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x.509 certificate orchestration framework : Lemur

From: Melvin Carvalho <melvincarvalho@gmail.com>
Date: Tue, 22 Sep 2015 23:43:08 +0200
Message-ID: <CAKaEYhL9=3Ts1B0ybeV7m5cX9Q57bPb86+m9dCSOmWUPMQ+kgA@mail.gmail.com>
To: public-webid <public-webid@w3.org>

Introducing Lemur
by: Kevin Glisson <https://twitter.com/kevgliss>, Jason Chan
<https://twitter.com/chanjbs> and Ben Hagen <https://twitter.com/benhagen>

Netflix is pleased to announce the open source release of our x.509
certificate orchestration framework : Lemur!

*The Challenge of Certificate Management *
Public Key Infrastructure
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_key_infrastructure> is a set of
hardware, software, people, policies, and procedures needed to create,
manage, distribute, use, store, and revoke digital certificates and manage
public-key encryption. PKI allows for secure communication by establishing
chains of trust between two entities.

There are three main components to PKI that we are attempting to address:

   1. Public Certificate - A cryptographic document that proves the
   ownership of a public key, which can be used for signing, proving
   identity or encrypting data.
   2. Private Key - A cryptographic document that is used to decrypt data
   encrypted by a public key.
   3. Certificate Authorities (CAs) - Third-party or internal services that
   validate those they do business with. They provide confirmation that a
   client is talking to the server it thinks it is. Their public certificates
   are loaded into major operating systems and provide a basis of trust for
   others to build on.

The management of all the pieces needed for PKI can be a confusing and
painful experience. Certificates have expiration dates - if they are
allowed to expire without replacing communication can be interrupted,
impacting a system’s availability. And, private keys must never be exposed
to any untrusted entities - any loss of a private key can impact the
confidentiality of communications. There is also increased complexity when
creating certificates that support a diverse pool of browsers and devices.
It is non-trivial to track which devices and browsers trust which
certificate authorities.

On top of the management of these sensitive and important pieces of
information, the tools used to create manage and interact with PKI have
confusing or ambiguous options. This lack of usability can lead to mistakes
and undermine the security of PKI.

For non-experts the experience of creating certificates can be an
intimidating one.

Empowering the Developer
At Netflix developers are responsible for their entire application
environment, and we are moving to an environment that requires the use of
HTTPS for all web applications. This means developers often have to go
through the process of certificate procurement and deployment for their
services. Let’s take a look at what a typical procurement process might
look like:
Here we see an example workflow that a developer might take when creating a
new service that has TLS enabled.

are quite a few steps to this process and much of it is typically handled
by humans. Let’s enumerate them:

   1. Create Certificate Signing Request (CSR) - A CSR is a
   cryptographically signed request that has information such as
   State/Province, Location, Organization Name and other details about the
   entity requesting the certificate and what the certificate is for. Creating
   a CSR typically requires the developer to use OpenSSL commands to generate
   a private key and enter the correct information. The OpenSSL command line
   contains hundreds of options and significant flexibility. This flexibility
   can often intimidate developers or cause them to make mistakes that
   undermine the security of the certificate.

   1. Submit CSR - The developer then submits the CSR to a CA. Where to
   submit the CSR can be confusing. Most organizations have internal and
   external CAs. Internal CAs are used for inter-service or inter-node
   communication anywhere you have control of both sides of transmission and
   can thus control who to trust. External CAs are typically used when you
   don’t have control of both sides of a transmission. Think about your
   browser communicating with a banking website over HTTPS. It relies on the
   trust built by third parties (Symantec/Digicert, GeoTrust etc.) in order to
   ensure that we are talking to who we think we are. External CAs are used
   for the vast majority of Internet-facing websites.

   1. Approve CSR - Due to the sensitive and error-prone nature of the
   certificate request process, the choice is often made to inject an approval
   process into the workflow. In this case, a security engineer would review
   that a request is valid and correct before issuing the certificate.

   1. Deploy Certificate - Eventually the issued certificate needs to be
   placed on a server that will handle the request. It’s now up to the
   developer to ensure that the keys and server certificates are correctly
   placed and configured on the server and that the keys are kept in a safe

   1. Store Secrets - An optional, but important step is to ensure that
   secrets can be retrieved at a later date. If a server ever needs to be
   re-deployed these keys will be needed in order to re-use the issued

Each of these steps have the developer moving through various systems and
interfaces, potentially copying and pasting sensitive key material from one
system to another. This kind of information spread can lead to situations
where a developer might not correctly clean up the private keys they have
generated or accidently expose the information, which could put their whole
service at risk. Ideally a developer would never have to handle key
material at all.

Toward Better Certificate Management
Certificate management is not a new challenge, tools like EJBCA
<http://www.ejbca.org/>, OpenCA <http://www.openca.org/>, and more
recently Let’s
Encrypt <https://letsencrypt.org/> are all helping to make certificate
management easier. When setting out to make certificate management better
we had two main goals: First, increase the usability and convenience of
procuring a certificate in such a way that would not be intimidating to
users. Second, harden the procurement process by generating high strength
keys and handling them with care.

Meet Lemur!

Lemur is a certificate management framework that acts as a broker between
certificate authorities and internal deployment and management tools. This
allows us to build in defaults and templates for the most common use cases,
reduce the need for a developer to be exposed to sensitive key material,
and provides a centralized location from which to manage and monitor all
aspects of the certificate lifecycle.

We will use the following terminology throughout the rest of the discussion:

   - Issuers are internal or third-party certificate authorities
   - Destinations are deployment targets, for TLS these would be the
   servers terminating web requests.
   - Sources are any certificate store, these can include third party
   sources such as AWS, GAE, even source code.
   - Notifications are ways for a subscriber to be notified about a change
   with their certificate.

Unlike many of our tools Lemur is not tightly bound to AWS, in fact Lemur
provides several different integration points that allows it to fit into
just about any existing environment.

Security engineers can leverage Lemur to act as a broker between deployment
systems and certificate authorities. It provides a unified view of, and
tracks all certificates in an environment regardless of where they were

Let’s take a look at what a developer's new workflow would look like using


Some key benefits of the new workflow are:

   - Developer no longer needs to know OpenSSL commands
   - Developer no longer needs to know how to safely handle sensitive key
   - Certificate is immediately deployed and usable
   - Keys are generated with known strength properties
   - Centralized tracking and notification
   - Common API for internal users

This interface is much more forgiving than that of a command line and
allows for helpful suggestions and input validation.
For advanced users, Lemur supports all certificate options that the target
issuer supports.

Lemur’s destination plugins allow for a developer to pick an environment to
upload a certificate. Having Lemur handle the propagation of sensitive
material keeps it off developer’s laptops and ensures secure transmission.
Out of the box Lemur supports multi-account AWS deployments. Over time, we
hope that others can use the common plugin interface to fit their specific

Even with all the things that Lemur does for us we knew there would use
cases where certificates are not issued through Lemur. For example, a third
party hosting and maintaining a marketing site, or a payment provider
generating certificates for secure communication with their service.

To help with these use cases and provide the best possible visibility into
an organization’s certificate deployment, Lemur has the concept of source
plugins and the ability to import certificates. Source plugins allow Lemur
to reach out into different environments and discover and catalog existing
certificates, making them an easy way to bootstrap Lemur’s certificate
management within an organization.

Lemur creates, discovers and deploys certificates. It also securely stores
the sensitive key material created during the procurement process. Letting
Lemur handle key management provides a centralized and known method of
encryption and the ability to audit the key’s usage and access.

Lemur makes use of the following components :

   - Python 2.7, 3.4 with Flask API (including a number of helper packages)
   - AngularJS UI
   - Postgres
   - Optional use of AWS Simple Email Service (SES) for email notifications

We’re shipping Lemur with built-in plugins for that allow you to issue
certificates from Verisign/Symantec and allow for the discovery and
deployment of certificates into AWS.

Getting Started
Lemur is available now on the Netflix Open Source site
<https://github.com/Netflix/lemur>. You can try out Lemur using Docker
<https://github.com/Netflix/lemur-docker>. Detailed instructions on setup
and configuration are available in our docs <http://lemur.readthedocs.org/>.

Interested in Contributing?
Feel free to reach out or submit pull requests if you have any suggestions.
We’re looking forward to seeing what new plugins you create to to make
Lemur your own! We hope you’ll find Lemur as useful as we do!

Lemur is helping the Netflix security team manage our PKI infrastructure by
empowering developers and creating a paved road to SSL/TLS enabled
applications. Lemur is available on our GitHub
<http://netflix.github.io/#repo> site now!
Received on Tuesday, 22 September 2015 21:43:39 UTC

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