From F to A+

TL;DR: this post is about how I improved my site HTTPS rating from F to A+ .

Make HTTPS great again.

Not all HTTPS-enabled sites are created equally, so welcome to the Internet of broken protocols and pardon my usage of a political phrase.

When I set up this site long ago, it was running on VPCs with many components which with today’s standards, were considered vulnerable: OpenSSL 1.1.0g, PHP5.4, Apache2.1 on Debian 7. You named it.

That’s why used to rate my site as F:




It’s rated A+, and I’m pretty proud of it.



Here are the detailed steps on how I improve my site security from F to A+ in few simple steps.

1. First thing first: bye-bye to outdated OpenSSL

The previous version of openssl on Debian was suffering from these 2 critical vulnerabilities: SSL Pulse (CVE-2014-0224) & Padding Oracle (CVE-2016-2107). That’s the reason why SSLLab report an F.

The fix was fairly simple: upgrading OpenSSL.

sudo apt update && sudo apt upgrade openssl libssl-dev

After that, check the version:

openssl version
OpenSSL 1.1.1d  10 Sep 2019

2. No more outdated ciphers

SSLLabs also reported another two issues which cap the grade at B:

  • “This server accepts RC4 cipher, but only with older protocols. Grade capped to B”
  • “This server does not support Forward Secrecy with the reference browsers. Grade capped to B.”

Ok, onto finding Apache2 config files:

# assuming Apache2 is at /etc/apache2 
grep -i -r "SSLEngine" /etc/apache2
/etc/apache2/sites-available/default-ssl.conf:   SSLEngine on
/etc/apache2/sites-available/  SSLEngine on

Here we go, the config files are default-ssl.conf and From there, I decided to remove RC4 due to its flaws, and then enable Forward Secrecy in the config files:

SSLProtocol all -SSLv2 -SSLv3
SSLHonorCipherOrder on

After that, restart Apache2 and recheck

apachectl -k restart

3. Why stop at A when you can get A+?

At this step, ssllabs rated the site as A, which is pretty good result. But I figured I can get to even better result A+ and being me, I wouldn’t stop. So the next step, is to enable HSTS:

I opened up the Apache2 config files and add this HSTS header:

Header always set Strict-Transport-Security "max-age=63072000; includeSubdomains; preload"

Feel free to read up about HSTS if you’re curious.


After everything, the site is now rated as an A+ result. I’m pretty happy about it and a bonus is that the site also loads 45% faster. So, strongly recommend you give it a try: and let me know what score do you have?


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