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hmac-secure-link: Alternative NGINX HMAC Secure Link module with support for OpenSSL hashes


You can install this module in any RHEL-based distribution, including, but not limited to:

  • RedHat Enterprise Linux 7, 8, 9
  • CentOS 7, 8, 9
  • AlmaLinux 8, 9
  • Rocky Linux 8, 9
  • Amazon Linux 2 and Amazon Linux 2023
yum -y install
yum -y install nginx-module-hmac-secure-link

Enable the module by adding the following at the top of /etc/nginx/nginx.conf:

load_module modules/;

This document describes nginx-module-hmac-secure-link v0.3 released on Mar 06 2019.


The Nginx HMAC secure link module enhances the security and functionality of the standard secure link module.
Secure token is created using secure HMAC construction with an arbitrary hash algorithm supported by OpenSSL, e.g.: blake2b512, blake2s256, gost, md4, md5, rmd160, sha1, sha224, sha256, sha3-224, sha3-256, sha3-384, sha3-512, sha384, sha512, sha512-224, sha512-256, shake128, shake256, sm3.

Furthermore, secure token is created as described in RFC2104, that is, H(secret_key XOR opad,H(secret_key XOR ipad, message)) instead of a simple MD5(secret_key,message, expire).


Message to be hashed is defined by secure_link_hmac_message, secret_key is given by secure_link_hmac_secret, and hashing algorithm H is defined by secure_link_hmac_algorithm.

For improved security the timestamp in ISO 8601 the format 2017-12-08T07:54:59+00:00 (one possibility according to ISO 8601) or as Unix Timestamp should be appended to the message to be hashed.

It is possible to create links with limited lifetime. This is defined by an optional parameter. If the expiration period is zero or it is not specified, a link has the unlimited lifetime.

Configuration example for server side.

location ^~ /files/ {
    # Variable to be passed are secure token, timestamp, expiration period (optional)
    secure_link_hmac  $arg_st,$arg_ts,$arg_e;

    # Secret key
    secure_link_hmac_secret my_secret_key;

    # Message to be verified
    secure_link_hmac_message $uri$arg_ts$arg_e;

    # Cryptographic hash function to be used
    secure_link_hmac_algorithm sha256;

    # If the hash is incorrect then $secure_link_hmac is a null string.
    # If the hash is correct but the link has already expired then $secure_link_hmac is zero.
    # If the hash is correct and the link has not expired then $secure_link_hmac is one.

    # In production environment, we should not reveal to potential attacker
    # why hmac authentication has failed
    if ($secure_link_hmac != "1") {
        return 404;

    rewrite ^/files/(.*)$ /files/$1 break;

Application side should use a standard hash_hmac function to generate hash, which then needs to be base64url encoded. Example in Perl below.

Variable $data contains secure token, timestamp in ISO 8601 format, and expiration period in seconds

perl_set $secure_token '
    sub {
        use Digest::SHA qw(hmac_sha256_base64);
        use POSIX qw(strftime);

        my $now = time();
        my $key = "my_very_secret_key";
        my $expire = 60;
        my $tz = strftime("%z", localtime($now));
        $tz =~ s/(\d{2})(\d{2})/$1:$2/;
        my $timestamp = strftime("%Y-%m-%dT%H:%M:%S", localtime($now)) . $tz;
        my $r = shift;
        my $data = $r->uri;
        my $digest = hmac_sha256_base64($data . $timestamp . $expire,  $key);
        $digest =~ tr(+/)(-_);
        $data = "st=" . $digest . "&ts=" . $timestamp . "&e=" . $expire;
        return $data;

A similar function in PHP

$secret = 'my_very_secret_key';
$expire = 60;
$algo = 'sha256';
$timestamp = date('c');
$stringtosign = "/files/top_secret.pdf{$timestamp}{$expire}";
$hashmac = base64_encode(hash_hmac($algo, $stringtosign, $secret, true));
$hashmac = strtr($hashmac, '+/', '-_'));
$hashmac = str_replace('=', '', $hashmac);
$host = $_SERVER['HTTP_HOST'];
$loc = "https://{$host}/files/top_secret.pdf?st={$hashmac}&ts={$timestamp}&e={$expire}";

Using Unix timestamp in Node.js

const crypto = require("crypto");
const secret = 'my_very_secret_key';
const expire = 60;
const unixTimestamp = Math.round( / 1000.);
const stringToSign = `/files/top_secret.pdf${unixTimestamp}${expire}`;
const hashmac = crypto.createHmac('sha256', secret).update(stringToSign).digest('base64')
      .replace(/=/g, '')
      .replace(/\+/g, '-')
      .replace(/\//g, '_');
const loc = `https://host/files/top_secret.pdf?st=${hashmac}&ts=${unixTimestamp}&e=${expire}`;

It is also possible to use this module with a Nginx acting as proxy server.

The string to be signed is defined in secure_link_hmac_message, the secure_link_hmac_token variable contains then a secure token to be passed to backend server.

location ^~ /backend_location/ {
    set $expire 60;

    secure_link_hmac_message "$uri$time_iso8601$expire";
    secure_link_hmac_secret "my_very_secret_key";
    secure_link_hmac_algorithm sha256;

    proxy_pass "http://backend_server$uri?st=$secure_link_hmac_token&ts=$time_iso8601&e=$expire";

Embedded Variables

  • $secure_link_hmac -
  • $secure_link_hmac_token -
  • $secure_link_hmac_expires - The lifetime of a link passed in a request.


You may find additional configuration tips and documentation for this module in the GitHub repository for nginx-module-hmac-secure-link.