Secure Cookie Attribute

Author: MichaelCoates
Contributor(s): Andrew Smith, Gladwin, Bill Sempf, Wichers, James Jardine, Zerosum0x0, Paco, Dan Wallis, Nawwar, kingthorin, Grant Ongers


The secure attribute is an option that can be set by the application server when sending a new cookie to the user within an HTTP Response. The purpose of the secure attribute is to prevent cookies from being observed by unauthorized parties due to the transmission of the cookie in clear text. To accomplish this goal, browsers which support the secure attribute will only send cookies with the secure attribute when the request is going to an HTTPS page. Said in another way, the browser will not send a cookie with the secure attribute set over an unencrypted HTTP request. By setting the secure attribute, the browser will prevent the transmission of a cookie over an unencrypted channel.

Setting the Secure Attribute

Following sections describes setting the Secure Attribute in respective technologies.


Servlet 3.0 (Java EE 6)

Sun Java EE supports secure attribute in Cookie interface since version 6 (Servlet class version 3)1, also for session cookies (JSESSIONID)2. Methods setSecure and isSecure can be used to set and check for secure value in cookies.


Servlet 3.0 (Java EE 6) introduced a standard way to configure secure attribute for the session cookie, this can be done by applying the following configuration in web.xml



In Tomcat 6 if the first request for session is using https then it automatically sets secure attribute on session cookie.

Setting it as a custom header

For older versions the workaround is to rewrite JSESSIONID value using and setting it as a custom header. The drawback is that servers can be configured to use a different session identifier than JSESSIONID.

String sessionid = request.getSession().getId(); response.setHeader("SET-COOKIE", "JSESSIONID=" + sessionid + "; secure");

Environment consideration

With this attribute always set, sessions won’t work in environments(development/test/etc.) that may use http. SessionCookieConfig 3 interface or setting custom header4 trick can be leveraged to configure setting of this attribute differently for each environment and can be driven by application configuration.


Set the following in Web.config: <httpCookies requireSSL="true" />

For some objects that have a requireSSL property, like the forms Authentication Cookie, set the requireSSL="true" attribute in the web.config for that specific element. For example:

<authentication mode="Forms">
  <forms loginUrl="member_login.aspx"
         path="/MyApplication" />

Which will enable the secure attribute on the Forms Authentication cookie, as well as checking that the http request is coming to the server over SSL/TLS connection. Note that in case TLS is offloaded to a load balancer, the requireSSL solution wouldn’t work.

Alternatively, the cookies can be set to secure programmatically using the following code by adding a EndRequest event handler to the Global.asax.cs file:

protected void Application_EndRequest(Object sender, EventArgs e) {
    // Iterate through any cookies found in the Response object.
    foreach (string cookieName in Response.Cookies.AllKeys) {
        Response.Cookies[cookieName]?.Secure = true;


For session cookies managed by PHP, the attribute is set either permanently in php.ini PHP manual on SecureFlag through the parameter:

session.cookie_secure = True

or in and during a script via the function 5:

void session_set_cookie_params ( int $lifetime  [, string $path  [, string $domain  
                                  [, bool $secure= false  [, bool $httponly= false  ]]]] )

For application cookies a parameter in setcookie() sets the secure attribute 6:

bool setcookie ( string $name  [, string $value  [, int $expire= 0  [, string $path  
                 [, string $domain  [, bool $secure= false  [, bool $httponly= false  ]]]]]] )



For session cookies managed by Iris, the attribute is set through the CookieSecureTLS option:

app := iris.New()
sess := sessions.New(sessions.Config{
  CookieSecureTLS: true,
  // ...more options

For application cookies a parameter in SetCookie() sets the secure attribute:

app.Post("/", func(ctx iris.Context) {
    Secure: true,
    // ...more options

OR by CookieSecure cookie option:

ctx.SetCookieKV("name", "value", iris.CookieSecure)

OR set the attribute permanently:

app := iris.New()

withCookieOptions := func(ctx iris.Context) {

For Single-Sign-On managed by Iris, the attribute is set through the Cookie.Secure option:

authConfig := auth.Configuration{
  Cookie: auth.CookieConfiguration{
    Secure: true,
    // ...more options
  // ...more options

Testing for the Secure Attribute

Verifying that a web site sets this attribute on any particular cookie is easy. Using an intercepting proxy, like ZAP, you can capture each response from the server and examine any Set-Cookie headers it includes to see if the secure attribute is set on the cookie.

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