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Fixing issues with SameSite cookies and 3-D Secure checkout flows

3-D Secure is a verification service for card payments taken online. From the point of view of a user or site, the flow generally looks like this:

  • User enters their payment details on the site’s checkout;
  • Site embeds or redirects to the appropriate page to verify that payment method (dependent on the user’s card, e.g. Visa, Amex, etc.);
  • Third-party does its verification (via SMS or similar);
  • Third-party returns the status to the main site, generally via a POST request.

The 3-D Secure interface may be displayed to the user in a number of different ways: an iframe in the page, a pop-up, or a full page redirect. The common pattern with all of these is a cross-site POST request initiated at the end of the 3-D Secure verification back to the original site. This is what causes a challenge with the recent updates to apply a SameSite=Lax by default behaviour to cookies without a SameSite value. In other words, cookies without a SameSite attribute will not be included on the 3-D Secure POST callback.

This means that final POST request may appear to your server as a new session, meaning your site may attempt to set new cookies for the user or treat them as if they were not logged in.

Sequence diagram showing cookies being excluded on the final POST request

There are a number of options to fix this based on your site's archicture.

Do not require cookies on the returning POST request

Generally, the cookies on your site for maintaining the user's session are only intended for first-party use. You do not want them sent on cross-site requests as this loses the security benefits of implementing SameSite=Lax by default, e.g. it makes Cross-Site Request Forgery attacks easier.

Check if you are able to process the returning POST request without the need for any of your session cookies. For example, if the 3-D Secure challenge was included in an iframe then you may only need to display a status message within the frame while sending a postmessage() call to your top-level window to complete the transaction.

If the returning POST request is a top-level navigation / redirect and you would like to display session-specific content to the user, then you may want to consider the POST/Redirect/GET pattern. That is:

  • Process the incoming POST request without cookies recording any results you need in the back-end
  • Respond with a 303 redirect to an internal page for the result of the transaction, e.g. /transaction/123/success or similar.
  • The subsequent GET request is considered a "safe" method and will include any SameSite=Lax cookies.

This means that the redirected request will include your sites first-party cookies and can be used to display session-specific content.

Create short-lived, cross-site cookies for the returning POST request

If you do need cookies on the returning POST request, they need to be marked with the SameSite=None; Secure attributes. You should not make your default session cookies available to third-parties, so instead consider creating a short-lived cookie that stores a token that allows you to link the incoming POST request to the associated user or transaction on your back-end.

This flow might look like:

  • Create a short-lived (e.g. 15 minutes) cookie that will enable you to identify the transaction: Set-Cookie: transaction-token=abc123abc; SameSite=None; Secure; Max-Age=900
  • Check the Origin or Referer header on the returning POST request to ensure it matches the expected source.
  • Use the token to initialise the existing session.
  • Mark the token as used in your back-end to ensure it is not used again.