Client Certificate Authentication With Apache (An Example)

(Last modified: 07/15/01)


This document demonstrates how Apache can be used to control access based on a web client's digital certificate. Three machines are used in this example:

  • A Certificate Authority (CA), running OpenBSD, which validates and signs the client keys,
  • A web server, running OpenBSD and Apache + mod_ssl, which only allows users with certificates signed by the CA to view its protected pages, and
  • The client, running Windows 2000 and IE 5.5, which requests a key with openssl.exe, and attempts to view the pages protected by the web server.

    Note that in a production environment, the CA should be a separate machine and disconnected from the network.

    Create the Certificate Authority (CA)

    On the machine used for the CA, create a directory for its keys:

    mkdir -p /etc/ssl/ca/private
    chown -R root:wheel /etc/ssl/ca
    chmod 700 /etc/ssl/ca/private

    Next, generate a private key and a certificate request, and then self-sign the certificate.

    openssl genrsa -out ca.key 1024
    openssl req -new -key ca.key -out ca.csr
    openssl x509 -req -days 365 -in ca.csr -signkey ca.key -out ca.crt

    Setup the Web Server Certificate

    On the web server, create a self-signed certificate for SSL requests:

    openssl genrsa -out server.key 1024
    openssl req -new -key server.key -out server.csr
    openssl x509 -req -days 365 -in server.csr -signkey server.key -out server.crt

    Make sure the path(s) to the server certificate are correct in /var/www/conf/httpd.conf.

    Install the CA Certificate on the Web Server

    Copy the CA certificate (via floppy) to /var/www/conf/ssl.crt/ca.crt, on the web server.

    Tell the web server (Apache) where it can find the CA certificate, in httpd.conf:

    <VirtualHost _default_:443>
    SSLCACertificateFile /var/www/conf/ssl.crt/ca.crt

    Require a Certificate for Access

    Tell Apache which URL (in this case /cert) to require authentication for. httpd.conf:

    <VirtualHost _default_:443>
    <Location /cert>
       SSLVerifyClient require
       SSLVerifyDepth 10

    Shutdown and Restart httpd:

    apachectl stop
    /usr/sbin/httpd -DSSL

    Have the Client Request a Certificate

    On the client, generate a private key and certificate request:

    openssl genrsa -out client.key 1024
    openssl req -new -key client.key -out client.csr -config openssl.cnf
    OpenSSL for Win32 can be downloaded here.

    Note that OpenSSL won't be able to obtain a nice pseudo-random sample for its key generation, and will complain. However, it will allow you to specify a document for added entropy with the -rand switch. In testing, I created a file on the OpenBSD machine with dd if=/dev/srandom of=output.txt bs=4096 count=1, copied that file to Windows, and generated a key with openssl genrsa -rand output.txt -out client.key 1024.

    Have the Authority Sign the Certificate

    Copy the client request to the CA (via floppy), and sign the client request with the CA's private key:

    openssl x509 -req -days 365 -CA ca.crt -CAkey ca.key -CAcreateserial -in client.csr -out client.crt

    Copy the signed certificate (client.crt) back to the client.

    Import the Client Certificate

    Create a PKCS#12 document from the client private key and the signed certificate:

    openssl pkcs12 -export -clcerts -in client.crt -inkey client.key -out client.p12
    Double click client.p12 to import, and select the default values.

    Finally, attempt to access the protected server pages (e.g.

    Known Issues

    The example generates 1024-bit keys. I tried 4096-bits for each key without success. Please drop me a note if you've solved this dilema.


    OpenSSL homepage:

    mod_ssl homepage:

    Public-Key Cryptography Standards:

    X-series Recommendations: X.500 and up:

    Additional Reading

    Using Certificate Revocation Lists (Apache Week):

    Using Client Certificates with stunnel:


    Written by Robert Mooney (rjmooney\@impetus\.us).

    Copyright (c) 2001 Robert Mooney, All rights reserved.

    This document may be freely distributed and modified, so long as the original author is credited.

    If you are inclined, you can leave me a tip with PayPal. Sign up for it.

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