Tag Archives: phpMyAdmin

Securing Access using TLS/SSL Client Certificates

This tutorial will guide you in setting up authentication using TLS/SSL Client Certificates. It is a simple one as it would not delve into details about integration with server-side apps. Instead, it simply gives you instructions on how to set up Client Certificate as means to prevent unwanted parties from accessing your website.

For example, one such scenario where it may come useful, is limiting access to sensitive things on the server, like phpMyAdmin. phpMyAdmin for example handles sensitive data (such as database authentication) and does in plain HTTP, which may pose several security risks. Even if the data would be encrypted, someone with access to the application, might find vulnerabilities in it and exploit the relatively high-privileges it got to compromise the server. The solution to this, is also limit who has access to the application at all. A possible solution, which I’ve used, is to limit access to only to the local machine and using SSH or a VPN Tunnel to access phpMyAdmin. A better solution would be to use TLS/SSL Client Certificates. They operate on the connection level and provide both encryption and authentication. They are easier to setup than VPN tunnels and easier to use.

Note that limiting access based on TLS/SSL Client Certificate can only be done on the sub-domain level, because it happens as part of the connection, before any specific HTTP request can be made.

Most of the tutorial is not HTTP server-specific, however the server configuration part relates to Nginx. As other servers (such as Lighttpd) use a very similar configuration for Client Certificates, adapting the instruction should be straightforward.

Creating a CA

The two commands below will create CA private key and a corresponding self-signed certificate for you to sign the TLS client certificates with.

openssl genpkey -algorithm RSA -pkeyopt rsa_keygen_bits:2048 -aes-128-cbc -out ca.key
openssl req -new -x509 -days 365 -sha256 -key ca.key -out ca.pem

The first command will ask you for a pass phrase for the key. It is used to protect access to the private key. You can decide to not use one by dropping the -aes-128-cbc option from the command.

The second command will ask you to provide some details to be included in the certificate. Those details will be sent to the browser by the web-server to let it know which client certificate to send back when authenticating.

Server Configuration

Upload the ca.pem that was just generated to your server. You should not upload the private key (ca.key).

The following instructions are for Nginx

ssl_client_certificate /path/to/ca.pem;
ssl_verify_client on; # we require client certificates to access

Assuming you already enabled TLS/SSL for the specific sub-domain, your configuration should look something like this:

server {
        server_name subdomain.example.com;

        # SSL configuration
        #
        listen 443 ssl;
        listen [::]:443 ssl;

        ssl_certificate /etc/nginx/example.pem;
        ssl_certificate_key /etc/nginx/example.key;

        ssl_client_certificate /etc/ngingx/ca.pem;
        ssl_verify_client on;

After reloading the server, check that everything is configured correctly by trying to access your site via HTTPS. It should report “400 Bad Request” and say that “No required SSL certificate was sent”.

Creating a Client Certificate

The following commands will create the private key used for the client certificate (client.key) and a corresponding Certificate Signing Request (client.csr) which the owner of the CA certificate can sign (which in the case of this tutorial will be you.

openssl genpkey -algorithm RSA -pkeyopt rsa_keygen_bits:2048 -out client.key
openssl req -new -key client.key -sha256 -out client.csr

You will be asked again to provide some details, this time about you. Those details will be available to server once your browser sends it the client certificate. You can safely leave the “challenge password” empty1.

You can add the flag -aes-128-cbc to the first command if you want the private key for the client certificate to be encrypted. If you opt for it, you will be prompted for a pass phrase just like before.

Signing a Client Certificate

The next step is to sign the certificate signing request from the last step. It is a good practice to overview it and make sure all the details are as expected, so you do not sign anything you would not intend to.

openssl req -in client.csr -text -verify -noout | less

If everything looks just fine, you can sign it with the following command.

openssl x509 -req -days 365 -in client.csr -CA ca.pem -CAkey ca.key \
    -set_serial 0x`openssl rand 16 -hex` -sha256 -out client.pem

You will be prompted for your pass phrase for ca.key if you chose one in the first step.

Installing Client Key

Now comes the final part, where we take the signed client certificate, client.pem and combine it with the private key so in can be installed in our browser.

openssl pkcs12 -export -in client.pem -inkey client.key -name "Sub-domain certificate for some name" -out client.p12

Adjust the -name parameter to your liking. It will be used to identify the certificate in various places such as the browser. If your private key was encrypted, you will be prompted to enter a pass phrase for it. Encrytion for certificates in p12 format is mandatory, so you will be prompted to enter a password for the generated file as well. It is OK to reuse the same password here, as those files are practically equivalent. Once imported to you browser, you would not need the password for normal usage, until you would like to import it to another browser.

GlobalSign provides instruction on how to actually install the p12 client certificate for browsers in Linux and Windows.

References


  1. It is used to “enhance” the security of certificate revocation request, by requiring not only knowledge of the private key, but also the challenge password. Thus, someone who got hold of your private key cannot revoke the certificate by himself. However, this is also the reason why this option is not used more often: When someone steals your private key, usually they will prefer the certificate not to be revoked. 

Securing Access to phpMyAdmin on Lighttpd via SSH

phpMyAdmin lets easily manage your MySQL databases, as such it also presents a security risk. Logging in to phpMyAdmin is done using a username and password for the database. Hence, if someone is able to either eavesdrop or guess by brute-force the username and password could wreak havoc of your server.

A possible solution to the eavesdropping problem, is to use SSL to secure the communication to the phpMyAdmin. However, SSL certificates don’t present any method to stop brute-forcing. To prevent brute-forcing attempts, you could limit access to your IP address. However, most of us don’t have static IPs at home. The solution I came up with, kinds of combines both approaches.

Instead of using SSL to encrypt the data sent, I’m using SSH and instead of limiting access to my IP address, I’ll limit access to the server’s IP address. How will it work? First we start by editing the phpMyAdmin configuration for lighttpd. This usually resides in /etc/lighttpd/conf-enabled/50-phpmyadmin.conf. At the top of the file you’ll find the following lines:

alias.url += (
        "/phpmyadmin" => "/usr/share/phpmyadmin",
)

These lines define the mapping to the phpmyadmin installation, without it the phpMyAdmin wouldn’t be accessible. We use lighttpd’s conditional configuration to limit who is able to use that mapping by changing the above lines to:

$HTTP["remoteip"] == "85.25.120.32" {
        alias.url += (
                "/phpmyadmin" => "/usr/share/phpmyadmin",
        )
}

This limit access to the phpMyAdmin only to clients whose IP is the server’s IP (of course you’ll need to change that IP to your server’s IP). This stops curtails any brute-forcing attempts, as only someone trying to access the phpMyAdmin from the server itself will succeed.

But how can we “impersonate” the server’s IP when we connect from home? The easiest solution would be to use to the SOCKS proxy provided by SSH.

ssh user@server.com -D 1080

This will setup a SOCKS proxy on port 1080 (locally) that will tunnel traffic through your server. The next step is to instruct your browser of OS to use that proxy (in Firefox it can be done via Preferences->Advanced->Network->Connection Settings, it can also be defined globally via Network Settings->Network Proxy under Gnome). This achieves both of our goals. We are now able to connect to the server while using its own IP and our connection to the server is encrypted using SSH.

This method can be used to secure all kinds of sensitive applications. We could have achieved the same thing by using a VPN, but it’s more hassle to setup compared to SSH which is available on any server.

phpMyAdmin + Lighttpd in Gentoo

Usually installing software in Gentoo is a piece of cake. Just emerge what you want and (with the right USE flags) and everything will be ready for you. However, as today I’ve found out today, installing phpMyAdmin with Lighttpd isn’t trivial as it should be.

In this post I’ll try to walk you through the necessary steps to install phpMyAdmin with Lighttpd in Gentoo.
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