Automatic TLS certificate distribution with Vault

Introducing Certify, a purpose built library

It’s often recommended that microservice communications are encrypted, especially if they cross the public internet. Even when you control the network, whether virtually or physically, encrypting traffic can still be valuable. Lets Encrypt has revolutionized the distribution of certificates for publically facing servers; unfortunately, encrypting internal traffic often involves complicated certificate generation setups.

Hashicorp Vault is a project for storing secrets and performing authentication. It has a PKI Secret Engine backend which allows you to use it as a certificate authority in an internal public key infrastructure deployment. It solves a lot of problems associated with internal certificate distribution, but it still requires either manual distribution steps or some third-party application for ensuring certificates are re-issued when necessary.

To solve this problem, I’ve written a library that makes this all much easier.

Introducing Certify

I’ve created Certify to allow easy and safe communications between servers and clients and services.

Certify hooks into the tls.Config GetCertificate and GetClientCertificate methods to perform certificate distribution and renewal whenever it’s needed, automatically. It will cache certificates that are still valid (if configured), and re-issue certificates that approach their expiry.

The library is written so that issuers other than Vault could be used, but only the Vault backend is currently implemented.

Lets look at a simple example:

cb := certify.Certify{
    Issuer: &vault.Issuer{
        VaultURL: &url.URL{
            // Certificate and Private Key are
            // sent over the connection,
            // you would need a very good
            // reason not to want this encrypted.
            Scheme: "https",
            Host: "my-vault-instance.com",
        },
        Role: "myVaultRole",
        Token: "myVaultToken",
    },
    // CommonName is the value used to configure
    // the common name of the certificates.
    CommonName: "MyBackendServer",
    // It is recommended to use a cache.
    Cache: certify.NewMemCache(),
    // It is recommended to set a RenewThreshold.
    // Refresh cached certificates when < 24H left before expiry.
    RenewThreshold: 24*time.Hour,
}

srv := http.Server{
    TLSConfig: &tls.Config{
        GetCertificate: cb.GetCertificate,
    },
}

_ = srv.ListenAndServe()

This sets up the server with automatic certificate issuing and renewal. Certificates use the configured common name, and will have its SAN or IPSAN field set to the IP or DNS that was used to connect to the server. This means, as long as the Vault role is configured to allow a specific IP or DNS, and that IP or DNS is used to connect to a certify configured server, certify will request a certificate for that DNS or IP to be issued, and then stored in the cache for future use.

Mutual TLS with gRPC

The certify tests include an example of using certify for mutual TLS with gRPC.

If you enjoyed this blog post, have any questions or input, don’t hesitate to contact me on @johanbrandhorst or under jbrandhorst on the Gophers Slack. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

No comments yet

Add a comment