example workflow


A Rails console extension that protects sensitive accesses and makes them auditable.

“If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself.”

― George Orwell, 1984

If you are looking for the auditing tool, check audits1984.

Terminal screenshot showing console1984 asking for a reason for the session


Important: console1984 depends on Active Record encryption which is a Rails 7 feature.

Add it to your Gemfile:

gem 'console1984'

Create tables to store console activity in the database:

rails console1984:install:migrations
rails db:migrate

By default, console1984 is only enabled in production. You can configure the target environments in your application.rb:

config.console1984.protected_environments = %i[ production staging ]

Finally, you need to configure Active Record Encryption in your project. This is because the library stores the tracked console commands encrypted.

How it works

Session activity logging

When starting a console session, it will ask for a reason. Internally, it will use this reason to document the console session and record all the commands executed in it.

$ rails c

You have access to production data here. That's a big deal. As part of our promise to keep customer data safe and private, we audit the commands you type here. Let's get started!


* decrypt!: enter unprotected mode with access to encrypted information

Unnamed, why are you using this console today?

> ...

Auditing sessions

Check out audits1984, a companion auditing tool prepared to work with console1984 database session trails.

Access to encrypted data

By default, console1984 won't decrypt data encrypted with Active Record encryption. Users will just see the ciphertexts.

To decrypt data, enter the command decrypt!. It will ask for a justification, and these accesses will be flagged internally as sensitive.

irb(main)> Topic.last.name
  Topic Load (1.4ms)  SELECT `topics`.* FROM `topics` ORDER BY `topics`.`id` DESC LIMIT 1
=> "{\"p\":\"iu6+LfnNlurC6sL++JyOIDvedjNSz/AvnZQ=\",\"h\":{\"iv\":\"BYa86+JNM/LdkC18\",\"at\":\"r4sQNoSyIlAjJdZEKHVMow==\",\"k\":{\"p\":\"7L1l/5UiYsFQqqo4jfMZtLwp90KqcrIgS7HqgteVjuM=\",\"h\":{\"iv\":\"ItwRYxZAerKIoSZ8\",\"at\":\"ZUSNVfvtm4wAYWLBKRAx/g==\",\"e\":\"QVNDSUktOEJJVA==\"}},\"i\":\"OTdiOQ==\"}}"
irb(main)> decrypt!
Before you can access personal information, you need to ask for and get explicit consent from the user(s). Unnamed, where can we find this consent (a URL would be great)?

> ...

Ok! You have access to encrypted information now. We pay extra close attention to any commands entered while you have this access. You can go back to protected mode with 'encrypt!'

WARNING: Make sure you don`t save objects that were loaded while in protected mode, as this can result in saving the encrypted texts.
irb(main)> Topic.last.name
  Topic Load (1.2ms)  SELECT `topics`.* FROM `topics` ORDER BY `topics`.`id` DESC LIMIT 1
=> "Thanks for the inspiration"

You can type encrypt! to go back to protected mode again.

irb(main):004:0> encrypt!
Great! You are back in protected mode. When we audit, we may reach out for a conversation about the commands you entered. What went well? Did you solve the problem without accessing personal data?
irb(main)> Topic.last.name
  Topic Load (1.4ms)  SELECT `topics`.* FROM `topics` ORDER BY `topics`.`id` DESC LIMIT 1
=> "{\"p\":\"iu6+LfnNlurC6sL++JyOIDvedjNSz/AvnZQ=\",\"h\":{\"iv\":\"BYa86+JNM/LdkC18\",\"at\":\"r4sQNoSyIlAjJdZEKHVMow==\",\"k\":{\"p\":\"7L1l/5UiYsFQqqo4jfMZtLwp90KqcrIgS7HqgteVjuM=\",\"h\":{\"iv\":\"ItwRYxZAerKIoSZ8\",\"at\":\"ZUSNVfvtm4wAYWLBKRAx/g==\",\"e\":\"QVNDSUktOEJJVA==\"}},\"i\":\"OTdiOQ==\"}}"

While in protected mode, you can't modify encrypted data, but can save unencrypted attributes normally. If you try to modify an encrypted column it will raise an error.

Access to external systems

While Active Record encryption can protect personal information in the database, there are other systems can contain very sensitive information. For example: Elasticsearch indexing user information or Redis caching template fragments.

To protect the access to such systems, you can add their URLs to config.console1984.protected_urls in the corresponding environment config file (e.g: production.rb):

config.console1984.protected_urls = [ "https://my-app-us-east-1-whatever.us-east-1.es.amazonaws.com", "redis://my-app-cache-1.whatever.cache.amazonaws.com:6379" ]

In the default protected mode, trying to read data from a protected system will be aborted with an error:

irb(main)> Rails.cache.read("some key") # raises Console1984::Errors::ProtectedConnection

Running decrypt! will switch you to unprotected mode and let you access these systems normally. The system will ask for a justification and will flag those accesses as sensitive.

This will work for systems that use Ruby sockets as the underlying communication mechanism.

Automatic scheduled incineration for sessions

By default, sessions will be incinerated with a job 30 days after they are created. You can configure this period by setting config.console1984.incinerate_after = 1.year and you can disable incineration completely by setting config.console1984.incinerate = false.

Eager loading

When starting a console session, console1984 will eager load all the application classes if necessary. In practice, production environments already load classes eagerly, so this won't represent any change for those.


These config options are namespaced in config.console1984:

Name Description
protected_environments The list of environments where console1984 will act on. Defaults to %i[ production ].
protected_urls The list of URLs corresponding with external systems to protect.
session_logger The system used to record session data. The default logger is Console1984::SessionsLogger::Database.
username_resolver Configure how the current user is determined for a given console session. The default is Console1984::Username::EnvResolver.new("CONSOLE_USER"), which returns the value of the environment variable CONSOLE_USER.
production_data_warning The text to show when a console session starts.
enter_unprotected_encryption_mode_warning The text to show when user enters into unprotected mode.
enter_protected_mode_warning The text to show when user go backs to protected mode.
incinerate Whether incinerate sessions automatically after a period of time or not. Default to true.
incinerate_after The period to keep sessions around before incinerate them. Default 30.days.
incineration_queue The name of the queue for session incineration jobs. Default console1984_incineration.
base_record_class The host application base class that will be the parent of console1984 records. By default it's ::ApplicationRecord.

SSH Config

To automatically set the CONSOLE_USER env var for sessions, you'll need to configure SSH on the server to accept the environment variable.

On the server, edit /etc/ssh/sshd_config to accept the environment variable:


Restart the SSH server to use the new config:

service sshd restart

On the client side, you can provide this env var from your clients by adding the variable to the ssh config:

Host *
  SetEnv CONSOLE_USER=david

About built-in protection mechanisms

console1984 adds many protection mechanisms to prevent tampering. This includes attempts to alter data in auditing tables or monkey patching certain classes to change how the system works. If you find a way to circumvent these tampering controls, please report an issue.

We aim to make these defense mechanisms as robust as possible, but there might always be open doors because Ruby is highly dynamic. If your organization needs bullet-proof protection against malicious actors using the console, you should consider additional security measures. An example would be using a read-only database user for auditing data while in a console. The gem doesn't offer direct support for doing this, but it's on our radar for future improvement.

Running the test suite

The test suite runs against SQLite by default, but can be run against Postgres and MySQL too. It will run against the three in the CI server.

To run the suite in your computer, first, run bin/setup to create the docker containers for MySQL/PostgreSQL and create the databases. Then run:

bin/rails test # against SQLite (default) 
bin/rails test TARGET_DB=mysql 
bin/rails test TARGET_DB=postgres 
bin/rails test TARGET_DB=sqlite