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HTTPS

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HTTPS is an abbreviation for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure, a protocol for secure communication, supported by web servers (like Apache & nginx) and browsers. HTTPS layers Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) on top of the SSL/TLS protocol.

There are two primary types of HTTPS:

  • IP-based is the traditional way. SSL/TLS negotiation happens below HTTP, so the server needs to present a certificate before it knows which host the client is asking for. If the server has multiple certs, it chooses the appropriate one based on the IP address the client connected to.
  • SNI is a newer variant that can serve multiple certs from the same IP. Most modern browsers and libraries support it, including OpenSSL 0.9.8 and up.

Why

Why?

  • Privacy by default. Tim Bray posted about serving his site via https (https://www.tbray.org/ongoing/When/201x/2012/12/02/HTTPS)
    • "This blog isn’t terribly controversial. But if only the “controversial” stuff is private, then privacy is itself suspicious. Thus, privacy should be on by default."
    • "Because I can; it’s the one small part of the Internet that I do have complete control of." (https://willnorris.com/2012/12/all-https-all-the-time)
  • Reduce political/religious/social persecution. If a reader's employer, school/university, family or religious community are monitoring their net usage, having HTTPS/SSL turned on means that they can't see which specific pages are being viewed on that site. This is a good (but far from perfect) security tool to protect against the "small adversaries"—political persecutors, homophobic family members, religious communities intolerant of criticism or free thought—from seeing what pages on a particular website someone is seeing.
    • tommorris: If I get cybersecurity wrong, some of my friends might not have homes.
  • Performance gains from using SPDY (https://thethemefoundry.com/blog/why-we-dont-use-a-cdn-spdy-ssl/)
  • Search rank. Google now rank https sites higher than equivalent non-https sites (http://googleonlinesecurity.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/https-as-ranking-signal_6.html)
  • Publishing integrity. If your pages are being delivered via https then ISP's, or anyone in the middle, cannot inject content into your site - see [1]
  • Comment authenticity. If you received a comment via an https website you can be more certain it's actually sent from the person

Contents


How to

Obtain

Buying or obtaining free SSL certificates

  • startssl.com offers free SSL certificates for single domains. If you verify your identity, they will also allow you to register free wildcard certs.
  • namecheap.com offers single-domain SSL certificates for $7.95/year and wildcard certificates for $85/year
  • GlobalSign offers free wildcard certificates (!) for open source projects.
  • ssls.com has inexpensive SSL certificates from multiple providers. As of 2014/03/08, a PositiveSSL certificate was $4.99/yr when buying 5 years.
  • CAcert is a community-driven non-profit that provides free wildcard certificates. Unfortunately the root certificate is not included in most operating systems or browsers by default. These certs are commonly used in the GNU community.
  • ...

Validating Your Purchase

SSL Certificate providers require some form of verification of you, your domain, and your ownership of your domain.

CSR Generation — A Certificate Signing Request must be generated at your site. For example, on a hosting provider that uses Cpanel, the "SSL/TLS Manager" has a "Certificate Signing Requests" section.

Approver Email — ssls.com asks for an "Approver Email" from a list of administration email addresses and Domain Registration email addresses. Choose one that you use, and receive the Domain Control Validation email, which contains a link and a "validation code". Click the link and enter the code to verify that you own the domain.

Certificate Email — " [http://ssls.com/ ssls.com send the certificate to the "Administrator Email" that you specified during the purchase process. This certificate is used in the process below.

Manage

When you're done with your purchase, you'll have one or more files for each certificate:

  • The certificate itself, e.g. snarfed.org.ssl.crt.
  • The private key you used to generate the certificate, e.g. id_rsa-2048.
  • Optional: Your CA's intermediate cert, e.g. sub.class1.server.ca.pem.
  • Optional: Your CA's root, e.g. ca.pem. Hopefully you picked a CA whose root cert is distributed with most OSes/browsers; if so, you can ignore this. (If you didn't, you should reconsider!)

All of these files are usually X.509 format except the private key, which is RSA or other private key format.

Command line openssl is your friend for inspecting and editing certificates. For example, to dump info about a cert:

openssl x509 -text -in snarfed.org.ssl.crt

If your CA provided an intermediate cert, you'll need to provide it to your web server along with your own cert. For servers that only accept a single file, you'll need to concatenate the certs, e.g.:

cat snarfed.org.ssl.crt sub.class1.server.ca.pem > snarfed.org.unified.ssl.crt

As another example, it seems like this command line should verify that a cert is valid:

openssl verify -verbose -CAfile ca.pem snarfed.org.unified.ssl.crt

...but User:snarfed.org gets this error:

error 20 at 0 depth lookup:unable to get local issuer certificate

You will get the "error 20" error above when openssl is unable to locate the root or intermediate certificates in your chain - if you are on Linux, or know where your OS stores the certificate list, you can run:

openssl verify -verbose -CApath /etc/ssl/certs snarfed.org.unified.ssl.crt

If you have gnutls command line tools installed, you can verify self-signed certs:

certtool -e --infile snarfed.org.unified.ssl.crt

Setup

The IETF has a document with recommendations for Secure Use of TLS and DTLS.

Apache

Apache is pretty easy. Here's a good how-to post. TL;DR: Put the certificate files somewhere your Apache user can read, then set the SSLCertificate* config directives, e.g.:

SSLCertificateKeyFile /home/ryan/.ssh/id_rsa-2048
SSLCertificateFile /home/ryan/www/snarfed.org.ssl.crt
SSLCertificateChainFile /home/ryan/www/sub.class1.server.ca.pem

User:ShaneHudson.net - As well as the certificates and keys, it is also useful to have forward secrecy and HSTS. I used the following lines in httpd.conf, the articles I found them in are in the FAQs further below. This went from C to A+ on the SSL test.

SSLProtocol all -SSLv2 -SSLv3
    SSLHonorCipherOrder on
    SSLCipherSuite "EECDH+ECDSA+AESGCM EECDH+aRSA+AESGCM EECDH+ECDSA+SHA384 EECDH+ECDSA+SHA256 EECDH+aRSA+SHA384 EECDH+aRSA+SHA256 EECDH+aRSA+RC4 EECDH EDH+aRSA RC4 !aNULL !eNULL !LOW !3DES !MD5 !EXP !PSK !SRP !DSS"
    Header always set Strict-Transport-Security "max-age=63072000; includeSubDomains"

App Engine

If you're serving on Google AppEngine's built-in appspot.com domain, you're already done! Just add secure: always (or optional) to the handler(s) in your app.yaml or other app config file, and you'll be able to access your app over https. Details here.

If you're using the java runtime on App Engine, add this stanza to your web.xml file.

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="ISO-8859-1"?>
<web-app 
   ...> 

  <security-constraint>
    <web-resource-collection>
      <url-pattern>/*</url-pattern>
    </web-resource-collection>
    <user-data-constraint>
      <transport-guarantee>CONFIDENTIAL</transport-guarantee>
    </user-data-constraint>
  </security-constraint>

You may additionally want to send a HSTS header to further improve security. In java, the easiest way from a servlet running on AppEngine is to add this header to all responses when running on the production server.

import com.google.appengine.api.utils.SystemProperty;

...

      if (SystemProperty.environment.value() ==
          SystemProperty.Environment.Value.Production) {
          // force ssl for six months.
          response.addHeader("Strict-Transport-Security", "max-age=15768000");
      }

If you also deliver static content, you may want to enable the HSTS header here as well. An example stanza within your appengine-web.xml file might look like this.

<appengine-web-app xmlns="http://appengine.google.com/ns/1.0">
...
    <static-files>
    <include path="/static/**" >
      <http-header name="Strict-Transport-Security" value="max-age=15768000"/>
...



If you're on a custom domain, you can use either SNI or a VIP. Details here. You'll need to upload your SSL cert files to the Google Apps control panel for your domain, then add and configure SNI or VIP slots in App Engine.

nginx

We can setup nginx to listen on port 443 with our SSL sertificate quite easily:

server {
    listen 443 ssl;
    server_name example.org;

     ssl_certificate /path/to/unified.crt;
     ssl_certificate_key /path/to/my-private-decrypted.key;

     //usual nginx config here like location blocks
}

For more detailed nginx config instructions see the page on nginx

Test

Production

Qualys's SSL Server Test is an easy way to test the SSL cert on your live site. See e.g. brid.gy's report card, or for comparison jonnybarnes.uk gets slightly different results.

shaaaaaaaaaaaaa.com will check if your SSL Cert using SHA-1 or SHA-2 and explains why it's becoming more important.

You can use openssl s_client to debug connection issues, e.g.:

openssl s_client -connect snarfed.org:443

If your server uses SNI, you'll need to provide the hostname too:

openssl s_client -servername www.brid.gy -connect www.brid.gy:443

Here's an example of debugging a single SSL issue:

Brand new StartSSL certificates may give an OCSP validation error for 6-24 hours after purchase. This seems to only affect Firefox and resolves itself when the certificate propagates to the validation server[2]. Firefox users can disable the check temporarily with Edit > Preferences > Advanced > Certificates > Validation, and uncheck "Use the Online Certificate Status Protocol"

Local

When developing a website locally, it may be useful to be able to test the site via https. For example, when writing an OAuth client, some providers will not redirect to a page that does not use https.

The easiest way to do this is to temporarily redirect your site to your own localhost (just for yourself) and use your site's cert. Just add a line like this to your hosts file:

127.0.0.1	snarfed.org

This is obviously temporary, though. For a more permanent setup, you can either generate a self-signed SSL certificate for your testing domain (localhost, etc) or you can create your own SSL certificate authority and sign the certificate with that.

To assist with this, aaronpk has created an "IndieWebCamp" root authority that can sign certificates for domains ending in ".dev".

You can add a line to your hosts file for your test domain such as

127.0.0.1   mydomain.dev

And then you can use the IndieWebCamp authority to generate an SSL cert for it. There are instructions on the site for how to install it under Apache and nginx.

Renew

A few things to be aware of when you need to renew your certificates.

Because all of the browsers now share lists of certificates that are invalid and/or broken as part of OCSP stapling you should renew your certificate at least two days prior to it expiring and then update your server with the certificate at least a day before. This allows the various OCSP lists to update before you touch your server - if you do not you may get some customers whose browsers have an older list and your certificate will not pass their OCSP check, which is different than it being on the revocation list.

Posts about HTTPS

IndieMark Levels

Proposed IndieMark Levels of recommended support for HTTPS on your own website, as part of a security component

Level 1 security

Level 1 - "Don't do the wrong thing". (what's the minimal "not wrong thing"?). Possible reasonable behaviors:

  • Refuse the connection, because if you don't support SSL, generally you're not listening on port 443, so clients can't connect. Challenge: the user has no idea what is wrong, nor how to fix it (i.e. retry going to the site with "http:" instead).

Why?

  • Avoid a misleading user experience.

IndieWeb Examples

  • ... add yourself here with the date you verified Level 1!


Level 2 security

Level 2 - support it for your login/admin UI/page(s) with a self-signed certificate.

  • Your admin page(s):
    1. MUST be available over https
    2. SHOULD redirect from http to https automatically, so you don't accidentally log-in in the clear over http (e.g. send your site login password in the clear)
    3. SHOULD include the secure flag (PHP details) when setting any login credential or session cookies, so such cookies aren't leaked over other (possibly non-admin) http requests (e.g. enable Firesheep style session cookie re-use attacks)

Why?

  • Security for write-access to your site! Otherwise anyone can hack your CMS and post stuff as you. (e.g. using a tool like Firesheep to sniff your login session cookies, and re-use them to gain access to your admin pages.)

How to

  1. How to make your admin page(s) available over https:
    1. install a self-signed certificate (see your webhosting provider for details)
    2. navigate explicitly (e.g. by typing) to the https:// version of your site.
  2. How to redirect your admin UI from http to https automatically:
    1. make Wordpress Admin use SSL: http://codex.wordpress.org/Administration_Over_SSL
    2. make your own other software use SSL on Apache using .htaccess (derived from that WP reference), e.g. for your admin URL example.com/my-adm/
      # HTTPS-only my-adm
      RewriteCond %{THE_REQUEST} ^[A-Z]{3,9}\ /(.*)\ HTTP/ [NC]
      RewriteCond %{HTTPS} !=on [NC]
      RewriteRule ^/?(my-adm/) https://example.com%{REQUEST_URI}%{QUERY_STRING} [R=301,QSA,L]
      where:
      1. example.com is your personal domain, and
      2. my-adm/ is the path to your login / admin web UI.

N.B. useful htaccess file checker: htaccess checker - let's you paste in your htaccess file and test URL flow through it using sample URLs.

  1. How to secure your cookies, e.g. in PHP:
    1. set various session params before calling session_start() :
      ini_set("session.cookie_httponly", 1);
      ini_set("session.use_only_cookies", 1);
      ini_set("session.cookie_secure", 1);
      session_start();
    2. clear your cookies in your browser, use your login flow to sign-into your website, then double check your cookies are secure, e.g. in Firefox:
      1. choose Preferences... from the Firefox menu.
      2. click Privacy tab
      3. click Show Cookies...
      4. enter your domain name into the dialog's search box
      5. select the cookie your code set, e.g. "PHPSESSID"
      6. The info below the list of cookies should say:
        Send For: Encrypted connections only
        If it doesn't, or if it says something like
        Send For: Any type of connection
        then the cookie is not secure.


Note: If you actually setup a real SSL cert for your whole domain and serve your admin interface from the same domain, you have actually achieved Level 3.

IndieWeb Examples

Level 3 security

Level 3 - provide your front-end over both http and https with a cert from a trusted CA

Why?

  • You can link from silo profiles to your site via https
  • You can start using (requiring!) your https URL for IndieAuth logins (e.g. into the wiki)
  • Your readers can securely access your site without a scary warning message pop-up.
  • privacy for your readers (what they are choosing to read)[3]
  • "Why not?" - GWG
  • ... add

IndieWeb Examples

Level 4 security

Level 4 - serve everything (home page, permalinks, images etc.) over https and send redirects from http -> https. I.e. your pages automatically get at least a lock icon in the browser address bar (and no warnings).

Why?

IndieWeb Examples in rough order of implementation

Check the browser's address bar where your URL is displayed and make sure:

  1. There's a lock icon before (in front of) the URL in the address bar
  2. There's no warning triangle icon (in front of) the URL in the address bar

FAQ:
How do you ensure that external content is over https? E.g. if I have an avatar for a comment from Tantek Çelik it will be over http since he uses http.

  • When you receive a webmention, download the image from the h-card and serve it from your own server.
  • Alternatively, use a separate https image proxy like https://github.com/atmos/camo (used by GitHub)
  • Unless it's a Twitter mention, in which case link to:

Why is my site running so slowly?

  • I found that moving my https redirect into httpd instead of .htaccess, and explicitly setting it to go to www meant it would be faster and wouldn't go through multiple redirects. This SO question came in handy for getting httpd to redirect. ~ Shane Hudson

Why am I only A not A+?

Brainstorming:

  • Move "get at least a lock icon" to a new "level 5" requirement/achievement, and bump existing level 5 to 6. Reasoning: it's much harder to serve all resources via https (e.g. external profile images), than just all your own HTML pages, and it's still greatly beneficial to serve at least all your HTML pages always with https.
    • For now, since all existing Level 4 https examples all serve everything (including resources) using https and thus get the lock icon, no need to create another level until we have real world examples that would benefit.

Level 5 security

Level 5 - use correct ciphers, support forward secrecy, etc. per https://www.ssllabs.com/ssltest/ (all previous levels required, i.e. document method of http to https redirection)

Why?

IndieWeb Examples

Criticism


Sessions

Sessions at IndieWebCamps about https:


See Also