Replacing StartSSL

A small service I created for personal use had its SSL certificate expire a few weeks ago. I replaced it using my go-to free certificate provider, StartSSL. Unfortunately, accessing this service from my iPhone still didn’t work afterwards, or rather it did, but the certificate still wasn’t trusted. I was forced to ignore this issue at the time due to other pressing matters and, as the service was just used by me, on my device, I simply set the app to ignore the issue until I had time to diagnose the problem properly.

Today I replaced my e-mail signing certificate, also from StartSSL. This time I knew something was wrong; adding the certificate to Thunderbird and sending a test e-mail to be retrieved by my iPhone, the certificate again wasn’t trusted.

Turns out that silently, unbeknownst to me and I’m sure many others, the following chain of events has occurred

  1. StartCom which runs StartSSL were taken over by WoSign
  2. Due to past issues with WoSign regarding the erroneous issuing of certificates for a domain that they had no authority to issue for, they had their root certificate rights revoked by Apple, Mozilla, Google and others
  3. Since the take over of StartSSL, the aforementioned device/software companies have also ceased to trust the root certificates of StartCom.

This has resulted in my having to spring into action. The silent take-over of a previously trusted organisation by a dubious one located in a political jurisdiction known to be questionable with respect to web security is worrying enough, but with the added pain of being unable to send signed e-mail and issue new certs for my soon to expire domains required to be addressed immediately.

I’ve found that comodo, a trusted certficate authority, will issue free e-mail signing certs so I’ve jumped over to that immediately for e-mail and that is running nicely.

In addition there is “LetsEncrypt”, which, once installed, allows you to generate trusted SSL certificates for your domains using the following command

letsencrypt certonly --manual -d my.domain.com

When running the above it’s important to remember that validation you have control over the domain for which the certificate will be issued requires you to

  • Be running a web server on port 80 on the domain
  • Said port 80 server to be accessible publicly through your firewall
  • For you to place a file to be served on the web root of this server

You can always stop apache (or whatever your web server is) and run up a simple stand-alone python server to do the job, but you won’t be able to get away without changing your firewall rules.

This is a departure from the way I’m used to doing things which used the administrative e-mail address registered to the domain and code sent to this for validating I owned the domain. This was nicer as it meant I didn’t have to play with my config all that much (some servers I run use non-standard ports and don’t have port 80 open by default for example).

Anyhow, from my reading of the documentation about LetsEncrypt, it seems that all major browsers and Apple iOS are trusting certificates signed this way. I’ll update this post if that turns out not to be the case, but I’m optimistic.

Hopefully this post will help to raise awareness and also assist some folk out of a bit of a pickle with their security arrangements.

   

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