Secure cipher suites for the ssl_cipher_list configuration

Thu 03 May 2018 | security Written by Mișu Moldovan

Default SSL cipher suites

With the release of SFTPPlus 3.32.0, we have changed the default set of SSL cipher suites for the Local Manager and the HTTPS service. As with any product that run in many environments, SFTPPlus uses a default set of SSL-related parameters that are a compromise between security and compatibility. Up to SFTPPlus version 3.31.0, we were using this highly compatible, but still reasonably secure, default set:

ssl_cipher_list = 'ALL:!RC4:!DES:!3DES:!MD5:!EXP'

Starting with SFTPPlus version 3.32.0, we strongly emphasize our focus on security. The default setting for OpenSSL cipher suites in SFTPPlus is now:

ssl_cipher_list = 'HIGH:!PSK:!RSP:!eNULL:!aNULL:!RC4:!MD5:!DES:!3DES:!aDH:!kDH:!DSS'

Notice that we now derive our default set from the HIGH set of cipher suites in OpenSSL. As improved cipher suites are added in OpenSSL, and new vulnerabilities are discovered and patched for, this specific set of cipher suites will be continuously improved upon by the OpenSSL developers. By keeping OpenSSL libraries updated through OS-specific procedures, our customers' SFTPPlus installations will benefit from these upstream improvements.

This new default set of safe cipher suites is also encapsulated within the secure configuration option, so you may simply use the following:

ssl_cipher_list = secure

Testing your HTTPS server

In ensuring that the secure configuration option for ssl_cipher_list in SFTPPlus is actually secure enough for your needs, you should try auditing your HTTPS setup using the Qualys SSL Labs' SSL Server Test.

This is a free online service that perform an analysis of the configuration of any public HTTPS server listening on the standard 443 port. When results are submitted, a grade from A to F is provided. You can read more about Qualys' SSL Server Rating Guide in their GitHub wiki here.

Assuming you are using a modern version of OpenSSL, such as version 1.0.2, a default installation of SFTPPlus version 3.32.0 will currently yield a score of B. This is because we still care about compatibility with older clients in the default setup.

However, you might want to go beyond that and try to obtain a Qualys SSL Server Rating of A for your SFTPPlus installation. A set of ciphers suites that sacrifices a bit of compatibility to reach the Grade A rating would be:


Keep in mind that clients such as Internet Explorer on Windows XP, Java 6.x clients and Android 2.x users will not be able to access your server any more. For guiding you in picking the best cipher suites for your OpenSSL version, we recommend Mozilla's SSL Configuration Generator.

Another way to increase the security of your HTTPS setup is to disable support for older SSL methods such as TLS v1.0 and v1.1. While as of April 2018 there are no known vulnerabilities specific to TLS v1.0 or v1.1, supporting only the newest standard will ensure better security through the use of more modern cipher suites.

In seeking the perfect balance between security and compatibility, you may wish to consider configuring only some services to have stricter cipher suites and/or TLS policy. These could be administration facing services such as the SFTPPlus Local Manager. For other services, you may need to adopt a policy that allows a compatible set as the default value for services such as HTTPS.

For example, here's the difference between secure and compatible SSL methods. Note that the secure method does not provide backward compatibility:

Secure methods:
ssl_allowed_methods = tlsv1.2

This indicates that the server will only support TLS v1.2, and will not communicate with a client that supports only TLS v1.0 and/or TLS v1.1.

A more lenient set of SSL methods would be:

Compatible methods:
ssl_allowed_methods = tlsv1.0 tlsv1.1 tlsv1.2

This indicates that the server will support clients using TLS version v1.2 and can communicate with clients that only support TLS v1.0 and/or TLS v1.1.

Beware that not supporting TLS v1.0 would mean dropping support for clients from older operating systems such as RHEL 5, SLES 11 and Solaris 10, as well as obsolete platforms like Android 4.0-4.3, Internet Explorer on Windows Vista and Win Phone 8.0, Java 7 clients. Anything based on the old OpenSSL 0.9.8 version are also included.

Therefore, you may need to reach a compromise in choosing the ssl_allowed_methods too, and only restrict the SSL methods for the more sensitive services such as Local Manager.

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This resource is written as of SFTPPlus version 3.33.0.

The details in this resource is for guidance only. Influences such as own security policies, requirements, and threat models should be considered when adopting this type of guidance.