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[Tutorial] - HTTP Strict Transport Security setup on Apache, NGINX and Lighttpd
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[Tutorial] - HTTP Strict Transport Security setup on Apache, NGINX and Lighttpd

RaymiiRaymii Member
edited April 2013 in Tutorials

HTTP Strict Transport Security (often abbreviated as HSTS) is a security feature that lets a web site tell browsers that it should only be communicated with using HTTPS, instead of using HTTP. This tutorial will show you how to set up HSTS in Apache2, NGINX and Lighttpd. It is tested with all mentioned webservers, NGINX 1.1.19, Lighttpd 1.4.28 and Apache 2.2.22 on Ubuntu 12.04, Debian 6 & 7 and CentOS 6.It should work on other distro's however, these are just reference values.

What is HTTP Strict Transport Security?

If a web site accepts a connection through HTTP and redirects to HTTPS, the user in this case may initially talk to the non-encrypted version of the site before being redirected, if, for example, the user types or even just

This opens up the potential for a man-in-the-middle attack, where the redirect could be exploited to direct a user to a malicious site instead of the secure version of the original page.

The HTTP Strict Transport Security feature lets a web site inform the browser that it should never load the site using HTTP, and should automatically convert all attempts to access the site using HTTP to HTTPS requests instead.

An example scenario:

You log into a free WiFi access point at an airport and start surfing the web, visiting your online banking service to check your balance and pay a couple of bills. Unfortunately, the access point you're using is actually a hacker's laptop, and they're intercepting your original HTTP request and redirecting you to a clone of your bank's site instead of the real thing. Now your private data is exposed to the hacker.

Strict Transport Security resolves this problem; as long as you've accessed your bank's web site once using HTTPS, and the bank's web site uses Strict Transport Security, your browser will know to automatically use only HTTPS, which prevents hackers from performing this sort of man-in-the-middle attack.

Set up HSTS in Apache2

Edit your apache configuration file (/etc/apache2/sites-enabled/website.conf and /etc/apache2/httpd.conf for example) and add the following to your VirtualHost:

# Optionally load the headers module:
LoadModule headers_module modules/

    Header always set Strict-Transport-Security "max-age=63072000; includeSubDomains"

Thats it. Now your website will set the header every time someone visits, with an expiration date of two years (in seconds). It sets it at every visit. So tomorrow, it will say two years again.
You do have to set it on the HTTPS vhost only. It cannot be in the http vhost.

To redirect your visitors to the HTTPS version of your website, use the mod_rewrite:

<IfModule mod_rewrite.c>
  RewriteEngine On
  RewriteCond %{HTTPS} off
  RewriteRule (.*) https://%{HTTP_HOST}%{REQUEST_URI}

And don't forget to restart Apache.

Read on here:

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? -


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