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13 Nov 13 Apache HTTPD as 2WAY (mutual) authentication SSL reverse proxy balancer

In this small article I’ll instruct myself (and you too?) how to create a 2 way authentication (mutual authentication) SSL reverse proxy balancer gateway. This configuration is useful in any enterprise environment where it’s requested to separate clients, the frontend and the backend, and when the traffic between clients and the gateway, and between the gateway and the backends must be encrypted.
This also ensure the clients and the backends to be authentic, and avoids Man In The Middle attacks.

Since the reverse proxy is in the middle between the clients and the backends, it’s requested for the clients to send a known client certificate to the gateway (apache), so that the gateway can recognize them. This is done with X509 certificates.
For the same reason, each backend contacted by the gateway is requested to respond with a valid and known server certificate. This is also done with X509 certificates.
Generally, the clients and the backends will also check their peer’s (apache) certificate to be known and valid, so that if someone is going to impersonate the gateway, it will be found and will not be considered authentic.

To do so, we’ll use:

  • apache httpd
  • mod_ssl
  • mod_proxy_balancer + mod_proxy + mod_proxy_http

Everything is done with a simple and single virtualhost in apache to be included in httpd.conf.
A working example is given below (assumes apache to be installed in /opt/apache, working with IP 11.22.33.44 on port 443):

<VirtualHost 11.22.33.44:443>
# General setup for the virtual host
DocumentRoot “/opt/apache/htdocs”
ServerName 11.22.33.44:443
ServerAdmin hostmaster@yoursite.com
CustomLog “|/opt/apache/bin/rotatelogs /opt/apache/logs/ssl_request_%Y%m%d.log 43200” “%t %h %{SSL_PROTOCOL}x %{SSL_CIPHER}x \”%r\” %b”
ErrorLog “|/opt/apache/bin/rotatelogs /opt/apache/logs/error_%Y%m%d.log 43200”
CustomLog “|/opt/apache/bin/rotatelogs /opt/apache/logs/access_%Y%m%d.log 43200” combined

# SSL CONFIGURATION – SERVER SIDE
# Enable SSL Server on this virtualhost
SSLEngine on
# Disable SSLv2 in favor of the more robust and secure SSLv3
SSLProtocol all -SSLv2
# List of supported cryptografic server cipher suites
SSLCipherSuite HIGH:MEDIUM:!aNULL:!MD5

# Apache server certificate
SSLCertificateFile “/opt/apache/conf/ssl/server.pem”
# Apache server private key
SSLCertificateKeyFile “/opt/apache/conf/ssl/key.pem”
# Apache server CA certificate (certificate of who released your server certificate)
SSLCertificateChainFile “/opt/apache/conf/ssl/ca.pem”
# Client’s CA certificates (list of certificates of who released your client’s certificates)
SSLCACertificateFile “/opt/apache/conf/ssl/ca.pem”
# It’s mandatory for apache to authenticate the client’s certificate
SSLVerifyClient require
# END OF SSL CONFIGURATION – SERVER SIDE

# SSL CONFIGURATION – CLIENT SIDE
# Enable SSL Client on this virtualhost (the traffic to the backends can be encrypted)
SSLProxyEngine on
# Apache client CA certificate (certificate of who released your client certificate)
SSLProxyMachineCertificateChainFile “/opt/apache/conf/ssl/ca.pem”
# Apache client private key + client certificate (concatenated in a single file)
SSLProxyMachineCertificateFile “/opt/apache/conf/ssl/client.pem”
# Backends’ CA certificates (list of certificates of who released your backends’ certificates)
SSLProxyCACertificateFile “/opt/apache/conf/ssl/ca.pem”
# It’s mandatory for apache to authenticate the backends’ certificate
SSLProxyVerify require
# END OF SSL CONFIGURATION – CLIENT SIDE

<FilesMatch “\.(cgi|shtml|phtml|php)$”>
SSLOptions +StdEnvVars
</FilesMatch>
<Directory “/opt/apache/cgi-bin”>
SSLOptions +StdEnvVars
</Directory>

BrowserMatch “MSIE [2-5]” \
nokeepalive ssl-unclean-shutdown \
downgrade-1.0 force-response-1.0

# Define a load balancer worker to be used to balance the HTTPS traffic to three backends.
# The traffic between apache and the backends is encrypted
<Proxy balancer://httpslb>
# Define the first backend (https) with 2 way auth
BalancerMember https://192.168.1.11:443/ route=worker1 retry=10
# Define the second backend (https) with 2 way auth
BalancerMember https://192.168.1.12:443/ route=worker2 retry=10
# Define the third backend (https) with 2 way auth
BalancerMember https://192.168.1.13:443/ route=worker3 retry=10
</Proxy>

# Don’t send the “/balancer-manager” uri to the backends
ProxyPass /balancer-manager !
# Distribute the traffic (any url, since it is “/”) to the backends with round robin + cookie based session persistence
ProxyPass / balancer://httpslb/ lbmethod=byrequests stickysession=JSESSIONID

</VirtualHost>

If the clients and the backends are configured to check the gateway (apache) certificates, this is considered to be a very secure configuration.

Enjoy!

Reader's Comments

  1.    

    Hello. I’ve read your article on mutual authentication and I am not able to get it right.

    I wanted to find out if I can contract you to get it set up for me? I have two Linux VPSs. You can install the OS of your choice.

    It needs to work with my two PostiveSSL certificates and it must be on Apache + PHP…

    If this is something you would consider please reply with your estimated rate to get this done.

    Reply to this comment
    •    

      Hi there.
      If this is for your personal fun I can do it for free. The linux distribution does not matter, you can install everything you like (I like debian, but you could choose centos, ubuntu, etc).

      You can write me the details at “dino at tuxweb dot it”.

      Reply to this comment
  2.    

    As a side note:

    Generally, the key and certificate of the server side of the proxy (see the comment SSL CONFIGURATION – SERVER SIDE) can be the same of the client side of the proxy (see the comment SSL CONFIGURATION – CLIENT SIDE).

    This is true if the purpose of your apache certificate is valid for SERVER and CLIENT auth:

    To check:
    openssl x509 -in /opt/apache/conf/ssl/server.pem -noout -purpose

    Reply to this comment

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