Certificate Management With Openssl

Knowing certificate management basics is one thing; translating that into real life is something else entirely. This page will attempt to document the process I went through to secure my wiki, which you are now reading. I used OpenSSL for all of this.

The basic steps are

To this end, these pages helped immensely:

What I write here is taken heavily from those sites.

Setting up the CA workspace

The first step to securing a domain is to set up a CA. Becoming your own CA is not that difficult, and provides a modicum of protection against man-in-the-middle attacks.

Set aside a special directory on a trusted machine as so:

mkdir CA 
cd CA 
mkdir newcerts private 
touch index.txt
echo '01' > serial 

The serial file contains the next serial number to be used for your certificate (after you issue your CA certificate). The index.txt file contains a database of all known certificates issued by your CA.

Create an openssl.cnf that looks something like this:

dir = .

[ ca ] 
default_ca = CA_default 

[ CA_default ] 
serial = $dir/serial 
database = $dir/index.txt 
new_certs_dir = $dir/newcerts
certificate = $dir/cacert.pem 
private_key = $dir/private/cakey.pem 
default_days = 3650
default_md = md5 
preserve = no 
email_in_dn = no 
nameopt = default_ca 
certopt = default_ca 
policy = policy_match 
unique_subject = no

[ policy_match ] 
countryName = match 
stateOrProvinceName = match 
organizationName = supplied 
organizationalUnitName = optional 
commonName = supplied 
emailAddress = optional 

[ req ] 
default_bits = 2048 # Size of keys 
default_keyfile = key.pem # name of generated keys 
default_md = md5 # message digest algorithm 
string_mask = nombstr # permitted characters 
distinguished_name = req_distinguished_name 
req_extensions = v3_req 

[ req_distinguished_name ] 
# Variable name   Prompt string 
#----------------------   ---------------------------------- 
0.organizationName = Organization Name (company) 
organizationalUnitName = Organizational Unit Name (department, division) 
emailAddress = Email Address 
emailAddress_max = 40 
localityName = Locality Name (city, district) 
stateOrProvinceName = State or Province Name (full name) 
countryName = Country Name (2 letter code) 
countryName_min = 2 
countryName_max = 2 
commonName = Common Name (hostname, IP, or your name) 
commonName_max = 64 

# Default values for the above, for consistency and less typing. 
# Variable name   Value 
#------------------------------   ------------------------------ 
0.organizationName_default = Desmond Rivet International
localityName_default = Montreal
stateOrProvinceName_default = Quebec
countryName_default = CA

[ v3_ca ] 
basicConstraints = CA:TRUE 
subjectKeyIdentifier = hash 
authorityKeyIdentifier = keyid:always,issuer:always 

[ v3_req ] 
basicConstraints = CA:FALSE 
subjectKeyIdentifier = hash 

You'll want to customize some of the items here. For example:

[ CA_default ] 
default_days = 3650 # how long your CA certificate is valid for.  Adjust accordingly.

[ req ] 
default_bits = 2048 # Size of keys.  I guess 2048 is a good size?  

[ req_distinguished_name ] 
# adjust these to your situation
0.organizationName_default = Desmond Rivet International
localityName_default = Montreal
stateOrProvinceName_default = Quebec
countryName_default = CA

Now, we have to create a self-signed CA certificate. This is the certificate that we will use to sign other certificates.

openssl req -new -x509 -extensions v3_ca -keyout private/cakey.pem -out cacert.pem -days 3650 -config ./openssl.cnf

According to the openssl documentation, the -x509 option makes the certificate self-signed. The certificate is a CA certificate because of the -extensions v3_ca option. I suppose its possible to have a CA certificate signed by another CA, in which case we wouldn't use the -x509 option.

You will be asked for a password. The password will be used everytim you sign a certificate with the CA certificate, so keep it safe.

You'll also be asked a bunch of questions, like this:

Organization Name (company) [Desmond Rivet International]:Desmond Rivet International Certificate Authority
Organizational Unit Name (department, division) []:Desmond Rivet International Certificate Authority
Email Address []:
Locality Name (city, district) [Montreal]: 
State or Province Name (full name) [Quebec]: 
Country Name (2 letter code) [CA]: 
Common Name (hostname, IP, or your name) []:Desmond Rivet International Certificate Authority

It doesn't matter all that much what you put in here, but the information should at least make a certain amount of sense.

The command above will :

Note that we create the a) public key b) private key and c) certificate all at once. Variations on the above command will allow you to create the public/private key pair and certificate in separate steps.

Issuing Certificates

Issuing certificates is a two step process:

To generate the request, run this command:

openssl req -new -nodes -out req.pem -keyout key.pem -config ./openssl.cnf

The -nodes options prevents the private key from being encrypted. Replace req.pem and key.pem with whatever files you want. The -new generates a new request. I'm not sure what happens if we don't put this.

The above command will again ask you some question along the line of the CA certificate creation. The key thing here is to make sure that your Common Name matches the domain you want to secure. Note that you can use a wildcard to secure multiple domains:

Organization Name (company) [Desmond Rivet International]:
Organizational Unit Name (department, division) []:desmondrivet.net domain certificate
Email Address []:
Locality Name (city, district) [Montreal]:
State or Province Name (full name) [Quebec]:
Country Name (2 letter code) [CA]:
Common Name (hostname, IP, or your name) []:*.desmondrivet.net

You can reuse certificate requests when the associated certificate becomes obsolete.

The sign the request, run this command:

openssl ca -out mycert.pem -config ./openssl.cnf -infiles req.pem 

It's fairly self-explanatory. You feed in the request via the -infiles option and you specify the output file via the -out option. The signed certificate is spit out in mycert.pem. Note that the CA certificate used for the signing is specified in the openssl.cnf file.

When you run the above command you'll need to supply the password you used to secure your CA certificate. The output looks like this:

Using configuration from ./openssl.cnf
Enter pass phrase for ./private/cakey.pem:
Check that the request matches the signature
Signature ok
The Subject's Distinguished Name is as follows
organizationName      :PRINTABLE:'Desmond Rivet International'
organizationalUnitName:PRINTABLE:'desmondrivet.net domain certificate'
localityName          :PRINTABLE:'Montreal'
stateOrProvinceName   :PRINTABLE:'Quebec'
countryName           :PRINTABLE:'CA'
commonName            :T61STRING:'*.desmondrivet.net'
Certificate is to be certified until Nov 27 23:12:18 2019 GMT (3650 days)
Sign the certificate? [y/n]:y

1 out of 1 certificate requests certified, commit? [y/n]y
Write out database with 1 new entries
Data Base Updated

Notice that the database (index.txt) is updated, as well as the serial number file. Please note that if you want to issue more than one certificate for the same common name, you'll need to edit the index.txt.atrr file and put this:

unique_subject = no

Configuring Apache

You need to add the following items to your apache2 configuration (at least on Debian Lenny):

SSLCertificateFile    /etc/apache2/ssl/certs/desmondrivet_net_cert.pem
SSLCertificateKeyFile /etc/apache2/ssl/private/desmondrivet_net_key.pem

SSLCertificateFile is the certificate you issued, signed by your CA. SSLCertificateKeyFile is the private key produced by this process. Obviously you need to tailor this to your situation. Make sure your private key file is in fact private (readable only by root).

Make your CA certificate publicly available

Finally, make your root CA certificate publicly available . You can pass it out to your friends on USB keys, email it, or make it available on your website. Making it available on your website is particularly attractive since users will be able to download it with their browsers; most browsers will install the CA certificate automatically when this is done.

CertificateManagementWithOpenssl (last edited 2013-03-17 01:42:30 by DesmondRivet)