Increased Security With First Party Cookies

HTTP cookies are an essential part of many web based applications, useful for tracking session and state information.  But they can also be exploited to leak information to third party sites using a method known as Cross Site Request Forgery (CSRF).  A CSRF attack takes advantage of the web browser behavior which results in cookies being sent to third party sites when a page contains mixed content.  This results in cross-site information leakage, and depending on the content of the cookies, could provide an attacker with information to hijack a user session.

SameSite Attribute

As of this writing, there is a Internet draft standard for directing clients to only send ‘first party’ cookies. In a nutshell, the standard defines a new, backwards-compatible attribute for the Set-Cookie header named SameSite.  When the SameSite attribute is present, compliant browsers will only send that cookie with requests where the requested resource and the top-level browsing context match the cookie.  This becomes another layer of a “defense in depth” strategy, mitigating CSRF and cross-site script including (XSSI) attacks.  SameSite is supported in recent Chrome and Firefox browsers.

SameSite can be specified alone, or with explicit values “Strict” or “Lax”, corresponding to differing levels of lock-down.  

Specifying SameSite can increase security, but it is not appropriate for all applications.  One example would be “mash-up” applications, those which intentionally pull and embed content from different sites, may require cross-site cookies to function correctly.  Also, some single sign-on features may require cross-context authentication that involves cookies.

So how can you secure your apps?  Big IP provides 3 ways to add SameSite attribute to Set-Cookie headers, two of which are described below: iRules and LTM Policy.  Mentioned in another article, the Application Security module also provides a setting to enable SameSite.

iRule to add SameSite attribute

Here is iRule which can handle multiple Set-Cookie headers in a response.  If a Set-Cookie header already has SameSite attribute present, it is passed through unmodified.  This allows an administrator to set a baseline security level, say by specifying “SameSite=Lax” in an iRule, but allows for individual apps to control their security level by generating headers with their own Set-Cookie header, with say “SameSite=Strict”.

    # Set-Cookie header can occur multiple times, treat as list
    set num [HTTP::header count Set-Cookie]
    if {$num > 0} {
        foreach set_cookie [HTTP::header values Set-Cookie] {
            # only modify if header does not have SameSite attribute
            set foundSameSite [string match -nocase "*SameSite*" $set_cookie ]
            if {[expr {!$foundSameSite} ]} {
                set set_cookie [concat $set_cookie "; SameSite"]
            # collect modified and unmodified values in list newcookies
            lappend newcookies $set_cookie

        if {$num == 1} {
            # overwrite existing
            HTTP::header Set-Cookie [lindex $newcookies 0]
        } else {
            # remove and replace
            HTTP::header remove Set-Cookie
            foreach set_cookie $newcookies {
                HTTP::header insert Set-Cookie $set_cookie


LTM Policy

Below is a sample LTM Policy which will tag “; SameSite” to the end of a Set-Cookie header that doesn’t have one already.  One limitation to be aware of is that there can be multiple Set-Cookie headers in an HTTP response, and LTM policy can only replace the last one. 

Here is a screenshot from the GUI showing an LTM Policy rule which 

Here is the resulting policy as it would appear in the /config/bigip.conf configuration file:

ltm policy first-party-cookies {
    requires { http }
    rules {
        r1 {
            actions {
                0 {
                    name Set-Cookie
                    value "tcl:[HTTP::header Set-Cookie]; SameSite"
            conditions {
                0 {
                    name Set-Cookie
                    values { SameSite }
    status published
    strategy first-match



Published Mar 30, 2018
Version 1.0

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