Nginx Security Hardening Guide

SecOps Solution
3 min readMay 14, 2024
Image By SecOpSolution

Nginx is a powerful and widely used web server that is known for its performance, scalability, and flexibility. However, like any web server, Nginx requires proper security configurations to protect against potential threats and attacks. In this guide, we’ll explore essential steps and best practices for hardening Nginx to enhance the security of your web applications and infrastructure.

Why Harden Nginx?

Before diving into the specifics of Nginx hardening, let’s understand why it’s crucial to secure your web server:

  1. Protection Against Attacks: Harden Nginx to mitigate common web vulnerabilities such as SQL injection, cross-site scripting (XSS), and directory traversal.
  2. Data Confidentiality: Ensure that sensitive data transmitted over HTTPS remains encrypted and secure from eavesdropping.
  3. Server Integrity: Prevent unauthorized access to server resources and configurations, maintaining the integrity of your server environment.
  4. Compliance: Adhering to security best practices and standards improves compliance with regulations such as GDPR, PCI DSS, and HIPAA.

Here are some important things to consider when hardening Nginx:

1. Secure Nginx Configuration

  • Disable server tokens to hide version information: ‘server_tokens off;’
  • Principle of Least Privilege: Configure Nginx with the minimum privileges necessary for its operation. Use the ‘user’ directive in the main ‘nginx.conf’ file to run Nginx as a non-privileged user.

user nginx;

  • Disable Unnecessary Features: Disable unused Nginx modules to reduce the attack surface. Remove or comment out modules like ‘autoindex’, ‘charset’, and ‘userdir’ unless explicitly required.

# Example:
# load_module modules/;

2. Harden SSL/TLS Configuration

  • Strong Cipher Suites: Utilize modern and secure SSL/TLS cipher suites. Update the ‘ssl_ciphers’ directive in your SSL configuration to include strong ciphers and prioritize forward secrecy.

Ssl_ciphers ‘TLS_AES_256_GCM_SHA384:TLS_CHACHA20_POLY1305_SHA256’;
ssl_prefer_server_ciphers on;
ssl_protocols TLSv1.2 TLSv1.3;

  • Implement HSTS: Enable HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS) to enforce HTTPS and instruct browsers to interact securely with your server.

add_header Strict-Transport-Security “max-age=31536000; includeSubDomains” always;

3. Protect Against Common Attacks

  • Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) Protection: Enable the ‘X-XSS-Protection’ header to mitigate XSS attacks.

add_header X-XSS-Protection “1; mode=block”;

  • Clickjacking Protection: Use the ‘X-Frame-Options’ header to prevent your site from being embedded in iframes on malicious sites.

add_header X-Frame-Options “SAMEORIGIN”;

4. Access Control and Rate Limiting

  • IP Whitelisting: Limit access to sensitive Nginx endpoints by whitelisting trusted IP addresses using the ‘allow’ and ‘deny’ directives.

location /admin {
deny all;

  • Rate Limiting: Protect against brute force attacks and abuse by implementing rate limiting for specific URLs or IP addresses.

limit_req_zone $binary_remote_addr zone=one:10m rate=1r/s;
limit_req zone=one burst=5 nodelay;

5. Security Headers and Logging

  • Content Security Policy (CSP): Implement a Content Security Policy to mitigate risks associated with XSS attacks.

add_header Content-Security-Policy “default-src ‘self’; script-src ‘self’";

  • Enable Logging: Configure Nginx to log access and error information for auditing and security analysis.

access_log /var/log/nginx/access.log;
error_log /var/log/nginx/error.log;

6. Secure File Permissions

Ensure that Nginx files and directories have appropriate permissions to prevent unauthorized access:

  • Set correct ownership: ‘chown -R nginx:nginx /path/to/nginx’
  • Restrict permissions: ‘chmod -R 750 /path/to/nginx’

7. Continuous Monitoring and Updates

  • Regular Updates: Stay updated with Nginx releases and security patches to protect against known vulnerabilities. Utilize package managers or official repositories for updates.
  • Monitor Security Events: Implement tools like Nginx Amplify, ELK Stack, or Splunk for real-time monitoring of security events, performance metrics, and logs.

By implementing these advanced security measures, you can significantly enhance the security posture of your Nginx server, protecting it against common vulnerabilities and attacks.

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