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  • Nginx security best practices.

    Nginx is the fastest growing web server in the industry, and currently, it holds number two position in market share.

    It was initially released in 2004, and since then it has earned an excellent reputation and used in top million busiest sites.

    There is a reason for that – Nginx is blazing fast.

    In this article, I will talk about some of the essential guides to secure the Nginx for a production environment. So let’s get it started.


    Implement SSL Certificate

    The first step in web security is to have SSL implemented so you can access web applications with https and add a layer of encryption in communication.

    • Use OpenSSL to generate CSR with 2048 bit and sha-2
    openssl req -nodes -new -sha256 -newkey rsa:2048 -keyout bestflare.key -out bestflare.csr
    • The above command will generate CSR and key files at current working directly. Don’t forget to change the .csr and .key file name.

    Get the CSR signed by a certificate authority and once you have the signed certificate, you can implement them in Nginx as below.

    • Login to Nginx server
    • Go to the conf folder where you have a ssl.conf file.

    Note: In default installation on Linux, you will have this file under /etc/nginx/conf.d.

    • Edit the file and add the following, which will enable Nginx to listen on 443 port
    server {
    listen       443 ssl;
       server_name bestflare.com;
       ssl                 on;
       ssl_certificate     /opt/cert/bestflare.pem;
       ssl_certificate_key /opt/cert/bestflare.key;

    Note: don’t forget to change the certificate and key file path.

    • Save the configuration and restart the Nginx. An SSL cert is implemented successfully.


    SSL/TLS Optimization

    Having SSL doesn’t mean it’s fully secure and that’s where as a Web Security expert, you need to apply a configuration to secure the webserver.

    To start with, I would recommend running an SSL scan against the website to find the score and essential vulnerability.


    So the current SSL Labs rating is “C” and a target is to make it “A.”

    Disable weak SSL/TLS protocols

    SSL 3, TLS 1.0, and TLS 1.1 is vulnerable, and we will allow only a strong TLS 1.2 protocol.

    • Edit ssl.conf file and add below in server block
    ssl_protocols       TLSv1.2;
    • Save the ssl.conf file and restart the Nginx

    Disable weak cipher suites

    Weak cipher suites may lead to vulnerability like a logjam, and that’s why we need to allow only strong cipher.

    • Add the following to the server block in ssl.conf file
    • Save the file and restart Nginx

    Install Chain Certificate

    Not having a chain certificate also affects the overall rating and this may show an error when browsing in a modern browser like Chrome. You need to obtain a chain certificate from authority. Mostly you will find on their website or just Google it.

    • Add the chain cert contents in the website certificate like below. In my example, it would be /opt/cert/bestflare.pem


    • Save the file and restart the Nginx

    Secure Diffie-Hellman for TLS

    Diffie-Hellman is less secure than it was believed. One of the best practices lately added in a list is to secure Diffie-hellman. Generating unique DH GROUP and adding ssl_dhparam in ssl.conf file does this.

    • Generate Unique DH Group by using OpenSSL
    openssl dhparam -out dhparams.pem 4096
    • It will take few minutes and will generate a file dhparams.pem on a current working directory
    • Copy dhparams.pem to cert folder
    • Modify ssl.conf and add following in server block
    ssl_dhparam    /opt/cert/dhparams.pem;
    • Save the file and restart the Nginx

    That should be sufficient for SSL/TLS optimization and let’s test the URL again to see the rating.


    Woo ho! So now you can see it’s “A” rating by SSLLabs. Well done!

    Here is complete ssl.conf

    # HTTPS server configuration
    server {
       listen       443 ssl;
       server_name bestflare.com;
       ssl                 on;
       ssl_certificate     /opt/cert/bestflare.pem;
       ssl_certificate_key /opt/cert/bestflare.key;
       ssl_protocols       TLSv1 TLSv1.1 TLSv1.2;
       ssl_prefer_server_ciphers   on;
       ssl_dhparam     /opt/cert/dhparams.pem;

    Information Leakage

    In default Nginx installation you will have much sensitive information revealed, which can help hackers to prepare for an attack.

    If you are working on a PCI compliance environment, this is considered as information leakage vulnerability and must fix the item.

    You have to use server_tokens off to disable the information leakage. I have explained this in my previous article. Remove Version from Server Header Banner in Nginx

    Web Application Security

    The default Nginx configuration is not perfect and can have many vulnerabilities that’s why we harden them to make it secure.

    Disable unwanted HTTP methods

    Most of the time, you need just GET, HEAD & POST HTTP request in your web application. Allowing TRACE or DELETE is risky as it can allow Cross-Site Tracking attack and potentially allow a hacker to steal the cookie information.

    • Modify nginx.conf and add following under server block
    if ($request_method !~ ^(GET|HEAD|POST)$ ) 
    return 405; 

    Save the file and restart the Nginx. This will now show 405 Not Allowed if someone is trying to use TRACE, DELETE, PUT, OPTIONS.

    Chandans-iMac:~ chandan$ telnet bestflare.com 80
    Connected to bestflare.com.
    Escape character is '^]'.
    TRACE / HTTP/1.1
    Host: testing
    HTTP/1.1 405 Not Allowed
    Server: nginx
    Date: Sat, 11 Jul 2015 06:04:34 GMT
    Content-Type: text/html
    Content-Length: 166
    Connection: close

    Clickjacking Attack

    You can inject X-FRAME-OPTIONS in HTTP Header to prevent a clickjacking attack.

    This is achieved by adding below in nginx.conf file

    add_header X-Frame-Options "SAMEORIGIN";

    Above header will instruct a browser to load the resources ONLY from the same origin.

    X-XSS Protection

    Inject HTTP Header with X-XSS protection to mitigate Cross-Site scripting attack.

    • Modify nginx.conf file to add the following
    add_header X-XSS-Protection "1; mode=block";
    • Save the configuration file and restart Nginx. You can use the Headers Test tool to verify after implementation.

    You may also be interested in implementing OWASP recommended secure headers which are explained here.

    Implement Mod Security WAF

    Add an additional layer of security by implementing Web Application Firewall ModSecurity with OWASP Core Rule Set.

    Alternatively, if you may consider using cloud-based security like SUCURI in front of the Nginx server.

    Keep Nginx up-to-date

    Last but not least, you need to keep your Nginx up-to-date as there are many performance enhancement, security fixes and new features are being added.

    I hope this helps you to keep your Nginx secure.

    Next, you may be interested in learning to build Nginx for high-performance from scratch.