Secure TLS Server Configurations

A few notes on configuring a web-server with secure TLS protocol versions and Ciphers. NGINX is used in the examples herein, but the protocols, ciphers and headers should be universal.

There's some good advice from Mozilla here [2] [3], and @rootsecdev wrote a Medium Post on configuring IIS on Windows Server 2019 [4].


Only TLSv1.2 and TLSv1.3 are considered secure, so start with configuring these as the only supported protocols.

Change the config file to:

ssl_protocols TLSv1.2 TLSv1.3;

If only modern clients are used you can get away with TLSv1.3 only.
ssl_protocols TLSv1.3;

Windows Server builds 1903 and newer support TLSv1.3 too, however enabling this is not covered in [4]. It can be found with some Google-fu, though.


Only protocols with Perfect Forward Secrecy (PFS) should be used, and CBC has some issues (see [1] for more information). That leaves us with the following ciphers configured in the NGINX conf-file: 
For compatibility with older stuff use the intermediate configuration use Mozilla's configurator [3]. Please note that the above ciphers will effectively remove access for Android 5 and 6, Firefox <= 47, Safari 6-8, and likely a few other legacy platforms.

HSTS Header

Strict Transport Security will ensure that everything is served over HTTPS, configure this as shown below for an age of a year:
    add_header Strict-Transport-Security "max-age=31536000" always;

In summary

  • Use TLSv1.3 and nothing else if you can get away with it. 
  • Enforce HTTPS using strict transport security.
  • If TLSv1.2 is needed limit the ciphers used as discussed above.

For all of the settings above, Mozilla has a pretty good configurator discussed here [2] and found here [3]
If you're running Citrix ADC (The artist formerly known as Netscaler), there's a recent (Jan 2020) post worth reading [5].

[1] Padding oracles and the decline of CBC-mode cipher suites: https://blog.cloudflare.com/padding-oracles-and-the-decline-of-cbc-mode-ciphersuites/

[2] Security/Server Side TLS: https://wiki.mozilla.org/Security/Server_Side_TLS

[3] Mozilla's SSL Config generator: https://ssl-config.mozilla.org/

[4] Configuring secure cipher suites in Windows Server 2019 IIS: https://medium.com/@rootsecdev/configuring-secure-cipher-suites-in-windows-server-2019-iis-7d1ff1ffe5ea

[5] Citrix Networking SSL / TLS Best Practices: https://docs.citrix.com/en-us/tech-zone/build/tech-papers/networking-tls-best-practices.html