference the appropriate type attribute.

A final note I’ll add about rationale for the RemoteRebuild . . . this customer has several Sitecore Content Delivery servers spread in different data centers, and is currently reliant on the Lucene search provider for Sitecore.  One could make a strong case the customer should be using Solr instead, and indeed this is on their implementation road map, but in the meantime we suggested the RemoteRebuild as a way for them to centrally manage the state of indexes on all their disparate CD servers.  The alternative would be depending on the onPublishEndAsync strategy (which works well, but has limited applications in certain cases), or doing some administrative connection to each CD server (via browser or PowerShell etc) and doing something along the lines of the following when they need to rebuild specific indexes:

public void Page_Load(object sender, EventArgs e)
        Server.ScriptTimeout = 3600; //one hour in case this takes a while

This quickly becomes unwieldy and hard to maintain, however, so getting RemoteRebuild wired up in this case is going to be a valuable addition to the implementation.

Securing the Sitecore Login Surface Area

We’re standardizing the security hardening routines across several Sitecore customers and it’s curious that Sitecore’s documentation on improving login security doesn’t cover the Sitecore Login.RememberLastLoggedInUserName setting.

For reference, in the sitecore.config file this setting is provided as follows:

Specifies whether Sitecore will remember the last logged in user name on the login page (stored encrypted in a cookie).
If you set this to false, the user name field on the login page will always be blank.
Default: true
<setting name=”Login.RememberLastLoggedInUserName” value=”true”/>

Kevin Obee has a succinct Sitecore config patch for this, we combine this with some other settings to arrive at the following unified SecurityHardening.ImproveLoginSecurity.config patch at Rackspace:

<configuration xmlns:patch="http://www.sitecore.net/xmlconfig/">
      <setting name="Login.DisableAutoComplete">
        <patch:attribute name="value">true</patch:attribute>
       <setting name="Login.DisableRememberMe">
        <patch:attribute name="value">true</patch:attribute>
      <!-- not officially part of Sitecore's security hardening measures,
 but still a good security practice -->
       <setting name="Login.RememberLastLoggedInUserName">
        <patch:attribute name="value">false</patch:attribute>

I should also point out, the first part of Sitecore’s documentation on hardening the login surface for Sitecore is about enforcing SSL.  At Rackspace, we don’t do this at the Sitecore application layer (that’s actually the last step in the chain of request processing for a site visit, so that’s the slowest spot to do it and it’s fairly brittle).  Instead, we enforce this earlier in the chain at the F5 layer (or which ever load balancer a customer is running with).  There are other steps to take like in conjunction with this, such as IP whitelisting for access etc.  Again, the load balancer is the right place to do this sort of work.

More on this soon . . . our team is compiling a unified set of guidance around applying a the basic set of Sitecore’s security measures — and then some :).