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      How To Secure Apache with Let’s Encrypt on Debian 10


      Introduction

      Let’s Encrypt is a Certificate Authority (CA) that provides an easy way to obtain and install free TLS/SSL certificates, thereby enabling encrypted HTTPS on web servers. It simplifies the process by providing a software client, Certbot, that attempts to automate most (if not all) of the required steps. Currently, the entire process of obtaining and installing a certificate is fully automated on both Apache and Nginx.

      In this tutorial, you will use Certbot to obtain a free SSL certificate for Apache on Debian 10 and set up your certificate to renew automatically.

      This tutorial will use a separate Apache virtual host file instead of the default configuration file. We recommend creating new Apache virtual host files for each domain because it helps to avoid common mistakes and maintains the default files as a fallback configuration.

      Prerequisites

      To follow this tutorial, you will need:

      • One Debian 10 server set up by following this initial server setup for Debian 10 tutorial, including a non-root user with sudo privileges and a firewall.

      • A fully registered domain name. This tutorial will use your_domain as an example throughout. You can purchase a domain name on Namecheap, get one for free on Freenom, or use the domain registrar of your choice.

      • Both of the following DNS records set up for your server. To set these up, you can follow these instructions for adding domains and then these instructions for creating DNS records.

        • An A record with your_domain pointing to your server’s public IP address.
        • An A record with www.your_domain pointing to your server’s public IP address.
      • Apache installed by following How To Install Apache on Debian 10. Be sure that you have a virtual host file set up for your domain. This tutorial will use /etc/apache2/sites-available/your_domain.conf as an example.

      Step 1 — Installing Certbot

      The first step to using Let’s Encrypt to obtain an SSL certificate is to install the Certbot software on your server.

      As of this writing, Certbot is not available from the Debian software repositories by default. In order to download the software using apt, you will need to add the backports repository to your sources.list file where apt looks for package sources. Backports are packages from Debian’s testing and unstable distributions that are recompiled so they will run without new libraries on stable Debian distributions.

      To add the backports repository, open (or create) the sources.list file in your /etc/apt/ directory:

      • sudo nano /etc/apt/sources.list

      At the bottom of the file, add the following line:

      /etc/apt/sources.list.d/sources.list

      . . .
      deb http://mirrors.digitalocean.com/debian buster-backports main
      deb-src http://mirrors.digitalocean.com/debian buster-backports main
      deb http://ftp.debian.org/debian buster-backports main
      

      This includes the main packages, which are Debian Free Software Guidelines (DFSG)-compliant, as well as the non-free and contrib components, which are either not DFSG-compliant themselves or include dependencies in this category.

      Save and close the file by pressing CTRL+X, Y, then ENTER, then update your package lists:

      Then install Certbot with the following command. Note that the -t option tells apt to search for the package by looking in the backports repository you just added:

      • sudo apt install python-certbot-apache -t buster-backports

      Certbot is now ready to use, but in order for it to configure SSL for Apache, we need to verify that Apache has been configured correctly.

      Step 2 — Setting Up the SSL Certificate

      Certbot needs to be able to find the correct virtual host in your Apache configuration for it to automatically configure SSL. Specifically, it does this by looking for a ServerName directive that matches the domain you request a certificate for.

      If you followed the virtual host setup step in the Apache installation tutorial, you should have a VirtualHost block for your domain at /etc/apache2/sites-available/your_domain.conf with the ServerName directive already set appropriately.

      To check, open the virtual host file for your domain using nano or your favorite text editor:

      • sudo nano /etc/apache2/sites-available/your_domain.conf

      Find the existing ServerName line. It should look like this, with your own domain name instead of your_domain:

      /etc/apache2/sites-available/your_domain.conf

      ...
      ServerName your_domain;
      ...
      

      If it doesn’t already, update the ServerName directive to point to your domain name. Then save the file, quit your editor, and verify the syntax of your configuration edits:

      • sudo apache2ctl configtest

      If there aren't any syntax errors, you will see this in your output:

      Output

      Syntax OK

      If you get an error, reopen the virtual host file and check for any typos or missing characters. Once your configuration file's syntax is correct, reload Apache to load the new configuration:

      • sudo systemctl reload apache2

      Certbot can now find the correct VirtualHost block and update it.

      Next, let's update the firewall to allow HTTPS traffic.

      Step 3 — Allowing HTTPS Through the Firewall

      If you have the ufw firewall enabled, as recommended by the prerequisite guides, you'll need to adjust the settings to allow for HTTPS traffic. Luckily, when installed on Debian, ufw comes packaged with a few profiles that help to simplify the process of changing firewall rules for HTTP and HTTPS traffic.

      You can see the current setting by typing:

      If you followed the Step 2 of our guide on How to Install Apache on Debian 10, the output of this command will look like this, showing that only HTTP traffic is allowed to the web server:

      Output

      Status: active To Action From -- ------ ---- OpenSSH ALLOW Anywhere WWW ALLOW Anywhere OpenSSH (v6) ALLOW Anywhere (v6) WWW (v6) ALLOW Anywhere (v6)

      To additionally let in HTTPS traffic, allow the “WWW Full” profile and delete the redundant “WWW” profile allowance:

      • sudo ufw allow 'WWW Full'
      • sudo ufw delete allow 'WWW'

      Your status should now look like this:

      Output

      Status: active To Action From -- ------ ---- OpenSSH ALLOW Anywhere WWW Full ALLOW Anywhere OpenSSH (v6) ALLOW Anywhere (v6) WWW Full (v6) ALLOW Anywhere (v6)

      Next, let's run Certbot and fetch our certificates.

      Step 4 — Obtaining an SSL Certificate

      Certbot provides a variety of ways to obtain SSL certificates through plugins. The Apache plugin will take care of reconfiguring Apache and reloading the config whenever necessary. To use this plugin, type the following:

      • sudo certbot --apache -d your_domain -d www.your_domain

      This runs certbot with the --apache plugin, using -d to specify the names for which you'd like the certificate to be valid.

      If this is your first time running certbot, you will be prompted to enter an email address and agree to the terms of service. Additionally, it will ask if you're willing to share your email address with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit organization that advocates for digital rights and is also the maker of Certbot. Feel free to enter Y to share your email address or N to decline.

      After doing so, certbot will communicate with the Let's Encrypt server, then run a challenge to verify that you control the domain you're requesting a certificate for.

      If that's successful, certbot will ask how you'd like to configure your HTTPS settings:

      Output

      Please choose whether or not to redirect HTTP traffic to HTTPS, removing HTTP access. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 1: No redirect - Make no further changes to the webserver configuration. 2: Redirect - Make all requests redirect to secure HTTPS access. Choose this for new sites, or if you're confident your site works on HTTPS. You can undo this change by editing your web server's configuration. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Select the appropriate number [1-2] then [enter] (press 'c' to cancel):

      Select your choice then hit ENTER. The configuration will be updated automatically, and Apache will reload to pick up the new settings. certbot will wrap up with a message telling you the process was successful and where your certificates are stored:

      Output

      IMPORTANT NOTES: - Congratulations! Your certificate and chain have been saved at: /etc/letsencrypt/live/your_domain/fullchain.pem Your key file has been saved at: /etc/letsencrypt/live/your_domain/privkey.pem Your cert will expire on 2019-10-20. To obtain a new or tweaked version of this certificate in the future, simply run certbot again with the "certonly" option. To non-interactively renew *all* of your certificates, run "certbot renew" - Your account credentials have been saved in your Certbot configuration directory at /etc/letsencrypt. You should make a secure backup of this folder now. This configuration directory will also contain certificates and private keys obtained by Certbot so making regular backups of this folder is ideal. - If you like Certbot, please consider supporting our work by: Donating to ISRG / Let's Encrypt: https://letsencrypt.org/donate Donating to EFF: https://eff.org/donate-le

      Your certificates are downloaded, installed, and loaded. Try reloading your website using https:// and notice your browser's security indicator. It should indicate that the site is properly secured, usually with a green lock icon. If you test your server using the SSL Labs Server Test, it will get an A grade.

      Let's finish by testing the renewal process.

      Step 5 — Verifying Certbot Auto-Renewal

      Let's Encrypt certificates are only valid for ninety days. This is to encourage users to automate their certificate renewal process. The certbot package we installed takes care of this for us by adding a renew script to /etc/cron.d. This script runs twice a day and will automatically renew any certificate that's within thirty days of expiration.

      To test the renewal process, you can do a dry run with certbot:

      • sudo certbot renew --dry-run

      If you see no errors, you're all set. When necessary, Certbot will renew your certificates and reload Apache to pick up the changes. If the automated renewal process ever fails, Let’s Encrypt will send a message to the email you specified, warning you when your certificate is about to expire.

      Conclusion

      In this tutorial, you installed the Let's Encrypt client certbot, downloaded SSL certificates for your domain, configured Apache to use these certificates, and set up automatic certificate renewal. If you have further questions about using Certbot, their documentation is a good place to start.



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      How To Use Certbot Standalone Mode to Retrieve Let’s Encrypt SSL Certificates on Debian 10


      Introduction

      Let’s Encrypt is a service that offers free SSL certificates through an automated API. The most popular Let’s Encrypt client is EFF’s Certbot client.

      Certbot offers a variety of ways to validate your domain, fetch certificates, and automatically configure Apache and Nginx. In this tutorial, we’ll discuss Certbot’s standalone mode and how to use it to secure other types of services, such as a mail server or a message broker like RabbitMQ.

      We won’t discuss the details of SSL configuration, but when you are done you will have a valid certificate that is automatically renewed. Additionally, you will be able to automate reloading your service to pick up the renewed certificate.

      Prerequisites

      Before starting this tutorial, you will need:

      • A Debian 10 server, a non-root user with sudo privileges, and a basic firewall, as detailed in this Debian 10 server setup tutorial.
      • A domain name pointed at your server, which you can accomplish by following this documentation on creating DNS records on DigitalOcean.
      • Port 80 or 443 must be unused on your server. If the service you’re trying to secure is on a machine with a web server that occupies both of those ports, you’ll need to use a different mode such as Certbot’s webroot mode or DNS-based challenge mode.

      Step 1 — Installing Certbot

      Debian 10 includes the Certbot client in their default repository, and it should be up-to-date enough for basic use. If you need to do DNS-based challenges or use other newer Certbot features, you should instead install from the buster-backports repo as instructed by the official Certbot documentation.

      Update your package list:

      Use apt to install the certbot package:

      You can test your installation by asking certbot to output its version number:

      Output

      certbot 0.31.0

      Now that we have Certbot installed, let's run it to get our certificate.

      Step 2 — Running Certbot

      Certbot needs to answer a cryptographic challenge issued by the Let's Encrypt API in order to prove we control our domain. It uses ports 80 (HTTP) or 443 (HTTPS) to accomplish this. Open up the appropriate port in your firewall:

      Substitute 443 above if that's the port you're using. ufw will output confirmation that your rule was added:

      Output

      Rule added Rule added (v6)

      We can now run Certbot to get our certificate. We'll use the --standalone option to tell Certbot to handle the challenge using its own built-in web server. The --preferred-challenges option instructs Certbot to use port 80 or port 443. If you're using port 80, you will use the --preferred-challenges http option. For port 443, use --preferred-challenges tls-sni. Finally, we'll use the -d flag to specify the domain we're requesting a certificate for. You can add multiple -d options to cover multiple domains in one certificate.

      We will use the --preferred-challenges http option to demonstrate, but you should use the option that makes sense for your use case. Run the following command with your preferred options to get your certificate:

      • sudo certbot certonly --standalone --preferred-challenges http -d your_domain

      When running the command, you will be prompted to enter an email address and agree to the terms of service. After doing so, you should see a message telling you the process was successful and where your certificates are stored:

      Output

      IMPORTANT NOTES: - Congratulations! Your certificate and chain have been saved at: /etc/letsencrypt/live/your_domain/fullchain.pem Your key file has been saved at: /etc/letsencrypt/live/your_domain/privkey.pem Your cert will expire on 2019-08-28. To obtain a new or tweaked version of this certificate in the future, simply run certbot again. To non-interactively renew *all* of your certificates, run "certbot renew" - Your account credentials have been saved in your Certbot configuration directory at /etc/letsencrypt. You should make a secure backup of this folder now. This configuration directory will also contain certificates and private keys obtained by Certbot so making regular backups of this folder is ideal. - If you like Certbot, please consider supporting our work by: Donating to ISRG / Let's Encrypt: https://letsencrypt.org/donate Donating to EFF: https://eff.org/donate-le

      We've got our certificates. Let's take a look at what we downloaded and how to use the files with our software.

      Step 3 — Configuring Your Application

      Configuring your application for SSL is beyond the scope of this article, as each application has different requirements and configuration options, but let's take a look at what Certbot has downloaded for us. Use ls to list out the directory that holds your keys and certificates:

      • sudo ls /etc/letsencrypt/live/your_domain

      You will see the following output:

      Output

      cert.pem chain.pem fullchain.pem privkey.pem README

      The README file in this directory has more information about each of these files. Most often you'll only need two of these files:

      • privkey.pem: This is the private key for the certificate. This needs to be kept safe and secret, which is why most of the /etc/letsencrypt directory has very restrictive permissions and is accessible by only the root user. Most software configuration will refer to this as ssl-certificate-key or ssl-certificate-key-file.
      • fullchain.pem: This is our certificate, bundled with all intermediate certificates. Most software will use this file for the actual certificate, and will refer to it in their configuration with a name like ssl-certificate.

      For more information on the other files present, refer to the Where are my certificates? section of the Certbot docs.

      Some software will need its certificates in other formats or locations, or with other user permissions. It is best to leave everything in the letsencrypt directory, and not change any permissions there (permissions will just be overwritten upon renewal anyway), but sometimes that's not an option. In that case, you'll need to write a script to move files and change permissions as needed. This script will need to be run whenever Certbot renews the certificates, which we'll talk about next.

      Step 4 — Handling Certbot Automatic Renewals

      Let's Encrypt certificates are only valid for ninety days. This is to encourage users to automate the certificate renewal process. The certbot package we installed takes care of this for us by adding a renew script to /etc/cron.d. This script runs twice a day and will renew any certificate that's within thirty days of expiring.

      With our certificates renewing automatically, we still need a way to run other tasks after a renewal. We need to at least restart or reload our server to pick up the new certificates, and as mentioned in Step 3 we may need to manipulate the certificate files in some way to make them work with the software we're using. This is the purpose of Certbot's renew_hook option.

      To add a renew_hook, we need to update Certbot's renewal config file. Certbot remembers all the details of how you first fetched the certificate, and will run with the same options upon renewal. We just need to add in our hook. Open the config file with your favorite editor:

      • sudo nano /etc/letsencrypt/renewal/your_domain.conf

      A text file will open with some configuration options. Add your hook on the last line. In this case, we're using an example that would reload a rabbitmq service:

      /etc/letsencrypt/renewal/your_domain.conf

      renew_hook = systemctl reload rabbitmq
      

      Update the command above to whatever you need to run to reload your server or run your custom file munging script. On Debian, you’ll usually use systemctl to reload a service.

      Save and close the file, then run a Certbot dry run to make sure the syntax is ok:

      • sudo certbot renew --dry-run

      If you see no errors, you're all set. Certbot is set to renew when necessary and run any commands needed to get your service using the new files.

      Conclusion

      In this tutorial, we've installed the Certbot Let's Encrypt client, downloaded an SSL certificate using standalone mode, and enabled automatic renewals with renew hooks. This should give you a good start on using Let's Encrypt certificates with services other than your typical web server.

      For more information, please refer to Certbot's documentation.



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      How To Secure Nginx with Let’s Encrypt on Debian 10


      Introduction

      Let’s Encrypt is a Certificate Authority (CA) that provides a straightforward way to obtain and install free TLS/SSL certificates, enabling encrypted HTTPS on web servers. It simplifies the process by providing a software client, Certbot, that attempts to automate most (if not all) of the required steps. Currently, the entire process of obtaining and installing a certificate is fully automated on both Apache and Nginx.

      In this tutorial, you will use Certbot to obtain a free SSL certificate for Nginx on Debian 10 and set up your certificate to renew automatically.

      This tutorial will use a separate Nginx server block file instead of the default file. We recommend creating new Nginx server block files for each domain because it helps to avoid common mistakes and maintains the default files as a fallback configuration.

      Prerequisites

      To follow this tutorial, you will need:

      • One Debian 10 server, set up by following this initial server setup for Debian 10 tutorial, along with a sudo non-root user and a firewall.
      • A fully registered domain name. You can purchase a domain name on Namecheap, get one for free on Freenom, or use the domain registrar of your choice.
      • Both of the following DNS records set up for your server. You can follow this introduction to DigitalOcean DNS for details on how to add them.

        • An A record with your_domain pointing to your server’s public IP address.
        • An A record with www.your_domain pointing to your server’s public IP address.
      • Nginx installed by following How To Install Nginx on Debian 10. Be sure that you have a server block for your domain. This tutorial will use /etc/nginx/sites-available/your_domain as an example.

      Step 1 — Installing Certbot

      The first step to using Let’s Encrypt to obtain an SSL certificate is to install the Certbot software on your server.

      Installing the python3-certbot-nginx package from the Debian repositories will allow us to install and use Cerbot’s nginx plugin. Working with Python 3 and the python3-certbot-nginx package increases the longevity of our setup: Python 2 will be deprecated by January 2020, so our setup ensures compatibility with Python 3. Debian 10 currently supports both Python 2 and Python 3.

      Before installing the python3-certbot-nginx package, update your package list:

      Next, install the dependencies for the python3-certbot-nginx package, which include the python3-acme, python3-certbot, python3-mock, python3-openssl, python3-pkg-resources, python3-pyparsing, and python3-zope.interface packages:

      • sudo apt install python3-acme python3-certbot python3-mock python3-openssl python3-pkg-resources python3-pyparsing python3-zope.interface

      Finally, install the python3-certbot-nginx package:

      • sudo apt install python3-certbot-nginx

      Certbot is now ready to use, but in order for it to configure SSL for Nginx, we need to verify some of Nginx's configuration.

      Step 2 — Confirming Nginx's Configuration

      Certbot needs to be able to find the correct server block in your Nginx configuration for it to be able to automatically configure SSL. Specifically, it does this by looking for a server_name directive that matches your requested domain.

      If you followed the server block setup step in the Nginx installation tutorial, you should have a server block for your domain at /etc/nginx/sites-available/your_domain with the server_name directive already set appropriately.

      To check, open the server block file for your domain using nano or your favorite text editor:

      • sudo nano /etc/nginx/sites-available/your_domain

      Find the existing server_name line. It should look like this:

      /etc/nginx/sites-available/your_domain

      ...
      server_name your_domain www.your_domain;
      ...
      

      If it does, exit your editor and move on to the next step.

      If it doesn't, update it to match. Then save the file, quit your editor, and verify the syntax of your configuration edits:

      If you get an error, reopen the server block file and check for any typos or missing characters. Once your configuration file syntax is correct, reload Nginx to load the new configuration:

      • sudo systemctl reload nginx

      Certbot can now find the correct server block and update it.

      Next, let's update the firewall to allow HTTPS traffic.

      Step 3 — Allowing HTTPS Through the Firewall

      If you have the ufw firewall enabled, as recommended in the prerequisite guides, you'll need to adjust the settings to allow for HTTPS traffic.

      You can see the current setting by typing:

      It will probably look like this, meaning that only HTTP traffic is allowed to the web server:

      Output

      Status: active To Action From -- ------ ---- OpenSSH ALLOW Anywhere Nginx HTTP ALLOW Anywhere OpenSSH (v6) ALLOW Anywhere (v6) Nginx HTTP (v6) ALLOW Anywhere (v6)

      To let in HTTPS traffic, allow the Nginx Full profile and delete the redundant Nginx HTTP profile allowance:

      • sudo ufw allow 'Nginx Full'
      • sudo ufw delete allow 'Nginx HTTP'

      Your status should now look like this:

      Output

      Status: active To Action From -- ------ ---- OpenSSH ALLOW Anywhere Nginx Full ALLOW Anywhere OpenSSH (v6) ALLOW Anywhere (v6) Nginx Full (v6) ALLOW Anywhere (v6)

      Next, let's run Certbot and fetch our certificates.

      Step 4 — Obtaining an SSL Certificate

      Certbot provides a variety of ways to obtain SSL certificates through plugins. The Nginx plugin will take care of reconfiguring Nginx and reloading the config whenever necessary. To use this plugin, type the following:

      • sudo certbot --nginx -d your_domain -d www.your_domain

      This runs certbot with the --nginx plugin, using -d to specify the names we'd like the certificate to be valid for.

      If this is your first time running certbot, you will be prompted to enter an email address and agree to the terms of service. After doing so, certbot will communicate with the Let's Encrypt server, then run a challenge to verify that you control the domain you're requesting a certificate for.

      If that's successful, certbot will ask how you'd like to configure your HTTPS settings.

      Output

      Please choose whether or not to redirect HTTP traffic to HTTPS, removing HTTP access. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 1: No redirect - Make no further changes to the webserver configuration. 2: Redirect - Make all requests redirect to secure HTTPS access. Choose this for new sites, or if you're confident your site works on HTTPS. You can undo this change by editing your web server's configuration. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Select the appropriate number [1-2] then [enter] (press 'c' to cancel):

      Select your choice then hit ENTER. The configuration will be updated, and Nginx will reload to pick up the new settings. certbot will wrap up with a message telling you the process was successful and where your certificates are stored:

      Output

      IMPORTANT NOTES: - Congratulations! Your certificate and chain have been saved at: /etc/letsencrypt/live/your_domain/fullchain.pem Your key file has been saved at: /etc/letsencrypt/live/your_domain/privkey.pem Your cert will expire on 2019-10-08. To obtain a new or tweaked version of this certificate in the future, simply run certbot again with the "certonly" option. To non-interactively renew *all* of your certificates, run "certbot renew" - Your account credentials have been saved in your Certbot configuration directory at /etc/letsencrypt. You should make a secure backup of this folder now. This configuration directory will also contain certificates and private keys obtained by Certbot so making regular backups of this folder is ideal. - If you like Certbot, please consider supporting our work by: Donating to ISRG / Let's Encrypt: https://letsencrypt.org/donate Donating to EFF: https://eff.org/donate-le

      Your certificates are downloaded, installed, and loaded. Try reloading your website using https:// and notice your browser's security indicator. It should indicate that the site is properly secured, usually with a green lock icon. If you test your server using the SSL Labs Server Test, it will get an A grade.

      Let's finish by testing the renewal process.

      Step 5 — Verifying Certbot Auto-Renewal

      Let's Encrypt's certificates are only valid for ninety days. This is to encourage users to automate their certificate renewal process. The certbot package we installed takes care of this for us by adding a renew script to /etc/cron.d. This script runs twice a day and will automatically renew any certificate that's within thirty days of expiration.

      To test the renewal process, you can do a dry run with certbot:

      • sudo certbot renew --dry-run

      If you see no errors, you're all set. When necessary, Certbot will renew your certificates and reload Nginx to pick up the changes. If the automated renewal process ever fails, Let’s Encrypt will send a message to the email you specified, warning you when your certificate is about to expire.

      Conclusion

      In this tutorial, you installed the Let's Encrypt client certbot, downloaded SSL certificates for your domain, configured Nginx to use these certificates, and set up automatic certificate renewal. If you have further questions about using Certbot, their documentation is a good place to start.



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