HTTP Strict Transport Security

Revision as of 22:05, 15 January 2014 by Kevin W. Wall (talk | contribs) (Added external link to Moxie Marlinspike's talk on sslstrip)

Jump to: navigation, search


HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS) is an opt-in security enhancement that is specified by a web application through the use of a special response header. Once a supported browser receives this header that browser will prevent any communications from being sent over HTTP to the specified domain and will instead send all communications over HTTPS. It also prevents HTTPS click through prompts on browsers.

The specification has been released and published end of 2012 as RFC 6797 (HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS)) by the IETF. (Reference see in the links at the bottom.)


Example of the HTTP strict transport security header

 Strict-Transport-Security: max-age=60000

If all subdomains are HTTPS too then the following header is applicable:

 Strict-Transport-Security: max-age=60000; includeSubDomains

Browser Support

Support Introduced
Internet Explorer
no support as of IE 10 (tested on 2013-01-01)

Server Side

The web server side needs to inject the HSTS header.

For HTTP sites on the same domain it is not recommended to add a HSTS header but to do a permanent redirect (301 status code) to the HTTPS site.

An Apache HTTPd example that will permanently redirect a URL to the identical URL with a HTTPS scheme, is as follows:

<VirtualHost *:80>
       ServerAlias *
       RewriteEngine On
       RewriteRule ^(.*)$ https://%{HTTP_HOST}$1 [redirect=301]

On the HTTPS site configuration the following is needed to add the header as recommended by the standard:

       Header set Strict-Transport-Security "max-age=16070400; includeSubDomains"

The following links show how to set response headers in other web servers:


Whilst custom headers can be configured in IIS without any extensions, it is not possible to restrict these headers to secure transport channels as per the HSTS specification. HSTS has been implemented as per the specification as an open source IIS module.


HSTS addresses the following threats:

  • User bookmarks or manually types and is subject to a man-in-the-middle attacker
    • HSTS automatically upgrades HTTP requests to HTTPS for the target domain
  • Web application that is intended to be purely HTTPS inadvertently contains HTTP links or serves content over HTTP
    • HSTS automatically upgrades HTTP requests to HTTPS for the target domain
  • A man-in-the-middle attacker attempts to intercept traffic from a victim user using an invalid certificate and hopes the user will accept the bad certificate
    • HSTS does not allow a user to override the invalid certificate message


Chromium Projects/HSTS



Mozilla Developer Network

OWASP TLS Protection Cheat Sheet

Firefox STS Support

Google Chrome STS Support

Moxie Marlinspike's Black Hat 2009 talk on sslstrip, that demonstrates why you need HSTS