Setting up digital certificates for identification in your enterprise.

You can use digital certificate for authentication, for example you can logon onto the MQ Web server using a certificate to identify you, and you do not have to enter a userid or password.

Many systems have Multi Factor Authentication (MFA) to logon which usually means you authenticate with something you have, and with something you know. Something you have is the private certificate, something you know is userid and password.

At the bottom I discuss having an external device for your keystore to make your keystore more secure.

General background and information

  • Your certificate has a private key (which should not leave your machine), and a public part, which anyone can have.
  • You can have a key store which has your private key in it. This is often just a file which could be copied to another machine. This is not a very secure way of keeping your certificates, as there is usually a stash file with the password in it, which could easily be copied along with the keystore.
  • You have a trust store which contains the public part of the certificates you want to validate (demonstrate trust) with. This is usually a set of Certificate Authority public keys, and any self signed certificates. The information in these certificates is commonly available and can be world read. You will want to protect this for write, so people cannot insert CAs from the bad guys.
  • You can use Hardware Security Module, a piece of hardware which can store your private keys, and does encryption for you. This is a secure way of keeping your certificates. You need physical access to the machine to be able to physically access the HSM hardware.
  • Certificates are based on trust. When I create a public certificate, I can get this signed by a Certificate Authority. When I send my public certificate to you, and you have the same Certificate Authority, you can check what I sent you using the Certificate Authority. My public certificate give information on how to decrypt stuff I send you.
  • When a connection is made between a client and a server. The server sends down its certificate for the client to validate and accept, and the client can then send up a certificate for the server to validate and accept. This is known as the handshake
  • A certificate has a Distinguished Name. This is like “CN=COLIN,OU=TEST,O=SSS.ORG” so my Common Name is COLIN, The Organizational Unit is TEST, and my Organization is SSS.ORG.
    • Some products like the mid-range MQ Web Server map the CN to a userid.
    • As part of the logon a client or server can check the certificate sent to it, for example allow any certificate with OU=TEST, and O=SSS.ORG.

Planning for TLS and certificate

Consider a simple scenario of two MQ Servers, and people from and want to work with MQ. Leaving aside the task of creating the certificate, you need to decide

  • What name hierarchy you want, for example CN=”COLIN PAICE”, OU=TEST, C=GB, O=SSS.ORG,
    • do you want to have a CN with a name in it, or a userid, or a personnel number. This is used by the MQWeb as a userid. You could have CN=MQPROD1, etc to give each server its own CN.
    • Do you want to have the country code in it C=GB? What happens if someone moves country. You might decide to have servers with CN=MQPROD1,OU=PROD… or OU=TEST… .
  • What CA hierarchy do you want. You could have a CA for OU=PROD, O=SSS.ORG at the PROD level, or CN=CA,O=SSS.ORG at the organisation level. Some servers can check the issuer is OU=PROD, O=SSS.ORG and so only allow certificates signed by that CA. Someone connecting with a certificate signed with OU=TEST,O=SSS.ORG would not be allowed access.
  • You could give each server the same DN, for example CN=MQSERVER,OU=PROD,O=SSS.ORG, or individual ones CN=MQSERVER1,OU=PROD,O=SSS.ORG
  • You can have a server check that a certificate is still valid by using Online Certificate Status Protocol (OCSP). After the handshake, a request goes to a remote server asking if the certificate is still valid. Ive written a blog post Are my digital certificates still valid and are they slowing down my channel start? z/OS does not support OCSP. MQ on z/OS supports a LDAP repository of Certificate Revocation Lists. If you intend to use OCSP you need to set up the OCSP infrastructure.
  • With the MQ mover, you can set up CHLAUTH records to allow or disallow DN’s or CA certificates.
  • The clients from have a DN like CN=COLIN,OU=TEST, The clients from have a DN like CN=170594,c=GB, You cannot have one string (SSLPEER) to allow both format certificates.
    • For connections to the chinit(mover) you can use CHLAUTH to give find grained control.
    • For the MQWeb on z/OS you can control which certificates (or Issuers) map to a userid.
    • For mid-range MQWEB you have no control beyond a successful handshake. CN=COLIN,o=MY.ORG, and CN=COLIN,o=YOUR.ORG would both map to userid COLIN even though they are from different organisations. The CN is used as a userid, and you map userids or groups to security profiles.

Setting up your certificates

As your private key should not leave your machine, the standard way of generating a certificate is

  • The client machine creates a certificate request. This has the public certificate, and the private key.
  • The public certificate is sent to the appropriate authority (a department in your organization) which signs the certificate. Signing the certificate consists of doing a check sum of the public certificate, encrypting the check sum value, and packaging the public certificate, the encrypted checksum, and the CA public certificate into one file. This file is sent back to the requester
  • The originator reads the package stores it in a keystore, and uses this as its public key.
  • Often this request for a certificate is allowed only when the machine is connected locally to the network, rather than over the internet. This means people need to bring their portable machines into the office to renew a certificate.

If you create the private certificate centrally and email it to the end user, someone who is snooping on the email will get a copy of it!

A machine can have more than one keystore and a keystore can have one or more certificates. With some servers you can configure the default certificate to use. If not they the “best” certificate is chosen. This could depend on the strength and selection of the cipher specs.

What if’s

Once you have set up your certificate strategy it is difficult to change it, so it is worth setting up a prototype to make sure the end to end solutions work, then throwing the prototype away and starting again.

You need to consider how to solve problems like

  • What if someone leaves my organisation, how do I inactivate the certificate
  • What happens of someone loses their laptop, how do I inactivate the certificate
  • Certificates have expiry dates. What do I need to do to renew the certificate before it expires – for example you could email the owner and tell them to bring the laptop to the office to renew the certificate
  • What happens if a CA expires?
  • Someone joins the department how do I update the access lists. Usually this is done using a repository like LDAP.
  • Are the CHLAUTH records restrictive enough to prevent the wrong people from getting access, but broad enough that you do not need to change them when someone joins the organisation.
  • What if you open up your business to a new organisation with a different standard of DN? What do you need to change to support it.

Use of physical keystores.

You can have a physical keystore to store your private key. This can range from a USB device up to integrated devices.
With these people cannot just copy the keystore and stash file, they need physical access to the device.

You need to plan how these will be used in your organisation for example you have two machines for HA reasons. Each has a USB store. Does each machine need its own private key? How do you handle disaster recovery when someone loses/breaks the keystore.

Physical keystores can have have a secure export and import capability. You configure a key onto the device, for example saying it needs 3 partial keys, needing three people to enter their portion of it. When you export the key, it comes out encrypted.

In this scenario the configuration process could be

  • Configure the first device. 3 people enter their password.
  • Create a private key
  • Export the private key and send it to the second machine. It is encrypted so can safely be sent.
  • Go to the second machine, and configure the second device.
  • As before, the three people have to configure the device.
  • Import the encrypted certificate to the device
  • Go the the next machine etc.
  • In some cases you can say that n out of m people are required to configure the device. So any 3 out of a team of 6 is enough.

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