Security hardening for nginx (reverse proxy)

This document can be used when enhancing the security of your nginx server.

Features provided in Security Hardening for nginx server

  • In this security hardening we first update the nginx server. Its advantages are that it has SPDY 3.1 support, authentication via subrequests, SSL session ticket support, IPv6 support for DNS, PROXY protocol support. It also includes following features error logging, cache revalidation directives, SMTP pipelining, buffering options for FastCGI, improved support for MP4 streaming, and extended handling of byte-range requests for streaming and caching.

  • We also remove the SSL support and add TLS support. It used to be believed that TLS v1.0 was marginally more secure than SSL v3.0, its predecessor.  However, SSL v3.0 is getting very old and recent developments, such as the POODLE vulnerability have shown that SSL v3.0 is now completely insecure. Subsequent versions of TLS — v1.1 and v1.2 are significantly more secure and fix many vulnerabilities present in SSL v3.0 and TLS v1.0.  For example, the BEAST attack that can completely break web sites running on older SSL v3.0 and TLS v1.0 protocols. The newer TLS versions, if properly configured, prevent the BEAST and other attack vectors and provide many stronger ciphers and encryption methods.

  • We have also added SPDY support. SPDY is a two-layer HTTP-compatible protocol. The “upper” layer provides HTTP’s request and response semantics, while the “lower” layer manages encoding and sending the data. The lower layer of SPDY provides a number of benefits over standard HTTP. Namely, it sends fewer packets, uses fewer TCP connections and uses the TCP connections it makes more effectively. A single SPDY session allows concurrent HTTP requests to run over a single TCP/IP session. SPDY cuts down on the number of TCP handshakes required, and it cuts down on packet loss and bufferbloat

  • We have also added the HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS) support. It prevents sslstrip-like attacks and provides zero tolerance for certification problems.
  • We have also added  Deffie Helman key support. Diffie-Hellman key exchange, also called exponential key exchange, is a method of digital encryption that uses numbers raised to specific powers to produce decryption keys on the basis of components that are never directly transmitted. That makes it a very secure key exchange and prevents man-in-middle attack.

Step-by-step guide

Following are the steps for security hardening of nginx server.

  1. Firstly, you will need to update the existing nginx server.
    • Login to your nginx server as root.
    • Check for the existing nginx version with the command nginx -v. The version should be > 1.5.
    • If your version is > 1.5 then goto step 2. If your version < 1.5 then execute the following commands.
    • Check if there is a file names nginx.repo in /etc/yum.repos.d/.
    • cd /etc/yum.repos.d
    • vi nginx.repo
    • Enter the following lines into the file then save it.
      name=nginx repo
    • then execute the following command yum update nginx. This will update your nginx server to the latest version.

2. Following changes need to be done in all of the .conf files of the nginx. The .conf files are  present in /etc/nginx/conf.d/ folder.

    • In the server block for port 443 disable the SSLv2 and SSLv3 protocol. To achieve this replace the line
      ssl_protocols SSLv2 SSLv3 TLSv1 with ssl_protocols TLSv1 TLSv1.1 TLSv1.2.
      SSLv2 and SSLv3 are considered to be insecure so we have to disable them and add TLS in place.
    • Next we have to add the SPDY protocol configurations. SPDY (pronounced speedy) is an open networking protocol developed primarily at 
      Google for transporting web content. SPDY manipulates HTTP traffic, with particular goals of reducing web page load latency and improving web security.
      To achieve this add the following lines before the location block in server tab.
      spdy_keepalive_timeout 300;spdy_headers_comp 9;
    • Below the SPDY configuration add the following lines for the HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS) is a web security policy mechanism 
      which helps to protect websites against protocol downgrade attacks and cookie hijacking.
       add_header Strict-Transport-Security “max-age=63072000; includeSubDomains; preload”;
      add_header X-Frame-Options DENY;
      add_header X-Content-Type-Options nosniff;
    • Now we have to add the Deffie Helman key into our conf files. Diffie Hellman is an algorithm used to establish a shared secret between two parties. 
      It is primarily used as a method of exchanging cryptography keys for use in symmetric encryption algorithms like AES.
      For that check if openssl is installed on the nginx server. If not install it by yum install openssl. 
      1. After that execute the following commands cd /etc/nginx/certs/
      2. Then execute the following command: openssl dhparam -out dhparams.pem 1024. This will generate a dhparams.pem file in your  /etc/nginx/certs/ directory.
      3. Now in your conf file comment the line which says ssl_ciphers and add the following line.ssl_ciphers ‘ECDHE-RSA-AES128-GCM-SHA256:ECDHE-ECDSA-AES128-GCM-SHA256:ECDHE-RSA-AES256-GCM-SHA384:ECDHE-ECDSA-AES256-GCM-SHA384:
      4. After this line ensure you have the following configuration ssl_prefer_server_ciphers on; After this line add the following line ssl_dhparam /etc/nginx/certs/dhparams.pem;

After this save your .conf files and execute the following command-  service nginx restart. The security of your nginx server will have been increased.


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