SameSite Cookies and Shibboleth

SameSite Cookies and Shibboleth

Google Chrome v.80 is slated to be deployed to the stable channel on February 4th, 2020. (Note: some sources indicate Feb. 17th as the release target.) With this update comes a fundamental shift in the default handling of cookies within Chrome. Starting with this release, cookies will by default be treated as though they have the property SameSite=lax, instead of this property being unset.

The SameSite cookie attribute is a IETF draft written by Google Inc. which instructs the user-agent not to send the SameSite cookie during a cross-site HTTP request. The aim of the SameSite property is to help prevent certain forms of cross site request forgery. Cross-site HTTP requests are those for which the top level site (i.e. that shown in an address bar) changes during navigation.

The SameSite attribute can take three values:

  • strict – only attach cookies for ‘same-site’ requests.
  • lax – send cookies for ‘same-site’ requests, along with ‘cross-site’ top level navigations using safe HTTP methods e.g. (GET HEAD OPTIONS TRACE).
  • none – send cookies for all ‘same-site’ and ‘cross-site’ requests.

The previous behavior of the Chrome browser would be equivalent to SameSite=None.

Ramification for Shibboleth Identity Provider

Per the Shibboleth Consortium, which conducted extensive testing of the Identity Provider software:

the IdP should continue to function when its cookies are being defaulted to SameSite=Lax by browsers (currently tested on Chrome 78-81 and Firefox 72 with the same-site default flags set). Typically, we have only seen the IdP itself break when the JSESSIONID is set to SameSite=strict, which should not happen apart from when explicitly trying to set SameSite=none with older versions of Safari on MacOS <=10.14 and all WebKit browsers on iOS <=12 (Source)

They go on to list the following scenarios wherein SSO breaks, namely:

  • When using client side session storage, with htmlLocalStorage set to false, HTTP-POST SSO will not work (show login page again) with defaulted SameSite=Lax IdP cookies. However, when using client side session storage, with htmlLocalStorage set to true, and all bean references in shibboleth.ClientStorageServices are left as they are, HTTP-POST SSO will work with defaulted SameSite=Lax.
  • When using server side session storage, if either htmlLocalStorage or the bean references in shibboleth.ClientStorageServices are commented out, HTTP-POST SSO will not work (show login page again) with defaulted SameSite=Lax. Once again, however, when using sever side session storage, with htmlLocalStorage set to true, or all bean references in shibboleth.ClientStorageServices are left as they are, HTTP-POST SSO will work with defaulted SameSite=Lax.

Therefore, to take the relevant IdP-side steps necessary to guarantee SSO on existing installations of the IdP v3, you should enable the HTML Local Storage plugin whether you use client-side storage or server-side storage. This is achieved by setting the property to true in

See the Shibboleth Wiki section re: StorageConfiguration for more information and the implications of this setting.

For more details on the Consortium’s investigatory work related to SameSite please visit this wiki page.

Ramification for Shibboleth Service Provider

Unfortunately, as noted by the Shibboleth Consortium, the bulk of the issues likely to arise within service provider deployments lie solely within the application space, and are likely outside of the Shibboleth domain.

Nor can we provide any sort of yes/no or good/bad conclusion for anybody as to whether “their system is affected”. That is going to depend entirely on the individual case and the only real answer is to test. (Source)

Effectively, SPs should really just test their systems prior to the expected launch of the SameSite changes in Chrome. You can test in either Firefox or Chrome:


  • Enter about:config in the URL bar, Accept Risk and Continue
  • Type samesite to filter options to display: network.cookie.sameSite.laxByDefault
  • Set network.cookie.sameSite.laxByDefault to true


  • Enter chrome://flags in URL bar
  • Type SameSite
  • Enable “SameSite by default cookies”

If your application fails to work under the test conditions, you can adjust the relevant (blocked) cookies in order to specify the SameSite=none directive. None of the cookies set by Shibboleth SP should require this directive, however, it is quite likely that you will need to adjust cookies within your application.

In particular, the notes from the Shibboleth Consortium further state that

… a typical source of problems for most applications is going to be load balancer behavior. If you’re using cookies for node affinity, you’re going to have problems with SameSite unless you do something about it.

and in particular, you should adjust your load balancer to specify SameSite=none for these affinity cookies.

Need help understanding how the SameSite cookie attribute affects your application or SSO environment? Contact us to discuss your needs. IDM Engineering is a team of dedicated, honest SSO support engineers that are standing by to help!