I have seen the light! Let’s Encrypt is well poised to become the SSL key manager for those of us who don’t want to think about TLS. It’s easy to setup and configure, and generally just does the right thing.
I set up a private GOGS server, and decided to pull the stops on Doing Things Right. For me, that meant HTTPS, HTTP/2, and good TLS security. I have not set up HSTS or HPKP yet, because I need more confidence in my setup before I do so. Rest assured, these are very easy to set up. (I won’t be using CSP because I believe that should be decided on by the application, not the frontend server.)
Note: I did this on a FreeBSD system, but nothing in here is FreeBSD-specific.
letsencrypt is now Certbot. But this change hasn’t migrated to FreeBSD yet, so this guide hasn’t been updated.
Additional Note: You do have to do these in order.
You can follow along with my gist.
Step 0: Installation
This is system specific. Grab your package manager and install letsencrypt and nginx. If necessary, configure nginx to start at boot.
Step 1: Configure Nginx for Verification
Let’s Encrypt only verifies the server name on the certificate is valid; they don’t verify organizational or personal identities. That is, a certificate from Let’s Encrypt asserts that you’re talking to
qwertyuiop.ninja, but it does not assert that it is operated by Astro Software, Inc.
To that end, Let’s Encrypt performs automatic verification by looking for a specific file hosted by your server. So lets configure Nginx to serve it.
The way I do it is like this. First, in nginx.conf, I add this include:
(This must be served over plain HTTP.)
The contents of
letsencrypt are simple:
/tmp/letsencrypt is unimportant. The file itself does not have to be secure, since any Lets Encrypt server will happily give it to anyone. You’ll just need the path for Step 2.
Step 2: Get Your Key
Now you need to ask Let’s Encrypt to verify your host and issue you your first certificate.
All you need to do is run:
Step 3: Configure Nginx for SSL
Hop back to
nginx.conf and set it up for SSL:
So, three things here.
/usr/local/etc/letsencrypt/liveis specific to FreeBSD. I’m guessing on Linux you will want
/etc/letsencrypt/live, but you should verify for yourself.
The contents of
tlsare to boost the security of the SSL connection against various attacks. I’ll get to its contents in a moment.
location /block is application-specific. In this case, it’s just passing the request back to GOGS.
So what’s so mysterious about the
tls file? Honestly, I don’t know the details. I just listen to the experts.
The first block is something I just copy-and-pasted. It disables insecure protocols, removes some insecure TLS option, and turns on OCSP stapling.
I literally have no idea why cipherli.st included the second block or what it does.
The third block configures HSTS. This tells browsers to silently switch all HTTP requests to your server to HTTPS. Don’t turn this on until you are sure SSL works and you have it configured correctly. Doing this wrong can make your site inaccessible in your browser.
The last bit has to do with another attack. Diffie-Helmen is an algorithm for key exchange, and part of it is based on prime numbers. Except that many servers use the same prime numbers, leaving their connections vulnerable to anyone who has cracked their primes. You can fix this by using your own.
First, use the
openssl program to generate new primes:
This will take a few minutes, so this is a good time to stretch your legs and get a fresh coffee.
And then plug in this generated file into your nginx configuration, as I did above. And now your SSL security just got bumped for a coffee’s break of work.
Step 4: Test
Reload nginx and verify HTTPS is working. Congrats! Your website is a good chunk more secure.
Step 5: Redirect HTTP to HTTPS
So now that you know HTTPS is working, time to start finishing up.
nginx.conf and configure HTTP to redirect to HTTPS:
If want, you can turn HSTS on at this time. However, I’m not certain how HPKP interacts with Let’s Encrypt’s short certificate lifespan, so you may want to hold off on that for the moment.
Step 6: Test Again and Verify SSL Strength
Test again in the browser. Make sure HTTP is redirecting to HTTPS. If you’re using HSTS, verify the headers and check that browsers are respecting it.
You may also want to take a moment and test with the Qualys SSL Server Test. This will give you a grade representing how secure your SSL connection is and point out areas that you’re weak. You should be getting an ‘A’ grade.
Step 7: Automatic Refresh
One last thing you want to do: Set up cron jobs to refresh everything you generated above. Unless you want to be renewing certificates every two and a half months. Thankfully Let’s Encrypt pretty much handles this for you. (There’s a reason I called it the “SSL key manager for those of us who don’t want to think about TLS”.)
The Let’s Encrypt program does the right thing in that it checks the state of your certificates and only renews if it has two weeks or less to live. So we can just ask it to check.
EDIT: The Lets Encrypt (now called certbot) will not prerenew your certificates. Once a week is not sufficient. I’m currently having it check daily.
The other job just refreshes the Diffie-Helmen parameters we made in step 3. I haven’t seen any recommendations to do this, but I figure it can’t hurt.
(I’m not certain reloading Nginx causes it to reread SSL keys and such, or if it does it automatically. I guess I’ll find out in two and a half months.)
I have my jobs running once a week on different days. This is pretty much a personal preference.
And that’s it! Again, my complete files are on gists.