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Is it possible to create a CA certificate (even unsigned), which is only allowed to sign certificates for specific limited domain(s), so that it can't be misused for other domains?

  • Do you mean in an enterprise domain environment with multiple domains you have a CA in one domain? And you only want it to be valid in that domain? – NULLZ Feb 23 '13 at 11:26
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    I mean allow the CA certificate to sign for limited amount of domains so it can't be misused for other domains. – Smit Johnth Feb 23 '13 at 13:24
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No.

(I assume you are talking about certificates for SSL servers.)

Technically no. What would be closest to that would be the Name Constraints extension (see section 4.2.1.10 of RFC 5280) (OID 2.5.29.30), which theoretically allows for restricting a complete PKI subtree to an explicit set of domains (and subdomains thereof). The extension supports both whitelist and blacklist semantics (in your case, you would like a whitelist). In practice, however, this fails for two reasons:

  • The Name Constraints extension is mostly unsupported by existing implementations of SSL. They are likely to ignore the extension.

  • When a SSL client connects to a server, it looks for the server name in the server certificate, as specified in RFC 2818, section 3.1. It will look for names of type dNSName in a Subject Alt Name extension, and these names are covered (theoretically) by the Name Constraints. However, if the server certificate lacks a Subject Alt Name extension, clients will fall back on the Common Name (in the subjectDN). The Common Name is not in scope of the Name Constraints. This means that a certificate could evade the name constraints by omitting the Subject Alt Name extension and putting an arbitrary server name in its Common Name.

(This is the whole story of X.509: lots of hooks and provisions for many useful features, which don't work because of lack of support from implementation and lack of coordination between specification bodies.)

  • >The Common Name is not in scope of the Name Constraints< - well, what is it for then? About support: most browsers even doesn't support newest SSL versions. – Smit Johnth Feb 23 '13 at 14:08
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    Common Name is in scope of Name Constraints of type distinguishedName, which do not apply the domain-specific semantics; X.509 was not designed for storing a server name in the Common Name, but the name of a human being. Using the Common Name as a server name is a hack which, alas, we must live with since it is widespread. – Thomas Pornin Feb 23 '13 at 14:11
  • Like you tell, SSL certificates consist of WORKAROUNDS. – Smit Johnth Feb 23 '13 at 14:31
  • Damn! I made it work with successfully testing and then I read your answer (Common Name) – VarunAgw Oct 18 '15 at 14:05
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    Nowadays (2018) many browsers (like Chrome) no longer treat certificates without a "Subject Alt Name" as secure. Does that mean that these Name constraints have become a viable option? – Niels Basjes Apr 22 '18 at 20:05
39

Thomas Pornin's answer is good, but a little outdated. Support for Name Constraints is growing.

I've found that OpenSSL 1.0.1k and Windows 7 support the extension.

Test

Using XCA, I created a self-signed CA certificate, and added a critical Name Constraints extension for .lab.example.com, by adding the following line on the "Advanced" tab during certificate creation:

nameConstraints=critical,permitted;DNS:.lab.example.com

Note: the constraint should not have a leading dot. It's technically incorrect, but support for this is expanding: https://github.com/golang/go/commit/e4dafa32620e80e4e39937d8e2033fb2ee6085f8

Then, I used that CA certificate to sign two other certificates for HTTPS servers:

  • test.lab.example.com - Valid
  • bad.google.com - Clearly invalid

Next, after setting up DNS entries accordingly, I used this modified simple-https-server.py to run an HTTPS server, once with each of the generated certificates:

./simple-https-server --certfile test.lab.example.com.pem --hostname test.lab.example.com

and

./simple-https-server --certfile bad.google.com.pem --hostname bad.google.com

After installing the CA certificate into the OS trust, I then tried to visit each site with several clients.

Results

OpenSSL 1.0.1k seems to support this. curl gave me the following error when I tried to visit bad.google.com:

curl: (60) The Certifying Authority for this certificate is not permitted to issue a certificate with this name.

Chrome on Windows 7 also does the right thing. Chrome gives a fairly generic net::ERR_CERT_INVALID, but Windows certificate viewer is quite explicit:

The certificate has an invalid name. The name is not included in the permitted list or is explicitly excluded.

References


Update 1

I also tried signing a certificate that did not specify a Subject Alternative Name, instead relying on the old common-name only.

OpenSSL / curl still refused to accept the certificate.

Both Chrome and IE11 on Windows refused to accept the certificate on Windows, even though windows itself (when viewing the server certificate) didn't complain about it. To me, that means that the browsers are doing more than simply asking the OS to verify the certificate, which is a good thing.


However, it appears that name constraints are not supported on OSX.


Conclusion

I feel secure in asking others to install my root CA certificate, without putting them at any risk.

  • Which browsers use Windows' SSL library and which their own? – Smit Johnth Jul 21 '16 at 22:51
  • @SmitJohnth Chrome and IE use the Windows SSL library; Firefox uses its own. I don't know about any others. – Jonathon Reinhart Jul 21 '16 at 23:11
  • I can't make this work for me, any advise? serverfault.com/questions/859551/… – user1156544 Jul 6 '17 at 9:25
  • I am not sure the leading dot is technically incorrect. It seems to be accepted in the RFC – user1156544 Feb 5 '18 at 16:38

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