Moving to TLSv1.2 or newer: Nginx, Apache, Postfix, Dovecot

Moving on from “should we do it?” (with the answer to most real-world scenarios being “yes, and as a bonus it can help block a lot of spambots“), here’s how to restrict several Internet services — Nginx, Apache, Postfix, and Dovecot — to TLSv1.2 or newer.

As usual, these are not complete guides for any of those servers; I’m assuming you already have them working fine (including TLS encryption), and just want to disable any TLS protocols lower than v1.2. (If you need to add TLS to a non-TLS server, see instructions for Nginx, Apache, Postfix, and Dovecot.)


In each virtual host’s server section — or, even better, if you’re using Let’s Encrypt, in /etc/letsencrypt/options-ssl-nginx.conf or its equivalent –, add the following (or replace any existing ssl_protocols entry):

ssl_protocols TLSv1.2 TLSv1.3;

Restart Nginx, and test it on SSL Labs. You should get something like this1:

TLS v1.2 and v1.3 only

(Note: if you’re using a very old version of Nginx, it may not accept the “TLSv1.3” parameter and refuse to start; in such a case, remove it — or, better yet, upgrade your system. 🙂 )


Similarly to Nginx, you can add one of the following to each Virtual Host, or to the global HTTPS configuration (typically in /etc/httpd/conf.d/ssl.conf), or, if using Let’s Encrypt, to /etc/letsencrypt/options-ssl-apache.conf :

SSLProtocol            +TLSv1.2 +TLSv1.3


SSLProtocol             all -SSLv2 -SSLv3 -TLSv1 -TLSv1.1

Right now, they’ll do the same thing: allow TLSv1.2 and v1.3 only. Personally, I like the second version (which disables older protocols) better, for two reasons: 1) it’ll work even with some ancient Apache version that doesn’t recognize “TLSv1.3”, and 2) when future TLS versions are added, they’ll be enabled, making it more future-proof.

Again, you can test the new configuration on SSL Labs.


Add the following to /etc/postfix/ (replacing any equivalent entries, if they exist).

smtp_tls_mandatory_protocols=!SSLv2, !SSLv3, !TLSv1, !TLSv1.1
smtpd_tls_mandatory_protocols=!SSLv2, !SSLv3, !TLSv1, !TLSv1.1
smtp_tls_protocols=!SSLv2, !SSLv3, !TLSv1, !TLSv1.1
smtpd_tls_protocols=!SSLv2, !SSLv3, !TLSv1, !TLSv1.1

After restarting Postfix, you can test its available protocols with Immuniweb’s SSL Security Test (specify something like yourhostname:25, or yourhostname:465 if not using STARTTLS).


Add the following (or replace it if it exists) to your SSL configuration (typically /etc/dovecot/conf.d/10-ssl.conf):

ssl_min_protocol = TLSv1.2

Restart Dovecot, and test it on Immuniweb’s test (use something like yourhostname:143 , or yourhostname:993 if not using STARTTLS).

Moving to TLSv1.2 or newer: is now the time?

TLSv1.0, used not only for HTTPS but also for secure SMTP, IMAP, etc., has been around for a while — 1999, in fact –, and, while not “hopelessly broken” like SSL 2 and 3 are, there have been many successful attacks/exploits against it in the past two decades, and while most implementations (in terms of both servers and clients) have been patched to work around those, there may always be another one just around the corner. Also, TLSv1.0 came from a time where it was desirable to support as many different ciphers as possible, which means that, by default, some ciphers later found to be insecure may still be enabled.

Therefore, the end of TLSv1.0 has been talked about for a while, and, indeed, the main browser vendors — Google, Mozilla, Apple, and Microsoft — have announced that they’ll deprecate TLSv1.0 (and 1.1, which is little more than a revision of 1.0) by early 2020.

Now, until a few days ago I still had TLSv1.0 enabled on my servers (including Nginx, Postfix and Dovecot); my belief was that some encryption was always better than no encryption, and besides we were mostly talking about public websites, that didn’t ask for user credentials or anything. Furthermore, any modern browsers/email clients default to secure protocols (TLSv1.2 or better), so there would never be, “in real life”, a situation where important/sensitive data (say, me logging on to my own mail server, or to one of my WordPresses was being transmitted in an insecure way.

On the other hand… doesn’t the above mean that, “in real life”, nobody will really be using TLSv1.0 “legitimately”? Doesn’t it mean that setting up TLSv1.2 as a minimum will have no adverse consequences?

So I investigated it a little:

  • in terms of browsers/clients, requiring TLSv1.2 or above means: 1) no Internet Explorer before version 11; 2) no Safari before 6.x; 3) no default Android browser before Android 4.4.x (but those users can still use Chrome or other non-default browsers). (You can check this out on SSL Labs). I don’t have a way to check email clients that old, but you can assume that anything released after the browsers just mentioned will be OK;
  • in terms of my own server logs (mostly Nginx, but also Postfix, in terms of opportunistic encryption), apparently, only spambots and such are using TLSv1.0; any “legitimate” email servers use TLSv1.2 or 1.3. The same thing with my websites — any TLSv1.0 entries in my logs are always from some bot (and not one for a “well-known” search engine), not actual visitors. 1

In short: you can probably move to requiring TLSv1.2 or above now (and, indeed, I’ve done so since a few days ago), unless you’re in some very peculiar situation — maybe your site needs to be accessed by users of a company whose IT policy includes not using software newer than 20 years old? Or you have a CEO who’s always refused to upgrade his beloved Symbian phone, but who’d flip out if he couldn’t access your company’s webmail with it? 🙂 Otherwise, my advice is: go TLSv1.2 and don’t look back.

However, and since this post is already quite long, I’ll leave the specific instructions for disabling TLS before 1.2 in Nginx, Apache, Postfix, and Dovecot for the next one

Apache: How to get an A (or A+) rating on

A commenter on my old post about configuring security headers on Nginx (and getting an A or A+ rating on, now moved to asked for a version for Apache, so… here it is. It’s basically the same, just with the appropriate syntax changes:

Nginx setting Explanation
header always set Strict-Transport-Security “max-age=31536000; includeSubdomains; preload” Enforces HTTPS on the entire site. Don’t use if you still need to provide HTTP, of course.
header always set X-Content-Type-Options nosniff Prevents browsers from trying to “guess” MIME types and such, forcing them to use what the server tells them.
header always set X-Frame-Options SAMEORIGIN Stops your site from being included in iframes on other sites.
header always set X-Xss-Protection “1; mode=block” Activates cross-scripting (XSS) protection in browsers.
header always set Referrer-Policy “unsafe-url” Makes the site always send referrer information to other sites. NOTE: this is not the most secure setting, but it’s the one I prefer; see below.
header always set Content-Security-Policy “default-src https: data: ‘unsafe-inline’ ‘unsafe-eval'” Forces TLS (don’t use if you still need to provide HTTP); prevents mixed content warnings. NOTE: again, this is not the most secure setting; see below.

About the last two settings, I’ll copy from my old post:

I choose to send referring information to other sites for a simple reason: I like to see where my own visitors come from (I don’t sell, share or monetize that in any way, it’s just for curiosity’s sake), and I’m a firm believer in treating others as I want to be treated. If you don’t care about that, you may want to change this to “no-referrer-when-downgrade“, or “strict-origin“.

As for the Content Security Policy, anything more “secure” than the above prevents (or at least makes it a lot more headache-inducing) the use of inline scripts and/or external scripts, which would mean no external tools/scripts/content (or at least a lot of work in adding every external domain to a list of exceptions), and a lot of hacking on software such as WordPress (seriously: add the setting, but then remove the “unsafe-*” options and see what stops working…). You might use the most paranoid settings for an internally developed, mostly static site, but I fail to see the point. So, this and the paragraph above are the reasons for an A rating, instead of an A+.

Hope this was useful. 🙂

How to get a 100% score on SSL Labs (Red Hat/CentOS 7.x, Apache, Let’s Encrypt)

There’s an Nginx version of this tutorial already, but since some people prefer/have to use Apache, here’s how to get 100% on SSL Labs’ server test with it.

For extra fun, instead of Debian/Ubuntu, we’ll be using Red Hat/CentOS (more precisely, CentOS 7.6 with the latest updates as of January 10th, 2019, but this shouldn’t change for any other 7.x versions of either CentOS or RHCE). And we’ll keep firewalld and SELinux enabled 1, even though, as far as I know, in most companies (well, at least the ones I’ve worked at) it’s, typically, official policy to disable both. 🙂

So, let’s assume you already have a CentOS/RHEL machine, with internet access and the default repositories enabled. First, we’ll enable the EPEL repository (to provide Let’s Encrypt’s certbot):

yum install

Now we’ll install certbot (which will also install Apache’s httpd and mod_ssl as dependencies) and wget (which we may need later):

yum install python2-certbot-apache wget

To be run certbot and allow it to verify your site, you should first create a simple vhost. Add this to your Apache configuration (e.g. a new file ending in .conf in /etc/httpd/conf.d/):

<VirtualHost *:80>
    DocumentRoot "/var/www/html"

Now add Apache’s ports to firewalld, and start the service:

firewall-cmd --permanent --zone=public --add-service=http
firewall-cmd --permanent --zone=public --add-service=https
firewall-cmd --reload

systemctl enable httpd ; systemctl restart httpd

Run certbot to create and begin using the new certificate:

certbot --apache --rsa-key-size 4096 --no-redirect --staple-ocsp -d

You should now have the virtual host configured in /etc/httpd/conf.d/ssl.conf . Let’s add a few lines to it (inside the <VirtualHost></VirtualHost> section):

Header always set Strict-Transport-Security "max-age=15768000"
SSLProtocol             all -SSLv3 -TLSv1 -TLSv1.1
SSLCipherSuite          TLSv1.3 TLS_CHACHA20_POLY1305_SHA256:TLS_AES_256_GCM_SHA384
SSLHonorCipherOrder     on
SSLCompression          off

(Don’t mind the “TLSv1.3” line for now, it won’t be used — if at all  — until later in this post, and won’t have any effect if it isn’t.)

This should get you an A+ rating, with all bars at 100% except for Key Exchange. A good start, right? 🙂 However, that final bar can be a bit tricky. The problem here is that SSL Labs limits the Key Exchange rating to 90% if the default ECDH curve is either prime256v1 or X25519, the first of them being the OpenSSL default… and Apache 2.4.6 (the version included in all 7.x RHELs/CentOSes) doesn’t yet include the option to specify a different list of curves (of which secp384r1 will give a 100% rating, and won’t add any compatibility issues).

Assuming you don’t want to install a non-official Apache, then the only way (as far as I know) to specify a new curve is to add the results of running:

openssl ecparam -name secp384r1

to your certificate file. But Let’s Encrypt certificates are renewed often, so you may need some trickery here — such as adding something like this to root’s crontab:

*/5 * * * * grep -q "EC PARAMETERERS" /your/certificate/file.crt || openssl ecparam -name secp384r1 >> /your/certificate/file.crt

Ugly, I know. 🙂

Alternatively, you can upgrade Apache to a newer version. CodeIT (for instance) provides replacement packages for RHEL and CentOS, which you can use by doing:

cd /etc/yum.repos.d && wget`rpm -q --qf "%{VERSION}" $(rpm -q --whatprovides redhat-release)`.repo
yum -y update httpd mod_ssl

This will update Apache from 2.4.6 to 2.4.37 (as of January 10th, 2019), and so you can add the following to the vhost:

SSLOpenSSLConfCmd     Curves secp384r1:X25519:prime256v1

However! This will still not give 100%, since CoreIT’s Apache appears to come with a newer OpenSSL (1.1.1) statically linked to it, which means it’ll enable TLS 1.3 by default. And there’s nothing wrong with it… except that, from all the tests I’ve performed, Apache ignores the specified order of the ECDH curves when using TLS 1.3. With the line above, it’ll use secp384r1 for TLS 1.2, but X25519 for TLS 1.3 — and that’s enough to lower the Key Exchange bar to 90% again. 🙁

Given this, there are now several options:

1- disable TLS 1.3 (it’s still relatively new, and most people are still using 1.2): change the line:

SSLProtocol             all -SSLv3 -TLSv1 -TLSv1.1


SSLProtocol             all -SSLv3 -TLSv1 -TLSv1.1 -TLSv1.3

2- force secp384r1: change the “SSLOpenSSLConfCmd Curves” line to simply:

SSLOpenSSLConfCmd       Curves secp384r1

3- ignore this situation altogether: X25519 is considered to be as secure as secp384r1, if not more; even SSL Labs mentions not penalizing it in the future in their (early 2018) grading guide — they just have been a bit lazy in updating their test. It’s quite possible that a future update of their tool will give a full 100% score to X25519.

Anyway, most of this was done for fun, for the challenge of it.  🙂