SSL Certificate Jungle – Multiple Domains, Wildcards, and Both

by Oliver 10. September 2014 22:05

Recently, we've decided to add https:// support to Camping.Info. Since we've been running our application servers behind an NGINX reverse proxy for a while now, the natural choice in our setup was to terminate the secured connections at the NGINX server which has CPU usage values somewhere between 1% and 5%. This is also call SSL offloading and will allow us to keep all the SSL setup and potential runtime overhead off of our application servers. Certificate Options On Camping.Info, we serve almost all static content from the domain images-camping.info. Since we want to secure the whole site, we need to have valid ssl certificates for images-camping.info and all subdomains of camping.info. Using Separate Certificates The first solution to the problem would be using one SSL certificate for images-camping.info and one (wildcard) certificate for *.camping.info that would secure all subdomains of camping.info. If we wanted to secure camping.info itself as well, we would need a third certificate just for that one domain, because wildcard certificates do not cover the parent domain without a subdomain. Using a SAN (or UCC) Certificate Subject Alternative Names (SAN) can help in this situation. The subjectAltName field of an SSL certificate can contain many domain names that will be secured by that certificate. In our scenario we could have put images-camping.info, camping.info, www.camping.info, en.camping.info, and the other over 25 subdomains in there. Unfortunately, that would complicate things for the use of new subdomains in the future which would be missing from the list. A wildcard certificate really seems like the natural choice when you have more than 5 subdomains to secure or are expecting to have more of them in the near future. Using a Wildcard Certificate with SANs It turns out that wildcard certificates can well be combined with the usage of the subjectAltName field. Most CAs make you pay quite a lot for this combination, but we've also found a quite affordable offer on www.startssl.com. Multiple SSL Certificates on a Single NGINX Instance – Beware Choosing the first certificate option, i.e. using at least two certificates we now need to install both of them on our NGINX reverse proxy server. This blog post on how to install multiple SSL certificates on NGINX is a very good read – but be sure to read the comments as well. It turns out that the Server Name Indication (SNI) extension to the TLS protocol that allows you to do so will lock out clients that don't support SNI. The most prominent example of such a client is any version of Internet Explorer running on Windows XP, and even though Microsoft has ended support of XP almost half a year ago, we're still seeing 11% of our Windows users running XP accounting for 6% of our total traffic – a number we cannot ignore. Wanting to use separate SSL certificates on one NGINX instance we would need two different IP addresses pointing to that same server so that each certificate could respond to requests on one of those addresses. This would both complicate our setup and incur higher monthly infrastructural costs that we'd gladly avoid. Installing a Single SSL Certificate on NGINX The option we finally chose is to use a wildcard SAN certificate where we'd enter images-camping.info, camping.info and *.camping.info as the different subject alternative names. Installing that into NGINX is straight-forward if you know how. Happy SSL'ing!

About Oliver

shades-of-orange.com code blog logo I build web applications using ASP.NET and have a passion for jQuery. Enjoy MVC 4 and Orchard CMS, and I do TDD whenever I can. I like clean code. Love to spend time with my wife and our daughter. My profile on Stack Exchange, a network of free, community-driven Q&A sites

About Anton

shades-of-orange.com code blog logo I'm a software developer at teamaton. I code in C# and work with MVC, Orchard, SpecFlow, Coypu and NHibernate. I enjoy beach volleyball, board games and Coke.