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Certification Authority Trust Model

The Windows 2000 public key infrastructure supports a hierarchical CA trust model and CTLs. To control what certificates are trusted in the enterprise, you can deploy Windows 2000 Certificate Services to create CA trust hierarchies and you can create CTLs.

Certification Authority Hierarchies

The Windows 2000 public key infrastructure supports a hierarchical CA trust model, called the certification hierarchy, to provide scalability, ease of administration, and compatibility with a growing number of commercial third-party CA services and public key-aware products. In its simplest form, a certification hierarchy consists of a single CA. However, the hierarchy usually contains multiple CAs that have clearly defined parent-child relationships. Figure 16.5 shows some possible CA hierarchies.

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Figure 16.5 Certification Hierarchies

You can deploy multiple CA hierarchies to meet your needs. The CA at the top of the hierarchy is called a root CA . Root CAs are self-certified by using a self-signed CA certificate. Root CAs are the most trusted CAs in the organization and it is recommended that they have the highest security of all. There is no requirement that all CAs in an enterprise share a common top-level CA parent or root. Although trust for CAs depends on each domain's CA trust policy, each CA in the hierarchy can be in a different domain.

Child CAs are called subordinate CAs . Subordinate CAs are certified by the parent CAs. A parent CA certifies the subordinate CA by issuing and signing the subordinate CA certificate. A subordinate CA can be either an intermediate or an issuing CA. An intermediate CA issues certificates only to subordinate CAs. An issuing CA issues certificates to users, computers, or services.

There is no restriction with regard to how deep the certification hierarchy can be. However, for many organizations, a three-level certification hierarchy (root CA, intermediate CA, and issuing CA) meets most needs.

Certification Path

A certification hierarchy forms a trust chain, called the certification path , from the certificate back to the root CA. Figure 16.6 illustrates a certification path for a four-level path that corresponds to the three-level CA hierarchy in Figure 16.5.

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Figure 16.6 Trusted Certification Path

In the example, an EFS Recovery Agent certificate that was issued by Issuing CA - D has a certification path to Root CA 2 at the top of the path. The EFS Recovery Agent certificate is trusted because the certificate for Root CA 2 is contained in the Trusted Root Certification Authorities store.

The certification path links each certificate in the chain back to the root CA. Certificates that have a valid certification path to a root certificate that is in the Trusted Root Certification Authorities store are trusted for all purposes listed in the certificate. If the root CA's certificate for a certification path is not in the Trusted Root Certification Authorities store, the certification path is not trusted until the certificate of the root CA is added to the Trusted Root Certification Authorities store.

Before it trusts a certificate, Microsoft CryptoAPI validates the certification path from the certificate to the certificate of the root CA by checking each certificate in the path. Each certificate contains information about the parent CA that issued the certificate. CryptoAPI retrieves the certificate of each parent CA in the path from either the Intermediate Certification Authorities store or the Trusted Root Certification Authorities stores (if the certificates are present in the stores), or from an online location (such as an HTTP or LDAP address) that is specified in the certificate. If CryptoAPI discovers a problem with one of the certificates in the path, or if it cannot find a certificate, it does not trust the certification path.

When CryptoAPI retrieves a subordinate CA certificate for certificate path validation and the certificate is not located in the Intermediate Certification Authorities store, the API stores the certificate in the Intermediate Certification Authorities store for future reference. However, for computers that operate offline, such as portable computers that are used by mobile users, you might have to import subordinate CA certificates into the Intermediate Certification Authorities store to ensure that nonroot CA certificates are available to validate certification paths.

Figure 16.7 shows an example of a nontrusted certification path where the root certificate is not in the Trusted Root Certification Authorities store.

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Figure 16.7 Nontrusted Certification Path

By default, certificates that are issued by trusted CAs are trusted for all of the intended purposes that are listed in the certificate. You can use the Certificate Details dialog box to restrict the purposes for which local certificates can be used. You can also use CTLs to establish trust for certificates and restrict the purposes for which certificates are trusted.

Certificate Trust Lists

You can use the Certificate Trust List wizard that is available from the Public Key Policy section of the Group Policy console (an MMC snap-in) to create CTLs. By using CTLs, you can choose to trust certificates that have certification paths to root CAs that are listed in the CTL. You can create CTLs for computers and users. CTLs for computers apply to all computers, users, and services within the scope of the Group Policy. However, CTLs for users apply only to users within the scope of the Group Policy. Figure 16.8 shows an example of a certification path with a CTL.

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Figure 16.8 Trusted Certification Path with a CTL

In the example, the certification path from EFS Recovery Agent to Root CA 2 is identical to the certification path shown in Figure 16.6, but the certificate for Root CA 2 is not in the Trusted Root Certification Authorities store. The certification path also includes the CTL, the trust list signing certificate ("CTL Signing" in the example), and the root CA certificate that issued the signing certificate ("Root Issuing CA" in the example). The EFS Recovery Agent certificate is trusted because the certificate for Root Issuing CA (which issued the CTL Signing certificate) is contained in the Trusted Root Certification Authorities store.

A CTL must be signed by an administrator who has a valid certificate for trust list signing, such as the Administrator and Trust List Signing certificates that can be issued by enterprise CAs. By default, CTLs are valid until the trust list signing certificate expires and the CTL becomes invalid. However, to limit the time that certificates are trusted, you have the option of specifying a shorter lifetime for the CTL.

By default, members of the Domain Admins and Enterprise Admins security groups are granted permissions to enroll for Administrator and Trust List Signing certificates. To change the default certificate enrollment settings, modify the ACLs for the Administrator and Trust List Signing certificate templates.

For the CTL to be valid, the trust list signing certificate must have a certification path to a root CA in the Trusted Root Certification Authorities store. Figure 16.9 shows an example of a CTL that is invalid because the trust list signing certificate is invalid. This might be the situation because either the certification path for the trust list signing certificate does not validate to a trusted root certificate or the trust list signing certificate has expired.

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Figure 16.9 Invalid CTL

CTLs are stored in the Enterprise Trust store and you can use the Certificates console to view them.

In addition, you can use CTLs to restrict the purposes for which certificates can be used. For example, even though a certificate permits the purposes of software code signing, secure mail, and client authentication, you can use a CTL to restrict certificate use to client authentication only. CTLs are frequently used to restrict trust for certificates that are issued and managed by other organizations. For example, you might configure a CTL to trust a business partner's CA for only code signing and client authentication on an extranet that you manage.

Internet Information Services (IIS) also supports CTLs for secure Web sites. For more information about CTLs with IIS, see "Choosing Security Solutions That Use Public Key Technology" in this book.

Certificate Validation Process

Before it trusts certificates, Windows 2000 performs a validation check to ensure that certificates are valid and that they have a valid certification path. Figure 16.10 shows the basic certificate validation process.

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Figure 16.10 Basic Certificate Validation Process

Certificates can be invalid or are not trusted for a variety of reasons, including the following:

  • The start and expiration dates are improper or expired.

  • The certificate format is improper (does not conform to the X.509 version 3 standard for digital certificates).

  • The information in certificate fields is improper or incomplete.

  • The certificate's digital thumbprint and signature fail the integrity check, indicating that the certificate has been tampered with or corrupted.

  • The certificate is listed as revoked in a published certificate revocation list.

  • The issuing CA is not in either a trusted certification hierarchy or a CTL.

  • The root CA for the certification path is not in the Trusted Root Certification Authorities store.

  • The certificate is not permitted for the intended use as specified in a CTL.

An expired CA certificate in the certification path does not invalidate the path. In the Windows 2000 public key infrastructure, a certification path can be valid as long as the CA certificate was valid at the time the certificate was issued. For example, a third-party CA might issue a certificate with a lifetime that extends past the CA certificate's expiration date. After the CA's certificate expires, the certification path for the certificate is still valid and the certificate is trusted as long as all other validation criteria are met.

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