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      How to Retrieve Let’s Encrypt SSL Wildcard Certificates using CloudFlare Validation on CentOS 7


      The author selected Code.org to receive a donation as part of the Write for DOnations program.

      Introduction

      Let’s Encrypt is a certificate authority (CA) that provides free certificates for Transport Layer Security (TLS) encryption. It provides a software client called Certbot which simplifies the process of certificate creation, validation, signing, installation, and renewal.

      Let’s Encrypt now supports wildcard certificates which allow you to secure all subdomains of a domain with a single certificate. This will be useful if you want to host multiple services, such as web interfaces, APIs, and other sites using a single server.

      To obtain a wildcard certificate from Let’s Encrypt you have to use one of Certbot’s DNS plugins, which include:

      • certbot-dns-cloudflare
      • certbot-dns-route53
      • certbot-dns-google
      • certbot-dns-digitalocean

      The plugin you choose depends on which service hosts your DNS records. In this tutorial you will obtain a wildcard certificate for your domain using CloudFlare validation with Certbot on CentOS 7. You’ll then configure the certificate to renew it when it expires.

      Prerequisites

      To complete this tutorial, you’ll need the following:

      Step 1 — Installing Certbot

      The certbot package is not available through CentOS’s package manager by default. You will need to enable the EPEL repository to install Certbot and its plugins.

      To add the CentOS 7 EPEL repository, run the following command:

      • sudo yum install -y epel-release

      Once the installation completes, you can install certbot:

      • sudo yum install -y certbot

      And then install the CloudFlare plugin for Certbot:

      • sudo yum install -y python2-cloudflare python2-certbot-dns-cloudflare

      If you are using another DNS service, you can find the corresponding plugin using the yum search command:

      • yum search python2-certbot-dns

      You’ve prepared your server to obtain certificates. Now you need to get the API key from CloudFlare.

      Step 2 — Getting the CloudFlare API

      In order for Certbot to automatically renew wildcard certificates, you need to provide it with your CloudFlare login and API key.

      Log in to your Cloudflare account and navigate to the Profile page.

      Click the View button in the Global API Key line.

      CloudFlare Profile - API Keys

      For security reasons, you will be asked to re-enter your Cloudflare account password. Enter it and validate the CAPTCHA. Then click the View button again. You’ll see your API key:

      CloudFlare Profile - API Keys

      Copy this key. You will use it in the next step.

      Now return to your server to continue the process of obtaining the certificate.

      Step 3 — Configuring Certbot

      You have all of the necessary information to tell Certbot how to use Cloudflare, but let’s write it to a configuration file so that Сertbot can use it automatically.

      First run the certbot command without any parameters to create the initial configuration file:

      Next create a configuration file in the /etc/letsencrypt directory which will contain your CloudFlare email and API key:

      • sudo vi /etc/letsencrypt/cloudflareapi.cfg

      Add the following into it, replacing the placeholders with your Cloudflare login and API key:

      /etc/letsencrypt/cloudflareapi.cfg

      dns_cloudflare_email = your_cloudflare_login
      dns_cloudflare_api_key = your_cloudflare_api_key
      

      Save the file and exit the editor.
      With Cloudflare's API key, you can do the same things from the command line that you can do from the Cloudflare UI, so in order to protect your account, make the configuration file readable only by its owner so nobody else can obtain your key:

      • sudo chmod 600 /etc/letsencrypt/cloudflareapi.cfg

      With the configuration files in place, let's obtain a certificate.

      Step 4 — Obtaining the Certificate

      To obtain a certificate, we'll use the certbot command and specify the plugin we want, the credentials file we want to use, and the server we should use to handle the request. By default, Certbot uses Let’s Encrypt’s production servers, which use ACME API version 1, but Certbot uses another protocol for obtaining wildcard certificates, so you need to provide an ACME v2 endpoint.

      Run the following command to obtain the wildcard certificate for your domain:

      • sudo certbot certonly --cert-name your_domain --dns-cloudflare --dns-cloudflare-credentials /etc/letsencrypt/cloudflareapi.cfg --server https://acme-v02.api.letsencrypt.org/directory -d "*.your_domain" -d your_domain

      You will be asked to specify the email address that should receive urgent renewal and security notices:

      Output

      ... Plugins selected: Authenticator dns-cloudflare, Installer None Enter email address (used for urgent renewal and security notices) (Enter 'c' to cancel): your email

      Then you'll be asked to agree to the Terms of Service:

      Output

      ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Please read the Terms of Service at https://letsencrypt.org/documents/LE-SA-v1.2-November-15-2017.pdf. You must agree in order to register with the ACME server at https://acme-v02.api.letsencrypt.org/directory ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- (A)gree/(C)ancel: A

      Then you'll be asked to share your email address with the Electronic Frontier
      Foundation:

      Output

      ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Would you be willing to share your email address with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a founding partner of the Let's Encrypt project and the non-profit organization that develops Certbot? We'd like to send you email about EFF and our work to encrypt the web, protect its users and defend digital rights. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- (Y)es/(N)o: N

      Then Certbot will obtain your certificates. You will see the following message:

      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 2018-07-31. 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

      Now you have your wildcard certificate. Let's take a look at what Certbot has downloaded for you. Use the ls command to see the contents of the directory that holds your keys and certificates:

      • sudo ls /etc/letsencrypt/live/your_domain

      Output

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

      The README file contains information about these files:

      $ cat /etc/letsencrypt/live/your_domain/README
      

      You'll see output like this:

      README

      This directory contains your keys and certificates.
      
      `privkey.pem`  : the private key for your certificate.
      `fullchain.pem`: the certificate file used in most server software.
      `chain.pem`    : used for OCSP stapling in Nginx >=1.3.7.
      `cert.pem`     : will break many server configurations, and should not be used
                       without reading further documentation (see link below).
      
      We recommend not moving these files. For more information, see the Certbot
      User Guide at https://certbot.eff.org/docs/using.html#where-are-my-certificates.
      

      From here, you can configure your servers with the wildcard certificate. You'll usually only need two of these files: fullchain.pem and privkey.pem.

      For example, you can configure several web-based services:

      • wwww.example.com
      • api.example.com
      • mail.example.com

      To do this, you will need a web server, such as Apache or Nginx. The installation and configuration of these servers is beyond the scope of this tutorial, but the following guides will walk you through all the necessary steps to configure the servers and apply your certificates.

      For Nginx, take a look at these tutorials:

      For Apache, consult these tutorials:

      Now let's look at renewing the certificates automatically.

      Step 5 — Renewing certificates

      Let’s Encrypt issues short-lived certificates which are valid for 90 days. We'll need to set up a cron task to check for expiring certificates and renew them automatically.

      Let's create a cron task
      which will run the renewal check daily.

      Use the following command to open the crontab file for editing:

      Add the following line to the file to attempt to renew the certificates daily:

      crontab

      30 2 * * * certbot renew --noninteractive
      
      • 30 2 * * * means "run the following command at 2:30 am, every day".
      • The certbot renew command will check all certificates installed on the system and update any that are set to expire in less than thirty days.
      • --noninteractive tells Certbot not to wait for user input.

      You will need to reload your web server after updating your certificates. The renew command includes hooks for running commands or scripts before or after a certificate is renewed. You can also configure these hooks in the renewal configuration file for your domain.

      For example, to reload your Nginx server, open the renewal configuration file:

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

      Then add the following line under the [renewalparams] section:

      your_domain.conf'>/etc/letsencrypt/renewal/your_domain.conf

      renew_hook = systemctl reload nginx
      

      Now Certbot will automatically restart your web server after installing the updated certificate.

      Conclusion

      In this tutorial you've installed the Certbot client, obtained your wildcard certificate using DNS validation and enabled automatic renewals. This will allow you to use a single certificate with multiple subdomains of your domain and secure your web services.



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