How to setup SSL Certificate Authority in CentOS 7

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In this article, you will learn how to setup SSL Certificate Authority in CentOS 7 or other Redhat based Linux OS. #centlinux #linux #ssl

What is SSL Certificate Authority? :

SSL Certificate Authority, abbreviated as CA, is an entity that issues digital certificates. A digital certificate certifies the ownership of a public key by the CN (Common Name) of the certificate. Third parties trust the SSL certificates of the websites that are digitally signed by a trusted CA.

Configuration of a SSL Certificate Authority (CA) Server in CentOS 7 is a simple and straight-forward operation. However, in this article, we are not only configuring a CA, besides that we are also configuring an Apache Website to use SSL Certificate and then add the root CA certificate to client’s trusted CA store.

This article focuses on a specific scenario of configuring a SSL Certificate Authority on CentOS 7 and do not addresses all the information pertains to cryptography. Therefore, it is recommended that you should read Bulletproof SSL and TLS (PAID LINK) by Feisty Duck to increase your knowledge in this area.

Environment Specification:

In this article, we are using three virtual machines with following specifications:

Hostname:ca-01.centlinux.comweb-01.centlinux.comclient-01.centlinux.com
IP Address:192.168.116.54 /24192.168.116.51 /24192.168.116.52 /24
Operating System:CentOS 7.6CentOS 7.6CentOS 7.6
Purpose:CA ServerApache HTTP ServerClient System

Configuring a SSL Certificate Authority in CentOS 7:

Connect to the ca-01.centlinux.com as root user by using an ssh tool like PuTTY.

Openssl package provides the necessary commands to create SSL certificates and keys.

Openssl package is by default installed on even a minimally installed CentOS 7. However, if you don’t find it then, you can install it by using yum command.

[root@ca-01 ~]# yum install -y openssl
Loaded plugins: fastestmirror
Loading mirror speeds from cached hostfile
 * base: mirrors.ges.net.pk
 * epel: mirror1.ku.ac.th
 * extras: mirrors.ges.net.pk
 * updates: mirrors.ges.net.pk
Package 1:openssl-1.0.2k-16.el7.x86_64 already installed and latest version
Nothing to do

Openssl is already installed on this server.

For implementing public encryption, first of all, we need a private key that is later used to generate a CA certificate.

[root@ca-01 ~]# cd /etc/pki/CA/private/
[root@ca-01 private]# openssl genrsa -aes128 -out ourCA.key 2048
Generating RSA private key, 2048 bit long modulus
.................................................................+++
..............+++
e is 65537 (0x10001)
Enter pass phrase for ourCA.key:
Verifying - Enter pass phrase for ourCA.key:

Here, we have generated a private key using RSA algorithm with a relatively larger key size of 2048-bits for improved security.

Although, we can generate a private key without a pass phrase. But, it is strongly recommended that you should set a pass phrase while generating private keys. It increases the security during transfer or backup of the private keys.

Now create a SSL Certificate Authority (CA) certificate using the ourCA.key.

[root@ca-01 private]# openssl req -new -x509 -days 1825 
> -key /etc/pki/CA/private/ourCA.key 
> -out /etc/pki/CA/certs/ourCA.crt
Enter pass phrase for /etc/pki/CA/private/ourCA.key:
You are about to be asked to enter information that will be incorporated
into your certificate request.
What you are about to enter is what is called a Distinguished Name or a DN.
There are quite a few fields but you can leave some blank
For some fields there will be a default value,
If you enter '.', the field will be left blank.
-----
Country Name (2 letter code) [XX]:PK
State or Province Name (full name) []:Sindh
Locality Name (eg, city) [Default City]:Karachi
Organization Name (eg, company) [Default Company Ltd]:Ahmer's SysAdmin Recipes
Organizational Unit Name (eg, section) []:ITLAB
Common Name (eg, your name or your server's hostname) []:ca-01.centlinux.com
Email Address []:ahmer@example.com

Our Certificate Authority (CA) server is ready now.

Configure Apache Server to use SSL Certificates:

Connect to web-01.centlinux.com using ssh.

We have already installed Apache HTTP Server on web-01.centlinux.com. But it is running using HTTP protocol at default port 80.

HTTP Website

Our objective is to convert this website from HTTP to HTTPS. For this purpose, we need mod_ssl module for Apache. Therefore, we are installing it by using yum command.

[root@web-01 ~]# yum install -y mod_ssl
Loaded plugins: fastestmirror
Loading mirror speeds from cached hostfile
 * base: mirrors.ges.net.pk
 * extras: mirrors.ges.net.pk
 * updates: mirrors.ges.net.pk
Resolving Dependencies
--> Running transaction check
---> Package mod_ssl.x86_64 1:2.4.6-88.el7.centos will be installed
--> Finished Dependency Resolution

Dependencies Resolved

================================================================================
 Package        Arch          Version                         Repository   Size
================================================================================
Installing:
 mod_ssl        x86_64        1:2.4.6-88.el7.centos           base        112 k

Transaction Summary
================================================================================
Install  1 Package

Total download size: 112 k
Installed size: 224 k
Downloading packages:
mod_ssl-2.4.6-88.el7.centos.x86_64.rpm                     | 112 kB   00:02
Running transaction check
Running transaction test
Transaction test succeeded
Running transaction
  Installing : 1:mod_ssl-2.4.6-88.el7.centos.x86_64                         1/1
  Verifying  : 1:mod_ssl-2.4.6-88.el7.centos.x86_64                         1/1

Installed:
  mod_ssl.x86_64 1:2.4.6-88.el7.centos

Complete!

During installation mod_ssl created a default configuration file ssl.conf at /etc/httpd/conf.d directory.

We can amend ssl.conf to add the SSL certificates for the website. But first we have to acquire a SSL certificate for our website.

Make sure openssl is installed on this server, because we require it to generate private key and CSR (Certificate Signing Request).

Generate a private key for the server web-01.centlinux.com.

[root@web-01 ~]# openssl genrsa -out /etc/pki/tls/private/web-01.key 1024
Generating RSA private key, 1024 bit long modulus
..................................................................................................++++++
..++++++
e is 65537 (0x10001)

We have generated a private key with RSA key algorithm with key size of 1024.

This time we are not protecting our private key with a pass phrase, because if we set a pass phrase then whenever we start httpd.service will ask for this pass phrase.

Now, generate a CSR (Certificate Signing Request) for our website.

[root@web-01 ~]# openssl req -new -key /etc/pki/tls/private/web-01.key 
> -out /etc/pki/tls/web-01.csr
You are about to be asked to enter information that will be incorporated
into your certificate request.
What you are about to enter is what is called a Distinguished Name or a DN.
There are quite a few fields but you can leave some blank
For some fields there will be a default value,
If you enter '.', the field will be left blank.
-----
Country Name (2 letter code) [XX]:PK
State or Province Name (full name) []:Sindh
Locality Name (eg, city) [Default City]:Karachi
Organization Name (eg, company) [Default Company Ltd]:Ahmer's SysAdmin Recipes
Organizational Unit Name (eg, section) []:ITLAB
Common Name (eg, your name or your server's hostname) []:web-01.centlinux.com
Email Address []:ahmer@example.com

Please enter the following 'extra' attributes
to be sent with your certificate request
A challenge password []:
An optional company name []:

We have generated a CSR. Now we send it to CA for digital signature.

[root@web-01 ~]# scp /etc/pki/tls/web-01.csr root@ca-01:~/web-01.csr
root@ca-01's password:
web-01.csr                                    100%  729   353.1KB/s   00:00

Connect to ca-01.centlinux.com and digitally signed that CSR.

[root@ca-01 ~]# openssl x509 -req -in web-01.csr 
> -CA /etc/pki/CA/certs/ourCA.crt 
> -CAkey /etc/pki/CA/private/ourCA.key 
> -CAcreateserial 
> -out web-01.crt 
> -days 365
Signature ok
subject=/C=PK/ST=Sindh/L=Karachi/O=Ahmer's SysAdmin Recipes/OU=ITLAB/CN=web-01.centlinux.com/emailAddress=ahmer@example.com
Getting CA Private Key
Enter pass phrase for /etc/pki/CA/private/ourCA.key:

Our CSR has been digitally signed by our SSL Certificate Authority (CA).

Transfer web-01.crt to web-01.centlinux.com.

[root@ca-01 ~]# scp web-01.crt root@web-01:/etc/pki/tls/certs/web-01.crt
root@web-01's password:
web-01.crt                                    100% 1180     1.0MB/s   00:00

Connect to web-01.centlinux.com using ssh as root user.

Now, we have a digitally signed SSL certificate. Add this certificate and private key in ssl.conf file.

[root@web-01 ~]# vi /etc/httpd/conf.d/ssl.conf

we only required to update following two directives therein.

SSLCertificateFile /etc/pki/tls/certs/web-01.crt
SSLCertificateKeyFile /etc/pki/tls/private/web-01.key

Restart Apache service.

[root@web-01 ~]# systemctl restart httpd.service

Allow https service in Linux firewall.

[root@web-01 ~]# firewall-cmd --permanent --add-service=https
success
[root@web-01 ~]# firewall-cmd --reload
success

We have successfully configured our Apache server to use HTTPS protocol.

Add CA Certificate to CentOS 7 clients’ Trusted Store:

Connect to client-01.centlinux.com using ssh as root user.

Install elinks browser using yum repository.

[root@client-01 ~]# yum install -y elinks
Loaded plugins: fastestmirror
Loading mirror speeds from cached hostfile
 * base: mirrors.ges.net.pk
 * extras: mirrors.ges.net.pk
 * updates: mirrors.ges.net.pk
Resolving Dependencies
--> Running transaction check
---> Package elinks.x86_64 0:0.12-0.37.pre6.el7.0.1 will be installed
--> Processing Dependency: libnss_compat_ossl.so.0()(64bit) for package: elinks-0.12-0.37.pre6.el7.0.1.x86_64
--> Processing Dependency: libmozjs185.so.1.0()(64bit) for package: elinks-0.12-0.37.pre6.el7.0.1.x86_64
--> Processing Dependency: libgpm.so.2()(64bit) for package: elinks-0.12-0.37.pre6.el7.0.1.x86_64
--> Running transaction check
---> Package gpm-libs.x86_64 0:1.20.7-5.el7 will be installed
---> Package js.x86_64 1:1.8.5-20.el7 will be installed
---> Package nss_compat_ossl.x86_64 0:0.9.6-8.el7 will be installed
--> Finished Dependency Resolution

Dependencies Resolved

================================================================================
 Package             Arch       Version                       Repository   Size
================================================================================
Installing:
 elinks              x86_64     0.12-0.37.pre6.el7.0.1        updates     882 k
Installing for dependencies:
 gpm-libs            x86_64     1.20.7-5.el7                  base         32 k
 js                  x86_64     1:1.8.5-20.el7                base        2.3 M
 nss_compat_ossl     x86_64     0.9.6-8.el7                   base         37 k

Transaction Summary
================================================================================
Install  1 Package (+3 Dependent packages)

Total download size: 3.2 M
Installed size: 9.6 M
Downloading packages:
(1/4): gpm-libs-1.20.7-5.el7.x86_64.rpm                    |  32 kB   00:02
(2/4): nss_compat_ossl-0.9.6-8.el7.x86_64.rpm              |  37 kB   00:02
(3/4): elinks-0.12-0.37.pre6.el7.0.1.x86_64.rpm            | 882 kB   00:21
(4/4): js-1.8.5-20.el7.x86_64.rpm                          | 2.3 MB   00:55
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Total                                               60 kB/s | 3.2 MB  00:55
Running transaction check
Running transaction test
Transaction test succeeded
Running transaction
  Installing : nss_compat_ossl-0.9.6-8.el7.x86_64                           1/4
  Installing : 1:js-1.8.5-20.el7.x86_64                                     2/4
  Installing : gpm-libs-1.20.7-5.el7.x86_64                                 3/4
  Installing : elinks-0.12-0.37.pre6.el7.0.1.x86_64                         4/4
  Verifying  : elinks-0.12-0.37.pre6.el7.0.1.x86_64                         1/4
  Verifying  : gpm-libs-1.20.7-5.el7.x86_64                                 2/4
  Verifying  : 1:js-1.8.5-20.el7.x86_64                                     3/4
  Verifying  : nss_compat_ossl-0.9.6-8.el7.x86_64                           4/4

Installed:
  elinks.x86_64 0:0.12-0.37.pre6.el7.0.1

Dependency Installed:
  gpm-libs.x86_64 0:1.20.7-5.el7               js.x86_64 1:1.8.5-20.el7
  nss_compat_ossl.x86_64 0:0.9.6-8.el7

Complete!

Browser URL https://web-01.centlinux.com using elinks.

configure-ca-in-centos-7-elinks-ssl-error

Don’t worry, we haven’t misconfigured anything. Actually this SSL error is thrown because our CA is not included in local ca-trust store of client-01.centlinux.com.

Install CA certificate by adding it to local ca-trust store. But first, we acquire the CA certificate from ca-01.centlinux.com.

[root@client-01 ~]# cd /etc/pki/ca-trust/source/anchors/
[root@client-01 anchors]# scp root@ca-01:/etc/pki/CA/certs/ourCA.crt .
root@ca-01's password:
ourCA.crt                                     100% 1476   684.7KB/s   00:00

Now, use the following command to add ourCA.crt to local ca-trust store.

[root@client-01 anchors]# update-ca-trust

Browse URL https://web-01.centlinux.com again.

HTTPS website in browser elinks

Conclusion:

In this configuration guide, we have successfully configured a SSL Certificate Authority on CentOS 7 server. You can refer to our next article, if you want to install SSL certificate on Nginx web server.