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Fixing HTTPS CA Cert Issues

Disclaimer: I'm very new to understanding SSL, and I haven't yet put in the effort to be authoritative about this subject. This post describes how to work with a modified chain of trust from a VM without the last certificate installed.

Websites (and HTTPS requests in general) use a system called SSL Certificates to verify that a URL visited is actually being served the legitimate provider for it (as opposed to someone hiding between your computer and the provider and capturing your data). They also encrypt your data so no one else can read it. SSL Certificates are usually installed on the Operating System by the vendor (as far as I know), but they can be updated and new ones can be installed. On Linux, this is usually the ca-certificates package.

How Firewalls intercept secure traffic

In a corporate environment, the security department never likes the fact that encrypted information can be passed between employees and outside websites. The way I understand this, they intercept requests going out (usually at the firewall level) decrypt them, inspect them for naughtiness, then re-encrypt them and complete the request. When the answering request comes from the website, the firewall does the same thing. Here is a diagram:

Parties Involved:

  • Client (think desktop user)
  • FW (firewall at the edge of the corporate network)
  • Site (google.com, facebook.com or any other site the Client is visiting) (this could also be an API)

Non-inspected Flow:

  1. Client creates encrypted request with the CA Cert pre-installed for Site and sends it to Site
  2. Site decrypts it with its own certificate, creates a response, encrypts it, and sends it back
  3. Client decrypts the response.

Inspected Flow:

In the inspected flow, the client is pre-installed with a "universal" certificate and the firewall is installed with the coordinating certificate. It uses this cert to decrypt the request, does it's thing, then encrypts it with the certificate for the website.

  1. Client creates encrypted request with the CA Cert pre-installed for FW and sends it to Site
  2. FW intercepts request, decrypts it with its coordinating certificate, inspects it, re-encrypts it with the certificate for Site, and sends it to Site
  3. Site decrypts it with its own certificate, creates a response, encrypts it, and sends it back
  4. FW intercepts request, decrypts it with its coordinating certificate, inspects it, re-encrypts with it's certificate, and sends it to Client
  5. Client decrypts the response.

If you study these flow, you'll notice that this is pretty much transparent to Client. Client doesn't have to do anything special to get it's traffic inspected.

The Problem with VMs

However, this becomes a problem if, in the development process, you make a request from a VM hosted on your machine (a sub-client of Client, kinda). In this case, the firewall intercepts the request and can't decrypt it because it wasn't encrypted with the firewall's certificate.

To fix this, you can either disable certificate checking (which means you can't be reasonably sure you aren't going to a fake website- very bad) or you can add the Client's 'firewall certificate to the VM's store of them. This post is really about how to find that certificate, put it on the VM, and use it in your code (specifically Python's requests library).

Find the Certificate (on a Mac) (with FireFox and Keychain Access)

To find the certificate, open Firefox and go to a website that supports HTTPS (for example Google), and click the green lock in the URL bar.

![]({{ site.baseurl }}/img/2018-01-11-Fixing-HTTPS-CA-Cert-Issues/url_bar.png)

Use the buttons to export the certificate:

  1. the arrow on the right side of the lock popup
  2. "More Information"
  3. "View Certificate" (in the Security Tab)
  4. Switch tabs to Details in the Certificate Viewer
  5. Export...

Save it somewhere you can find again with a nice descriptive name.

If you open the certificate in a text editor, you'll see something like the following:

-----BEGIN CERTIFICATE-----
awScGmdnsbolcfUlYCvZRMFHwcTIcEuEzmahqBoKWqCPHYoLucnDfuKgoYqiLKDC
XJHFHBkInJfshLLgyCDXypjDDlgHHpYJvquWoBNTypJCWNWIwxWZCVbdoDiJBbAg
... more lines
-----END CERTIFICATE-----

Push the certificate

Of course, you can simply scp the certificate:

scp path/to/cert.crt vagrant@vm_ip:path/to/cert.crt

Or, if you're using Ansible to manage the VM, you can use the copy module to put it on:

- name: Push CA Certs to VM
copy:
  force: false  # Don't overwrite a file already there
  src: path/to/cert.crt
  dest: path/to/cert.crt

Use the Certificate at User level

In the requests library, you can point to your certificate with the verify keyword parameter:

import requests
response = requests.get('https://www.google.com', verify='path/to/cert.crt')

And then, of course, you can do whatever you want with the output.

Use the Certificate at System level (Red Hat / CentOS 7)

If you don't want to pass path to the certificate every time you want to use it, you need to place it in the /etc/pki/ca-trust/source/anchors directory and run the update-ca-trust extract. commmand (as explained in man update-ca-cert). I use the following ansible snippet to this:

- name: Install custom cert so I can use https
  become: true
  copy:
    src: /path/to/custom.crt
    dest: /etc/pki/ca-trust/source/anchors/custom.crt
    mode: 0777  # that's what the crts there are..

- name: Extract custom cert
  become: true
  command: update-ca-trust extract

So, that's how I deal with certificates in VMs.