Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Roadmap Update: EJBCA 7 and What Lies in Store

Getting roadmap information out of me is usually about as rewarding as mining obscure crypto currencies, but for once I feel that this is a very good opportunity to talk a bit about the roadmap in the next half year, about EJBCA 7 and what is to come.

Technology Leap

Now, the easy announcement is that EJBCA 7 will be released before the end of Q2 of 2018, and the most marked technology leap will be dropping support för JDK7 and JEE6, so those of you who haven't migrated to JDK8 or greater yet should start planning to do so very soon. Things to have in mind:

  • JDK7 had its final support release over a year ago, which is one reason we've chosen to move on.
  • This means that your application server will have to be JBoss EAP 6.3.3 or later.
  • From EJBCA 7 and beyond we'll being using JDK8 features in the source, meaning that you will have to upgrade your JDK/AS before then. In any case we very much recommend upgrading to the latest version of EJBCA as well if you haven't done so yet.

User Interface Changes 

The primary changes you'll be seeing is that we're going to start optimizing and improving workflow in the existing UI. For that reason we'll be removing a lot of pages which have turned redundant or which are too antiquated to maintain.

Public Web

This is going to be the biggest change for many of you, and one of the most dramatic ones: the Public Web is going to be considered deprecated. The reasons for doing so are many, but foremost the fact that the new RA Web does (or nearly, but will do) everything the Public Web does, but better. While I hope that most of you have had a chance to explore and hopefully even start using the RA Web, this is a very good time to start migrating your workflows. If this leaves you with any sense of dread, fret not: we have documented how workflows translate between the Public Web and the RA Web here and here

Note that we won't be removing the Public Web initially but simply not link to, refer to or update it anymore, so there will be an overlap period. 

Admin Web/CA Web

The first major change is a simple one: a question of branding. We have traditionally, both in code and in UI misused the terms Administrator and Administration. In the line of defining an administrator as somebody who performs administrative tasks (which doesn't cover all users of the UI) we'll be renaming the current Admin Web as the CA Web to reflect the fact that its purpose mainly covers setting up CAs and profiles, while the RA Web covers all aspects of of end entity creation and lifecycle management. 

The introduction of the RA Web may have raised some questions about the overlap between the two interfaces, such as the ability to create end entities in both. Naturally, our end goal is to eliminate these overlaps in order to make workflow feel natural an intuitive. For that reason, we'll be deprecating some pages in the CA Web by removing links and references, though as with the Public Web we'll let the pages exist for some time to allow for some overlap. The pages in the CA Web that are going to disappear are (sorted by category):

  • RA Functions
    • Add End Entity
    • Search End Entities
  • Supervision Functions
    • Approve Actions
All of these pages have superior analogues on the RA Web, and it's our goal that our workflows become so intuitive that there will be no need to switch between the two. 

What Comes Next? 

In addition to this, I'd like to let you know a bit about workflows in the UI. Currently the workflows are what could generously be called unintuitive, which is something we're looking to remedy come 2018 and beyond. The design currently largely mirrors the architecture, which while straight forward from a developer's perspective requires way too much domain knowledge from a user's point of view. Our ambition is to start refining and redefining workflows during the coming year to make more sense from what one is trying to accomplish, but we'll be doing so gently and properly documenting and motivating all changes.

We hope you're looking forward to these changes as much as we are!

Mike Agrenius Kushner
Product Owner EJBCA

Friday, January 12, 2018

Feature Highlight: Approval Profiles

So the concept of approvals is a rather well known concept in EJBCA. The basic concept is that your organization may not trust lower level or individual administrators to perform certain actions (such as enrolling end entities or renewing certificates), and thus require either higher level administrators (with specific approval rights) or a multitude of administrators (requiring a conspiracy) to perform certain actions, or a mixture of both.

In EJBCA 6.6 we introduced the concept of Approval Profiles due to the fact that we got a customer request to implement a more dynamic and complex approvals process, while we were at the same time unwilling to drop the old one.

Accumulative Approvals

Accumulative Approvals represents the type of approval process which existed prior to EJBCA 6.6, now given a name to differentiate it from later implementations. The concept is rather simple: say that we have a PKI organization containing a relatively flat structure, simple three administrators:
For the sake of argument, let's presume that these three are all equal, but their policies require that none of them be able to perform any enrollment actions without the cooperation of at least one of the other. Traditionally we would simply set the number of approvals in the CA or Certificate Profile to two, but now that we use Approval Profiles we set up an Accumulative Approval Profile instead:

Partitioned Approvals

In EJBCA 6.6 we added a more complex form of approvals, which we've decided to call Partitioned Approvals. Partitioned approvals consist of two basic temporal concepts: steps and partitions. The diagram below tries to explain this in simple terms: 

The basic concept is that steps are solve sequentially, while partitions are solved in parallel within their step. What this means is that (for example) Step2:Partition1 can't be approved until all three partitions in Step 1 have been approved. Now, how might this be used? Well, let's presume the following organization:
This structure resembles an actual PKI organization far more. The players here are:
  • Alita  -  An RA Administrator whose role is to meet certificate applicants after they've enrolled using the RA UI and to verify their identities. 
  • Björn - Works for Financial Services. Does not have any rights to enroll customers, but has been tasked in verifying that customers have payed their fees. 
  • Beatrix - Works for the company's security division. Lacks like Björn the ability to enroll customers, but is tasked in performing background checks on prospective clients. 
  • Cilla  -  A supervisor who has to approve the work of the previous three. If she's happy, then the customer can next retrieve their certificate. 
Now, looking at the graph above you may infer that Alita's, Björn's and Beatrix' tasks are all part of Step 1. The reason for this is that Cilla  isn't interested (or allowed) to give her approval until she's verified the results of Alita, Björn and Beatrix. 

On the other hand, there is nothing stopping Alita, Björn and Beatrix from solving their tasks in parallel. Once all of them approved their respective partitions, the process will automatically transition to Step 2. Combining these two diagrams we get the following, with blue representing view access and green representing approval rights:

So, what does this look like in EJBCA? Well, an initial Partitioned Profile will look like this:
As you can see above, we initially have a single step containing a single partition, which is the minimum possible. You'll also notice in the center of the partition the two multi-selects that display all available Roles with approval rights. Let's add another step by clicking on the Add Step button on the bottom right:
Next lets create the partitions in Step 1. First we'll click the Add Partition button on the bottom right of that step twice, name the partitions and assign the roles: 

Notice above that the roles do not have view rights of each others' partitions (except the RA Administrator partition, who anybody can review), and that the Supervisor role can review all. Next, let's edit Alita's partition so that she can add a bit more information for the records:
By clicking on the Add Field button (which is hidden in the above screenshot behind the drop-down) we can add meta data fields to the partition. In this case we've added a check box, a radio button list to identify the type of identification provided and a free form text field for any other information (such as passport number). 

We'll set up Beatrix' and Björn's partition in the same way, then lastly make sure that only the Supervisor group has approval and review access to the final step:
This way the supervisor can review and verify that all previous actions have been performed correctly and without fault before allowing the enrollment process to continue.

Practical Example

Now, let's see what this looks like in real life! For this example we're going to follow closely the RA Administrator Alita and her supervisor Cilla, while letting Beatrix and Björn do their work in the background for brevity. First of all, we make sure that the familiar WidgetCorp CA is set up to use the above approval profile for enrollment:
Then along rolls our old friend Alan Widget, who's about to request that the CA generate a keypair for him:
As we've activated approval for the CA, naturally Alan will have to wait a bit to receive his keypair:
Logging in as our RA Administrator we can see that she now has an approval request pending:
And viewing that request, we can fill in the relevant data about the request:
Logging in as the Supervisor on the other hand, you'll notice that the To Approve tab is empty as the Supervisor doesn't have anything to approve in the current step, while the request is instead under the Pending Approval tab as the Supervisor can still review the other's work.
Once Security and Finances have approved (or denied) their respective partitions of the request, the step is automatically completed and moves on to the final step that we've defined, which is the approval of the Supervisor. She now has the request under the To Approve tab, where she can also review all of the previous steps that she has view access to:

Approving the final step will leave the entire request executed, and our end user is now free to retrieve their certificate:
So, that is in a nutshell how to use Partitioned Approvals in EJBCA. If you have any feedback, feature requests or questions, please let us know! And if there are other EJBCA features you'd like me to dive into, please comment here on the blog!

Mike Agrenius Kushner
Product Owner EJBCA

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

EJBCA 6.11: Adding EST, Modular Configuration and External Validators to the Mix

Hey folks, and welcome to 2018. We have an exciting year to look forward to, but I'll go a bit deeper into the currently projected roadmap in a bit, because this blog post is as usual devoted to a deeper dive into the release notes for the latest release.


First and foremost, EJBCA 6.11 introduces a long awaited feature: support for the EST protocol, as defined in RFC 7030. For those of you now in the know, EST is an enrollment protocol similar to SCEP. Much like CMP and SCEP, EST can be configured through multiple aliases, and can like CMP also have calls proxied from an RA up a CA using the Peers Protocol.

External Command Certificate Validators

The second main feature of this release is the concept of External Validators, a feature which has been widely requested by quite a few of our enterprise users. An External Validator functions much like the existing validators (RSA, CAA, etc), but it runs on either a certificate or pre-certificate object and calls on local script on the local system.

As a security feature we've added a configuration value under System Configuration that disables both the External Validator and the General Purpose Custom Publisher. This configuration value is set to be disabled by default unless you're currently running a General Purpose Custom Publisher in your installation. To avoid a malicious user using the External Validator to run system commands, we've also added a command whitelist.

Modular Protocol Configuration

We've also added a few of features to make VA/RA installations more secure in the DMZ. In order to guard against possible 0-days or protocol vulnerabilities we've added the Protocol Configuration-tab to System Configuration. Through this tab all incoming protocols or servlets can be disabled.

Additionally, we've added access rules to allow prohibiting CMP and WS calls being sent from the RA/VA to the CA via Peers in case the RA/VA runs the risk of being compromised.

Upgrade Concerns

Lastly, we've updated the VA so that SHA1WithRSA and SHA1WithECDSA are no longer acceptable signature algorithms for an OCSP responder, see the upgrade document for more information.

Mike Agrenius Kushner
Product Owner EJBCA