IPsec VPNs and certificates

IPsec VPNs and certificates

Certificate authentication is a more secure alternative to preshared key (shared secret) authentication for IPsec VPN peers. Unlike administrators or SSL VPN users, IPsec peers use HTTP to connect to the VPN gateway configured on the FortiGate unit. The VPN gateway configuration can require certificate authentication before it permits an IPsec tunnel to be established. See Authenticating IPsec VPN users with security certificates on page 535 .


Certificate types on the FortiGate unit

There are different types of certificates available that vary depending on their intended use. FortiOS supports local, remote, CA, and CRL certificates.


Local certificates

Local certificates are issued for a specific server, or web site. Generally they are very specific, and often for an internal enterprise network. For example a personal web site for John Smith at www.example.com (such as http://www.example.com/home/jsmith) would have its own local certificate.

These can optionally be just the certificate file, or also include a private key file and PEM passphrase for added security.

For information about generating a certificate request, see Generating a certificate signing request on page 526. For information about installing a local certificate, see Obtaining and installing a signed server certificate from an external CA on page 529


Remote certificates

Remote certificates are public certificates without a private key. For dynamic certificate revocation, you need to use an Online Certificate Status Protocol (OCSP) server. The OCSP is configured in the CLI only. Installed Remote (OCSP) certificates are displayed in the Remote Certificates list. You can select Import to install a certificate from the management PC.


CA root certificates

CA root certificates are similar to local certificates, however they apply to a broader range of addresses or to whole company; they are one step higher up in the organizational chain. Using the local certificate example, a CA root certificate would be issued for all of www.example.com instead of just the smaller single web page.


Certificate revocation list

Certificate revocation list (CRL) is a list of certificates that have been revoked and are no longer usable. This list includes certificates that have expired, been stolen, or otherwise compromised. If your certificate is on this list, it will not be accepted. CRLs are maintained by the CA that issues the certificates and includes the date and time when the next CRL will be issued as well as a sequence number to help ensure you have the most current version of the CRL.


Certificate signing

The trust in a certificate comes from the authority that signs it. For example if VeriSign signs your CA root certificate, it is trusted by everyone. While these certificates are universally accepted, it is cumbersome and expensive to have all certificates on a corporate network signed with this level of trust.

With self-signed certificates nobody, except the other end of your communication, knows who you are and therefore they do not trust you as an authority. However this level is useful for encryption between two points — neither point may care about who signed the certificate, just that it allows both points to communicate. This is very useful for internal networks and communications.

A general rule is that CA signed certificates are accepted and sometimes required, but it is easier to self-sign certificates when you are able.

For more on the methods of certificate signing see Generating a certificate signing request on page 526.


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