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Understanding Online Certificate Status Protocol and Certificate Revocation Lists

 

OCSP is used to check the revocation status of X509 certificates. OCSP provides revocation status on certificates in real time and is useful in time-sensitive situations such as bank transactions and stock trades.

The revocation status of a certificate is checked by sending a request to an OCSP server that resides outside of an SRX Series device. Based on the response from the server, the VPN connection is allowed or denied. OCSP responses are not cached on SRX Series devices.

The OCSP server can be the certificate authority (CA) that issues a certificate or a designated authorized responder. The location of the OCSP server can be configured manually or extracted from the certificate that is being verified. Requests are sent first to OCSP server locations that are manually configured in CA profiles with the ocsp url statement at the [edit security pki ca-profile profile-name revocation-check] hierarchy level; up to two locations can be configured for each CA profile. If the first configured OCSP server is not reachable, the request is sent to the second OCSP server. If the second OCSP server is not reachable, the request is then sent to the location in the certificate's AuthorityInfoAccess extension field. The use-ocsp option must also be configured, as certificate revocation list (CRL) is the default checking method.

SRX Series devices accept only signed OCSP responses from the CA or authorized responder. The response received is validated using trusted certificates. The response is validated as follows:

  1. The CA certificate enrolled for the configured CA profile is used to validate the response.
  2. The OCSP response might contain a certificate to validate the OCSP response. The received certificate must be signed by a CA certificate enrolled in the SRX Series device. After the received certificate is validated by the CA certificate, it is used to validate the OCSP response.

The response from the OCSP server can be signed by different CAs. The following scenarios are supported:

  • The CA server that issues the end entity certificate for a device also signs the OCSP revocation status response. The SRX Series device verifies the OCSP response signature using the CA certificate enrolled in the SRX Series device. After the OCSP response is validated, the certificate revocation status is checked.

  • An authorized responder signs the OCSP revocation status response. The certificate for the authorized responder and the end entity certificate being verified must be issued by the same CA. The authorized responder is first verified using the CA certificate enrolled in the SRX Series device. The OCSP response is validated using the responder’s CA certificate. The SRX Series device then uses the OCSP response to check the revocation status of the end entity certificate.

  • There are different CA signers for the end entity certificate being verified and the OCSP response. The OCSP response is signed by a CA in the certificate chain for the end entity certificate being verified. (All peers participating in an IKE negotiation need to have at least one common trusted CA in their respective certificate chains.) The OCSP responder’s CA is verified using a CA in the certificate chain. After validating the responder CA certificate, the OCSP response is validated using the responder’s CA certificate.

To prevent replay attacks, a nonce payload can be sent in an OCSP request. Nonce payloads are sent by default unless it is explicitly disabled. If enabled, the SRX Series device expects the OCSP response to contain a nonce payload, otherwise the revocation check fails. If OCSP responders are not capable of responding with a nonce payload, then the nonce payload must be disabled on the SRX Series device.

In the normal course of business, certificates are revoked for various reasons. You might wish to revoke a certificate if you suspect that it has been compromised, for example, or when a certificate holder leaves the company.

You can manage certificate revocations and validations in two ways:

  • Locally— This is a limited solution.

  • By referencing a Certificate Authority (CA) certificate revocation list (CRL)— You can automatically access the CRL online at intervals you specify or at the default interval set by the CA.

In Phase 1 negotiations, participants check the CRL list to see if certificates received during an IKE exchange are still valid. If a CRL did not accompany a CA certificate and is not loaded on the device, the device tries to download it automatically from the CRL distribution point of the local certificate. If the device fails to connect to the URL in the certificate distribution point (CDP), it tries to retrieve the CRL from the URL configured in the CA profile.

If the certificate does not contain a certificate distribution point extension, and you cannot automatically retrieve the CRL through Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) or Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP), you can retrieve a CRL manually and load that in the device.

Local certificates are being validated against certificate revocation list (CRL) even when CRL check is disabled. This can be stopped by disabling the CRL check through the Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) configuration. When CRL check is disabled, PKI will not validate local certificate against CRL.

Comparison of Online Certificate Status Protocol and Certificate Revocation List

Online Certificate Status Protocol (OCSP) and certificate revocation list (CRL) can both be used to check the revocation status of a certificate. There are advantages and disadvantages to each method.

  • OCSP provides certificate status in real time, while CRL uses cached data. For time-sensitive applications, OCSP is the preferred approach.

  • CRL checking is faster because lookup for certificate status is done on information cached on the VPN device. OCSP requires time to obtain the revocation status from an external server.

  • CRL requires additional memory to store the revocation list received from a CRL server. OCSP does not require additional memory to save the revocation status of certificates.

  • OCSP requires that the OCSP server be available at all times. CRL can use cached data to check the revocation status of certificates when the server is unreachable.

On MX Series and SRX Series devices, CRL is the default method used to check the revocation status of a certificate.

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