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Chapter 3. SSL Infrastructure

For Red Hat Network customers, security concerns are of the utmost importance. One of the strengths of Red Hat Network is its ability to process every single request over Secure Sockets Layer, or SSL. To maintain this level of security, customers installing Red Hat Network within their infrastructures must generate custom SSL keys and certificates.
Manual creation and deployment of SSL keys and certificates can be quite involved. Both the RHN Proxy Server and the RHN Satellite Server allow you to build your own SSL keys and certificates based on your own private Certificate Authority (CA) during installation. In addition, a separate command line utility, the RHN SSL Maintenance Tool, exists for this purpose. Regardless, these keys and certificates must then be deployed to all systems within your managed infrastructure. In many cases, deployment of these SSL keys and certificates is automated for you. This chapter describes efficient methods for conducting all of these tasks.
Please note that this chapter does not explain SSL in depth. The RHN SSL Maintenance Tool was designed to hide much of the complexity involved in setting up and maintaining this public-key infrastructure (PKI). For more information, please consult some of the many good references available at your nearest bookstore.

3.1. A Brief Introduction To SSL

SSL, or Secure Sockets Layer, is a protocol that enables client-server applications to pass information securely. SSL uses a system of public and private key pairs to encrypt communication passed between clients and servers. Public certificates can be left accessible, while private keys must be secured. It's the mathematical relationship (a digital signature) between a private key and its paired public certificate that makes this system work. Through this relationship, a connection of trust is established.


Throughout this document we discuss SSL private keys and public certificates. Technically both can be referred to as keys (public and private keys). But it is convention, when discussing SSL, to refer to the public half of an SSL key pair (or key set) as the SSL public certificate.
An organization's SSL infrastructure is generally made up of these SSL keys and certificates:
  • Certificate Authority (CA) SSL private key and public certificate — only one set per organization generally generated. The public certificate is digitally signed by its private key. The public certificate is distributed to every system.
  • Web server SSL private key and public certificate — one set per application server. The public certificate is digitally signed by both its private key and the CA SSL private key. We often refer to a Web server's key set; this is because there is an intermediary SSL certificate request that is generated. The details of what this is used for are not important to this discussion. All three are deployed to an RHN Server.
Here's a scenario: If you have one RHN Satellite Server and five RHN Proxy Servers, you will generate one CA SSL key pair and six Web server SSL key sets. The CA SSL public certificate is distributed to all systems and used by all clients to establish a connection to their respective upstream servers. Each server has its own SSL key set that is specifically tied to that server's hostname and generated using its own SSL private key and the CA SSL private key in combination. This establishes a digitally verifiable association between the Web server's SSL public certificate and the CA SSL key pair and server's private key. The Web server's key set cannot be shared with other web servers.


The most critical portion of this system is the CA SSL key pair. From that private key and public certificate an administrator can regenerate any Web server's SSL key set. This CA SSL key pair must be secured. It is highly recommended that once the entire RHN infrastructure of servers is set up and running, you archive the SSL build directory generated by this tool and/or the installers onto separate media, write down the CA password, and secure the media and password in a safe place.