Deploying forward secrecy on RedHat, Centos or Fedora based systems

If you want to deploy perfect forward secrecy and you use a RedHat, Centos or Fedora based system you likely won’t be able to do so without building your own OpenSSL. This is because by default the OpenSSL packages for these systems do not include ECC or ECDH and when web-servers like apache and Nginx are built against libraries that do not support them they obviously omit support for the algorithms.

Hopefully these distributions and the community repositories that support them will start including support for these algorithms by default soon but in the meantime you can add support by building your own.

You can check if your OpenSSL supports these algorithms easily enough, just run this command:

> openssl ciphers

If you see ciphers like “ECDHE-RSA-AES256-GCM-SHA384″ then you have a version of OpenSSL that was built with ECC and ECDHE support enabled which is required if you want forward secrecy today. If you don’t see such a suite don’t worry, just check out this blog post and it will step you through how to build a new OpenSSL.

Unfortunately building a software package on each Linux distribution is slightly different, I will share what worked for me on Centos 6.3.

1. We don’t want to break your current Nginx deployment so lets start by finding out what options your Nginx was built with, you do this with the following command:

> nginx -V

This will return something like this:

nginx version: nginx/1.5.1

built by gcc 4.4.7 20120313 (Red Hat 4.4.7-3) (GCC)

TLS SNI support enabled

configure arguments: --prefix=/etc/nginx --sbin-path=/usr/sbin/nginx --conf-path=/etc/nginx/nginx.conf --error-log-path=/var/log/nginx/error.log --http-log-path=/var/log/nginx/access.log --pid-path=/var/run/ --lock-path=/var/run/nginx.lock --http-client-body-temp-path=/var/cache/nginx/client_temp --http-proxy-temp-path=/var/cache/nginx/proxy_temp --http-fastcgi-temp-path=/var/cache/nginx/fastcgi_temp --http-uwsgi-temp-path=/var/cache/nginx/uwsgi_temp --http-scgi-temp-path=/var/cache/nginx/scgi_temp --user=nginx --group=nginx --with-http_ssl_module --with-http_realip_module --with-http_addition_module --with-http_sub_module --with-http_dav_module --with-http_flv_module --with-http_mp4_module --with-http_gunzip_module --with-http_gzip_static_module --with-http_random_index_module --with-http_secure_link_module --with-http_stub_status_module --with-mail --with-mail_ssl_module --with-file-aio --with-ipv6 --with-cc-opt='-O2 -g -pipe -Wp,-D_FORTIFY_SOURCE=2 -fexceptions -fstack-protector --param=ssp-buffer-size=4 -m64 -mtune=generic'

To ensure we don’t omit something your using we will use the same options when we build our Nginx.


2. Next let’s make a backup of everything you have in your current Nginx installation just in case something doesn’t go right:

root> cp /usr/sbin/nginx /usr/sbin/nginx.orig

root> cp -r /etc/nginx /etc/nginx.orig

3. Now let’s make sure we get our dependencies installed, download our source and extract it so we can do our build.

root> cd /tmp

root> yum install pcre

root> yum install pcre-devel

root> yum install zlib

root> yum install zlib-devel

root> wget

root> tar -xvzf nginx-1.5.1.tar.gz

root> cd nginx-1.5.1

4. Then we need to configure our build. Lets start by taking the options you saw when you ran “nginx -V” and add the following to the end of them:

opt='-L/usr/local/ssl/lib' --with-cc-opt='-I/usr/local/ssl/include'

This is where your OpenSSL libraries and headers should be, just append the combined set of parameters to the “./configure” command, this will look like this:

root> ./configure --prefix=/etc/nginx --sbin-path=/usr/sbin/nginx --conf-path=/etc/nginx/nginx.conf --error-log-path=/var/log/nginx/error.log --http-log-path=/var/log/nginx/access.log --pid-path=/var/run/ --lock-path=/var/run/nginx.lock --http-client-body-temp-path=/var/cache/nginx/client_temp --http-proxy-temp-path=/var/cache/nginx/proxy_temp --http-fastcgi-temp-path=/var/cache/nginx/fastcgi_temp --http-uwsgi-temp-path=/var/cache/nginx/uwsgi_temp --http-scgi-temp-path=/var/cache/nginx/scgi_temp --user=nginx --group=nginx --with-http_ssl_module --with-http_realip_module --with-http_addition_module --with-http_sub_module --with-http_dav_module --with-http_flv_module --with-http_mp4_module --with-http_gunzip_module --with-http_gzip_static_module --with-http_random_index_module --with-http_secure_link_module --with-http_stub_status_module --with-mail --with-mail_ssl_module --with-file-aio --with-ipv6 --with-cc-opt='-O2 -g -pipe -Wp,-D_FORTIFY_SOURCE=2 -fexceptions -fstack-protector --param=ssp-buffer-size=4 -m64 -mtune=generic' --with-ld-opt='-L/usr/local/ssl/lib' --with-cc-opt='-I/usr/local/ssl/include'

5. Make and install your Nginx

root> make
root> make install

6. Restart Nginx

services nginx restart

Now if you are using the SSL configuration I recommend here you already have set your server to prefer the commonly supported forward secret algorithms and if you visit you will see these ECDH based algorithms at the top of the list of negotiated suites.


For more information see:

1. How to botch TLS forward secrecy, AGL
Getting the Most Out of SSL Part 1: Choose the Right Certificate, CA Security
3. SSL Configuration Checker, X509 Labs
4. High Performance Browser Networking, Ilya Grigorik
5. Bulletproof SSL/TLS and PKI, Ivan Ristic

10 thoughts on “Deploying forward secrecy on RedHat, Centos or Fedora based systems

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  6. RHEL/CentOS 6.5 now supplies OpenSSL 1.0.1e (with security updates).

    Looking at the ciphers list, it now supports ECDHE-RSA-AES256-GCM-SHA384, so manually maintaining your own OpenSSL compilation is unnecessary.

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