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I am a D-I-Y type of guy and have managed to setup Apache on my LAN and make it accessible via WAN over port 80 and Tomcat on port 8080.

I aim to possibly get a home web server up (will calculate the costs), but I need some questions answered about networking.

My understanding on ports are that they can be a risk if left open (which I have done) if there is no service or application listening on my side on those ports.

So I take it that leaving those ports open and removing the services or applications that run on my side for these ports is a major security risk?

I noticed though that Xampp (1.8.1) does not allow requests over WAN unless I set my password for Apache. Does setting this password imply that Xampp is safe to use in a production environment?

When is it safe to leave a port open?

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Any attacker, given enough time, will get into your server. Your responsibility is to do the best you can to make it harder than the next guy's server. Xampp is safe in a production environment, provided that you follow best security practice to set it up. Password-protect all services, run them at the lowest possible privilege, keep it patched, etc. This is not a complete list, which is why I'm answering in a comment. – user3463 Oct 29 '12 at 18:04

There is no real problem or security risk leaving ports open if you are absolutely sure that there is nothing which listen on that port. The idea behind firewalling off is because it is very difficult for a network administrator to be sure that services are not going to be opened up at a later date by someone who doesn't know better, or someone with malicious intent.

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