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Nginx: speed AND security? Yes, please.

Written by Eric Schwimmer

So now that everybody is giving SSL the good lovin' that it deserves, people are starting to find that SSL can be kind of slow... especially when it's not properly configured. However, well-configured SSL can actually be FASTER than a non-encrypted connection (assuming you are running a newer browser).

For instance, the current incarnation of Nerdvana uses SPDY, SSL session caching and TLS Certificate Status Requests (a.k.a. OCSP Stapling) to make things run like greased lightning.

For greater security, we support only TLSv1+, use a select subset of ciphers, turn on HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS), and use a SSL cert generated with RSA 2048+ bit cert signed with SHA-256.

Here are the relevant bits from our Nginx config:

# Redirect all HTTP connections to HTTPS
server {
    listen 80 default;
    return 301$request_uri;

# Our HTTPS server
server {
    # Enable SSL, with support for SPDY
    listen 443 ssl spdy;

    # SSL certificate setup
    ssl_certificate /etc/ssl/nginx/;
    ssl_certificate_key /etc/ssl/nginx/;
    ssl_trusted_certificate /etc/ssl/nginx/;
    ssl_dhparam /etc/ssl/nginx/;

    # OCSP stapling setup
    ssl_stapling on;
    ssl_stapling_verify on;
    resolver valid=300s;
    resolver_timeout 15s;

    # Support HSTS
    add_header Strict-Transport-Security "max-age=31536000; includeSubdomains";

    # SSL session caching
    ssl_session_cache shared:SSL:50m;
    ssl_session_timeout 5m;

    # SSL cipher/protocol setup
    ssl_prefer_server_ciphers on;
    ssl_protocols TLSv1 TLSv1.1 TLSv1.2;
    ssl_ciphers "AES256+EECDH:AES256+EDH";

    # Prevent click-jacking and mime-sniffing
    add_header X-Frame-Options DENY;
    add_header X-Content-Type-Options nosniff;


This gets us an A+ with the Qualsys SSL test.

Note that you are going to want Nginx 1.5.10 or later to get the latest non-draft version of the SPDY protocol and OCSP stapling.

Also, you'll want to create your own DH key with 2048+ bits, since the OpenSSL default is 1024 bits and this will degrade the security of the initial key exchange (arguably the most critical part of the process). So run 'openssl dhparam -out dhparam.pem 4096', and then be prepared to wait for a good long time before the key is finally generated.

For a great resource on setting up Nginx in a secure yet speedy manner, check out:\_SSL\_Security\_On\_nginx.html

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