Session::Storage::Secure - Encrypted, expiring, compressed, serialized session data with integrity


version 1.000


  my $store = Session::Storage::Secure->new(
    secret_key   => "your pass phrase here",
    default_duration => 86400 * 7,

  my $encoded = $store->encode( $data, $expires );

  my $decoded = $store->decode( $encoded );


This module implements a secure way to encode session data. It is primarily intended for storing session data in browser cookies, but could be used with other backend storage where security of stored session data is important.

Features include:

  • Data serialization and compression using Sereal

  • Data encryption using AES with a unique derived key per encoded session

  • Enforced expiration timestamp (optional)

  • Integrity protected with a message authentication code (MAC)

The storage protocol used in this module is based heavily on A Secure Cookie Protocol by Alex Liu and others. Liu proposes a session cookie value as follows:



    | denotes concatenation with a separator character
    E(p,q) is a symmetric encryption of p with key q
    HMAC(p,q) is a keyed message hash of p with key q
    k is HMAC(user|expiration, sk)
    sk is a secret key shared by all servers
    ssl-key is an SSL session key

Because SSL session keys are not readily available (and SSL termination may happen prior to the application server), we omit ssl-key. This weakens protection against replay attacks if an attacker can break the SSL session key and intercept messages.

Using user and expiration to generate the encryption and MAC keys was a method proposed to ensure unique keys to defeat volume attacks against the secret key. Rather than rely on those for uniqueness (with the unfortunate side effect of revealing user names and prohibiting anonymous sessions), we replace user with a cryptographically-strong random salt value.

The original proposal also calculates a MAC based on unencrypted data. We instead calculate the MAC based on the encrypted data. This avoids an extra step decrypting invalid messages. Because the salt is already encoded into the key, we omit it from the MAC input.

Therefore, the session storage protocol used by this module is as follows:



    | denotes concatenation with a separator character
    E(p,q) is a symmetric encryption of p with key q
    HMAC(p,q) is a keyed message hash of p with key q
    k is HMAC(salt, sk)
    sk is a secret key shared by all servers

The salt value is generated using Math::Random::ISAAC::XS, seeded from Crypt::URandom.

The HMAC algorithm is hmac_sha256 from Digest::SHA. Encryption is done by Crypt::CBC using Crypt::Rijndael (AES). The ciphertext and MAC's in the cookie are Base64 encoded by MIME::Base64 by default.

During session retrieval, if the MAC does not authenticate or if the expiration is set and in the past, the session will be discarded.


secret_key (required)

This is used to secure the session data. The encryption and message authentication key is derived from this using a one-way function. Changing it will invalidate all sessions.


Number of seconds for which the session may be considered valid. If an expiration is not provided to encode, this is used instead to expire the session after a period of time. It is unset by default, meaning that session expiration is not capped.


An optional array reference of strings containing old secret keys no longer used for encryption but still supported for decrypting session data.


A character used to separate fields. It defaults to ~.


A hash reference with constructor arguments for Sereal::Encoder. Defaults to { snappy => 1, croak_on_bless => 1 }.


A hash reference with constructor arguments for Sereal::Decoder. Defaults to { refuse_objects => 1, validate_utf8 => 1 }.


A code reference to convert binary data elements (the encrypted data and the MAC) into a transport-safe form. Defaults to MIME::Base64::encode_base64url. The output must not include the separator attribute used to delimit fields.


A code reference to extract binary data (the encrypted data and the MAC) from a transport-safe form. It must be the complement to encode. Defaults to MIME::Base64::decode_base64url.


An integer representing the protocol used by Session::Storage::Secure. Protocol 1 was the initial version, which used a now-deprecated mode of Crypt::CBC. Protocol 2 is the current default.



  my $string = $store->encode( $data, $expires );

The $data argument should be a reference to a data structure. By default, it must not contain objects. (See "Objects not stored by default" for rationale and alternatives.) If it is undefined, an empty hash reference will be encoded instead.

The optional $expires argument should be the session expiration time expressed as epoch seconds. If the $expires time is in the past, the $data argument is cleared and an empty hash reference is encoded and returned. If no $expires is given, then if the default_duration attribute is set, it will be used to calculate an expiration time.

The method returns a string that securely encodes the session data. All binary components are protected via the "transport_encoder" attribute.

An exception is thrown on any errors.


  my $data = $store->decode( $string );

The $string argument must be the output of encode.

If the message integrity check fails or if expiration exists and is in the past, the method returns undef or an empty list (depending on context).

An exception is thrown on any errors.


Secret key

You must protect the secret key, of course. Rekeying periodically would improve security. Rekeying also invalidates all existing sessions unless the old_secrets attribute contains old encryption keys still used for decryption. In a multi-node application, all nodes must share the same secret key.

Session size

If storing the encoded session in a cookie, keep in mind that cookies must fit within 4k, so don't store too much data. This module uses Sereal for serialization and enables the snappy compression option. Sereal plus Snappy appears to be one of the fastest and most compact serialization options for Perl, according to the Sereal benchmarks page.

However, nothing prevents the encoded output from exceeding 4k. Applications must check for this condition and handle it appropriately with an error or by splitting the value across multiple cookies.

Objects not stored by default

The default Sereal options do not allow storing objects because object deserialization can have undesirable side effects, including potentially fatal errors if a class is not available at deserialization time or if internal class structures changed from when the session data was serialized to when it was deserialized. Applications should take steps to deflate/inflate objects before storing them in session data.

Alternatively, applications can change "sereal_encoder_options" and "sereal_decoder_options" to allow object serialization or other object transformations and accept the risks of doing so.


Storing encrypted session data within a browser cookie avoids latency and overhead of backend session storage, but has several additional security considerations.

Transport security

If using cookies to store session data, an attacker could intercept cookies and replay them to impersonate a valid user regardless of encryption. SSL encryption of the transport channel is strongly recommended.

Because all session state is maintained in the session cookie, an attacker or malicious user could replay an old cookie to return to a previous state. Cookie-based sessions should not be used for recording incremental steps in a transaction or to record "negative rights".

Because cookie expiration happens on the client-side, an attacker or malicious user could replay a cookie after its scheduled expiration date. It is strongly recommended to set cookie_duration or default_duration to limit the window of opportunity for such replay attacks.

Session authentication

A compromised secret key could be used to construct valid messages appearing to be from any user. Applications should take extra steps in their use of session data to ensure that sessions are authenticated to the user.

One simple approach could be to store a hash of the user's hashed password in the session on login and to verify it on each request.

  # on login
  my $hashed_pw = bcrypt( $password, $salt );
  if ( $hashed_pw eq $hashed_pw_from_db ) {
    session user => $user;
    session auth => bcrypt( $hashed_pw, $salt ) );

  # on each request
  if ( bcrypt( $hashed_pw_from_db, $salt ) ne session("auth") ) {

The downside of this is that if there is a read-only attack against the database (SQL injection or leaked backup dump) and the secret key is compromised, then an attacker can forge a cookie to impersonate any user.

A more secure approach suggested by Stephen Murdoch in Hardened Stateless Session Cookies is to store an iterated hash of the hashed password in the database and use the hashed password itself within the session.

  # on login
  my $hashed_pw = bcrypt( $password, $salt );
  if ( bcrypt( $hashed_pw, $salt ) eq $double_hashed_pw_from_db ) {
    session user => $user;
    session auth => $hashed_pw;

  # on each request
  if ( $double_hashed_pw_from_db ne bcrypt( session("auth"), $salt ) ) {

This latter approach means that even a compromise of the secret key and the database contents can't be used to impersonate a user because doing so would requiring reversing a one-way hash to determine the correct authenticator to put into the forged cookie.

Both methods require an additional database read per request. This diminishes some of the scalability benefits of storing session data in a cookie, but the read could be cached and there is still no database write needed to store session data.


Papers on secure cookies and cookie session storage:

CPAN modules implementing cookie session storage:

Related CPAN modules that offer frameworks for serializing and encrypting data, but without features relevant for sessions like expiration and unique keying.


David Golden <>


  • Petr Písař <>

  • Tom Hukins <>


This software is Copyright (c) 2013 by David Golden.

This is free software, licensed under:

  The Apache License, Version 2.0, January 2004