How to Install Modsecurity 2, OWASP CRS with Apache on Ubuntu 22.04 or 20.04

For those seeking to bolster their server’s defenses against web-based threats, understanding “How to Install Modsecurity 2 with Apache on Ubuntu 22.04 Jammy Jellyfish or its older stable release Ubuntu 20.04 Focal Fossa” is paramount. ModSecurity, a leading open-source web application firewall (WAF), seamlessly integrates with the Apache HTTP Server. It offers real-time surveillance, logging, and access control, ensuring your web applications remain impervious to prevalent vulnerabilities. A significant component of its protective arsenal is the OWASP Core Rule Set (CRS), a meticulously curated set of rules by the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP). This rule set is designed to counteract attacks, including SQL injection, cross-site scripting (XSS), and other notable OWASP Top Ten threats.

Key Attributes of ModSecurity and the OWASP Core Rule Set:

  • Real-time Surveillance: ModSecurity continuously monitors HTTP traffic, promptly identifying and neutralizing malicious requests.
  • Detailed Logging: With its comprehensive logging and auditing capabilities, ModSecurity provides insights into security breaches and attack methodologies.
  • Rule Flexibility: ModSecurity’s adaptability shines through its capacity to customize and modify rules, aligning with specific security needs.
  • Anomaly Scoring System: The OWASP CRS adopts a scoring approach, assigning values to requests based on the gravity of detected threats, ensuring precise security configurations, and minimizing false alerts.

This guide will elucidate the steps to integrate ModSecurity with Apache and deploy the OWASP Core Rule Set on Ubuntu platforms. By adhering to this guide, you’ll be poised to fortify your web applications against a spectrum of cyber threats.

Install Apache on Ubuntu 22.04 or 20.04

Start by updating your system to make sure all existing packages are up to date with the following command:

sudo apt update && sudo apt upgrade

After updating your system, install Apache if it’s not already installed on your Ubuntu server:

sudo apt install apache2

Install ModSecurity 2 Apache Module on Ubuntu 22.04 or 20.04

Next, you must now import a third-party repository to install the latest Modescurity Model for Apache. The version contained in Ubuntu’s default repositories will not work, and you will face errors immediately using the default version. This third-party repository is well mentioned on the GitHub and has been providing the binaries for a long time, more information can be found on the official website.

First, install the following packages on your system:

sudo apt install apt-transport-https lsb-release ca-certificates curl -y

Next, import the GPG key for the following repository:

curl -fsSL | sudo gpg --dearmor | sudo tee /usr/share/keyrings/digitalwave-modsecurity.gpg > /dev/null

Now import the repository with the following command:

echo "deb [signed-by=/usr/share/keyrings/digitalwave-modsecurity.gpg] $(lsb_release -sc) main" | sudo tee -a /etc/apt/sources.list.d/digitalwave-modsecurity.list
echo "deb [signed-by=/usr/share/keyrings/digitalwave-modsecurity.gpg] $(lsb_release -sc)-backports main" | sudo tee -a /etc/apt/sources.list.d/digitalwave-modsecurity.list

You must now set the APT Policy to use this repository first for the mentioned packages you are going to install. Copy and paste this command which will do it automatically:

cat << EOF | sudo tee -a /etc/apt/preferences.d/99modsecurity
Package: *nginx*
Pin: origin
Pin-Priority: 900

Package: *libapache2-mod-security2*
Pin: origin
Pin-Priority: 900

Package: *modsecurity-crs*
Pin: origin
Pin-Priority: 900

Package: *libmodsecurity*
Pin: origin
Pin-Priority: 900

Optionally, you can confirm this with the following command:

sudo apt-cache policy nginx-extras libapache2-mod-security2 modsecurity-crs libmodsecurity3

Run an APT update to reflect the newly imported source:

sudo apt update

Now install the libapache2-mod-security2 model:

sudo apt install libapache2-mod-security2

Once the installation is complete, enable the module with the following command:

sudo a2enmod security2

Don’t forget to restart your Apache2 service to apply the new module and changes.

sudo systemctl restart apache2

Enable ModSecurity 2 Module For Apache on Ubuntu 22.04 or 20.04

Apache ModSecurity’s configuration file can be found at /etc/apache2/mods-enabled/security2.conf.

sudo nano /etc/apache2/mods-enabled/security2.conf

Find the following line:

IncludeOptional /etc/modsecurity/*.conf

Ensure this line is uncommented; this should be the case by default.

Screenshot displaying the process of ensuring Modsecurity rules are uncommented for Apache on Ubuntu 22.04 or 20.04.Pin
Visual demonstration of checking that Modsecurity rules are active and uncommented for Apache on Ubuntu 22.04 or 20.04.

To proceed, rename the modsecurity.conf-recommended configuration file:

sudo mv /etc/modsecurity/modsecurity.conf-recommended /etc/modsecurity/modsecurity.conf

Open the modsecurity.conf file with your preferred text editor in Ubuntu:

sudo nano /etc/modsecurity/modsecurity.conf

By default, the ModSecurity configuration has the rule engine set to “DetectionOnly”, which detects malicious behavior but doesn’t block or ban it. To enable ModSecurity, change the line on line 7 to “On”:

SecRuleEngine DetectionOnly

Update it to:

SecRuleEngine On
Screenshot illustrating the process of enabling Modsecurity in the Apache configuration file on Ubuntu 22.04 or 20.04.Pin
A step-by-step visual guide on how to enable Modsecurity within the Apache configuration file on Ubuntu 22.04 or 20.04.

Next, find the SecAuditLogParts line on line 224:

# Log everything we know about a transaction.
SecAuditLogParts ABDEFHIJZ

This setting is incorrect and needs to be changed. Modify it as follows:

SecAuditLogParts ABCEFHJKZ
Screenshot showcasing the modification of the SecAudit configuration for Modsecurity and Apache on Ubuntu 22.04 or 20.04.Pin
Visual demonstration of tweaking the SecAudit configuration settings for Modsecurity and Apache on Ubuntu 22.04 or 20.04.

Save the file (CTRL+O) and exit (CTRL+X). Finally, restart the Apache service to apply the changes:

sudo systemctl restart apache2

Install OWASP Core Rule Set for ModSecurity 2 with Apache on Ubuntu 22.04 or 20.04

ModSecurity itself doesn’t protect your webserver; you need to have rules in place. One of the most reputable and widely used rule sets is the OWASP Core Rule Set (CRS). These rules are commonly used across web servers and other Web Application Firewalls (WAFs). Installing this rule set provides you with strong protection against many emerging threats on the internet by identifying and blocking malicious actors.

Always check the OWASP Release tag page for the latest version, as the example below may become outdated.

First, create the main parent directory for OWASP:

sudo mkdir /etc/apache2/modsec/

Next, use the wget command to download the OWASP CRS 3.3.4 archive, which is the latest stable version at the time of writing. Be sure to check the link mentioned earlier to see the current releases for the core rule set.


If you prefer using the nightly build, be prepared to recompile and check the CoreRuleSet GitHub frequently for updates. The nightly build may offer more security but can potentially cause issues. For novice users, stick to the stable version and avoid the nightly build.

Now, extract the archive:

sudo tar xvf v3.3.4.tar.gz -C /etc/apache2/modsec

Remember to adjust the commands if you downloaded a different OWASP CRS version.

OWASP CRS includes a sample configuration file that you should rename. Use the cp command to create a copy while retaining the original as a backup.

sudo cp /etc/apache2/modsec/coreruleset-3.3.4/crs-setup.conf.example /etc/apache2/modsec/coreruleset-3.3.4/crs-setup.conf

Be sure to replace /coreruleset-3.3.4/ with the exact version of OWASP CRS you’ve chosen.

To enable the rules, open the /etc/apache2/mods-enabled/security2.conf file:

sudo nano /etc/apache2/mods-enabled/security2.conf

Add the following two lines to the file:

Include /etc/apache2/modsec/coreruleset-3.3.4/crs-setup.conf
Include /etc/apache2/modsec/coreruleset-3.3.4/rules/*.conf

Make sure to replace /coreruleset-3.3.4/ with the exact version of OWASP CRS you’ve chosen.

Also, comment out or remove the following line:

IncludeOptional /usr/share/modsecurity-crs/*.load
Screenshot of the process to add OWASP rule locations for Modsecurity 2 and Apache on Ubuntu 22.04 or 20.04.Pin
A visual guide on how to add OWASP rule locations for Modsecurity 2 in the Apache setup on Ubuntu 22.04 or 20.04.

Save the file (CTRL+O) and exit (CTRL+X).

Restart your Apache service to apply the changes:

sudo systemctl restart apache2

Understanding OWASP CRS with Modsecurity 2 on Apache with Ubuntu 22.04 or 20.04

OWASP CRS offers numerous options, and its default settings provide immediate protection for most servers without negatively impacting legitimate visitors or SEO bots. This section will cover some key areas, but exploring the configuration files thoroughly is recommended to understand all the available options.

Begin by opening your crs-setup.conf file:

sudo nano /etc/apache2/modsec/coreruleset-3.3.4/crs-setup.conf

This is where you can modify most of your OWASP CRS settings.

OWASP CRS Scoring with Modsecurity 2 on Apache with Ubuntu 22.04 or 20.04

ModSecurity operates in two modes:

  1. Anomaly Scoring Mode (recommended): Each matching rule increases an ‘anomaly score’ in this mode. The anomaly score is checked after processing inbound and outbound rules, and the blocking evaluation rules apply a disruptive action (by default, returning an error 403). This mode offers more accurate log information and greater flexibility in setting blocking policies.
  2. Self-Contained Mode: In this mode, rules apply an action instantly. It can lower resource usage but offers less flexibility in blocking policies and less informative audit logs. The first rule that matches will execute the specified action, often causing evaluation to stop after the first rule matches.

Paranoia Levels

There are four paranoia levels:

  1. Paranoia Level 1: Default level, recommended for most users.
  2. Paranoia Level 2: For advanced users only.
  3. Paranoia Level 3: For expert users only.
  4. Paranoia Level 4: Not recommended except for exceptional circumstances.

Higher paranoia levels enable additional rules for increased security but also raise the likelihood of blocking legitimate traffic due to false positives. Choose the appropriate level based on your experience and security requirements.

Test OWASP CRS on your Server

To verify that OWASP CRS is working on your server, open your internet browser and enter the following URL, replacing “” with your actual domain:

If you receive a 403 Forbidden error, OWASP CRS is working correctly. If not, you may have missed a step in the setup process.

Screenshot confirming the successful operation of Apache and Modsecurity 2 on Ubuntu 22.04 or 20.04.Pin
A visual confirmation of Apache and Modsecurity 2 functioning harmoniously on Ubuntu 22.04 or 20.04.

The most common issue is forgetting to change DetectionOnly to On, as discussed earlier in the tutorial.

How to Fix False Positives & Custom Rules Exclusion with Modsecurity 2 and OWASP CRS on Ubuntu 22.04 or 20.04

Dealing with false positives can be an ongoing process, but the protection offered by ModSecurity and OWASP CRS is well worth the effort. First, it’s best to keep the paranoia level low to minimize the number of false positives.

A useful approach is running the rule set for a few weeks or months with minimal false positives before increasing the paranoia level. This way, you won’t be overwhelmed by numerous false positives at once.

Excluding False Positives known Applications

ModSecurity can whitelist common actions that lead to false positives by default. Here’s an example:

#SecAction \
# "id:900130,\
#  phase:1,\
#  nolog,\
#  pass,\
#  t:none,\
#  setvar:tx.crs_exclusions_cpanel=1,\
#  setvar:tx.crs_exclusions_dokuwiki=1,\
#  setvar:tx.crs_exclusions_drupal=1,\
#  setvar:tx.crs_exclusions_nextcloud=1,\
#  setvar:tx.crs_exclusions_phpbb=1,\
#  setvar:tx.crs_exclusions_phpmyadmin=1,\
#  setvar:tx.crs_exclusions_wordpress=1,\
#  setvar:tx.crs_exclusions_xenforo=1"

To enable whitelisting for applications like WordPress, phpBB, and phpMyAdmin, uncomment the lines and keep the (1) value. For other services you don’t use, change the value to (0) so they are not whitelisted.

Here’s an example of the modified configuration:

SecAction \

In this example, unnecessary options have been removed, and the correct syntax has been used.

Excluding Rules Before CRS

To create custom exclusions, first, change the name of the REQUEST-900-EXCLUSION-RULES-BEFORE-CRS-SAMPLE.conf file using the cp command:

sudo cp /etc/apache2/modsec/coreruleset-3.3.4/rules/REQUEST-900-EXCLUSION-RULES-BEFORE-CRS.conf.example /etc/apache2/modsec/coreruleset-3.3.4/rules/REQUEST-900-EXCLUSION-RULES-BEFORE-CRS.conf

Remember that each exclusion rule must have a unique id:<rule number> or else you’ll encounter errors when testing your Apache2 service.

For instance, some REQUEST_URIs might trigger false positives. The following example demonstrates two such cases with Google PageSpeed beacon and the WPMU DEV plugin for WordPress:

SecRule REQUEST_URI "@beginsWith /wp-load.php?wpmudev" "id:1544,phase:1,log,allow,ctl:ruleEngine=off"

SecRule REQUEST_URI "@beginsWith /ngx_pagespeed_beacon" "id:1554,phase:1,log,allow,ctl:ruleEngine=off"

These rules will automatically allow any URL that starts with the specified path.

You can also whitelist IP addresses in a few different ways:

SecRule REMOTE_ADDR "^195\.151\.128\.96" "id:1004,phase:1,nolog,allow,ctl:ruleEngine=off"


SecRule REMOTE_ADDR "@ipMatch,," "phase:1,id:1313413,allow,ctl:ruleEngine=off"

The @ipMatch directive can be used for more extensive subnet matching. To deny a subnet or IP address, change ‘allow’ to ‘deny’. With some expertise, you can create blacklists and whitelists, and even integrate them with Fail2Ban. The possibilities are nearly limitless.

Another approach is to disable specific rules that trigger false positives instead of whitelisting the entire path. This method requires more time and testing. For example, if rules 941000 and 942999 in your /admin/ area consistently trigger false bans and blocks for your team, find the rule ID in your ModSecurity logs and disable only that ID using RemoveByID:

SecRule REQUEST_FILENAME "@beginsWith /admin" "id:1004,phase:1,pass,nolog,ctl:ruleRemoveById=941000-942999"

Regarding false positives with Apache, ModSecurity, and OWASP, it’s essential to monitor logs and identify patterns that could indicate false positives. Once identified, you can create custom rules to address them. For instance, if you find specific rules that consistently trigger false positives, you can create an exclusion rule for those specific cases.

Set Up Log Rotation for ModSecurity 2 on Ubuntu 22.04 or 20.04

ModSecurity logs can grow rapidly, so it’s essential to set up log rotation to manage them efficiently. Log rotation isn’t configured by default, so you’ll need to create a log rotation file for ModSecurity.

First, create and open a new ModSecurity rotation file named modsec:

sudo nano /etc/logrotate.d/modsec

Add the following code to the file:

        rotate 31

This configuration will keep logs for 31 days. If you prefer to store logs for a shorter period, change the 31 to your desired number of days (e.g., 7 for a week’s worth of logs). It’s recommended to rotate ModSecurity logs daily, as reviewing large log files spanning an entire week can be quite challenging.

By setting up log rotation, you can effectively manage your ModSecurity logs, ensuring that older logs are compressed and eventually removed, making it easier to analyze and troubleshoot any issues that may arise.


Installing ModSecurity with Apache on Ubuntu is an effective way to secure your web applications. Following the steps in this guide, you can successfully configure and set up ModSecurity, OWASP CRS, and tune rules to minimize false positives. Maintaining web application security is essential, and ModSecurity is a powerful tool that can help you protect your applications from various threats.

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