Certificates rely on certification authorities to maintain an updated list of revoked certificates issued by the public key infrastructure. Certificates are revoked for a number of reasons—not all revocations are for compromised certificates or nefarious reasons. It is essential that when a computer is presented a revoked certificate, that it does not honor the certificate.

The common means to inform computers of revoked certificates is by using a certificate revocation list (CRL). Ensuring that the certificate revocation list gets to all computers can be problematic—if you do not understand how to set up the paths to the certificate revocation list distribution point. This article describes how to set up and publish a certificate revocation list distribution point to ensure that all computers receive an up-to-date certificate revocation list.

Author: Rick Kingslan, Microsoft Senior Technical Writer

Publication date: December 17, 2012, updated Feb. 10, 2014

Product version: Windows Server 2003, Windows Server 2008, Windows Server 2012

A public key infrastructure (PKI) issues certificates, enforces certificate policies, and manages the certificate lifecycle. A detailed exploration of PKI is out of scope for this article. In this article we walk you through a process to set up a certification authority (CA) to publish a certificate revocation list (CRL) distribution point. The approach described here is not the only way to accomplish this task. For detailed information on PKI refer to the Windows PKI Documentation Reference and Library wiki page.

For systems administrators who don’t spend a lot of times working with the public key infrastructure (PKI) terms like—certificates, certification authorities, certificate revocation lists, policy modules, PKI—appear to be part of an arcane, black art. And frankly, the topic is convoluted. There are a lot of complex operations that go on in even the simplest PKI. When you mention that CAs and certificates are all based on complex math, many IT admins run—as fast as possible—in the opposite direction. The good news is that the math is hidden in the certificate and the certification authority (CA). As administrators we don’t have to deal with the complexities of factoring prime numbers.

The certificate revocation list or CRL is a primary mechanism that ensures the security and health of your PKI. The CRL is a list of all certificates that have been issued by your PKI but have been revoked for one reason or another. There are two types of CRLs. The first type is a full CRL; it contains all certificates revoked by the PKI. The second type is known as a delta CRL. It contains the list of all revoked certificates since the last time a full CRL was created. If a computer has received a full CRL, it requests a delta CRL, unless a new full CRL is available.

For this article, it’s not important why a certificate was revoked. What is important is that all computers that use a certificate issued by your PKI must know when a certificate has been revoked. This function of collecting certificate serial numbers (an attribute of the certificate that is guaranteed to be unique within the scope of your PKI), populating a list with the serial numbers, creating the CRL, and then posting the CRL to a CRL distribution point is an essential security component. Computers depend on the certificates to authenticate, validate, identify other computers and users, and to encrypt data. If a revoked certificate is not identified as compromised or invalid, it creates a significant number of security risks including interception of encrypted data and impersonating another computer or user.

One of the least understood configurations associated with certificates and the PKI is how to configure the CRL distribution point (CDP). Certificates issued by public CAs have a CDP. Your internal PKI needs one, too. This article shows you the most effective way to create the CDP and ensures that your PKI-issued certificates will have access to this important list of revoked certificates.

What is CDP?

The certificate revocation list distribution point (CDP) is a path represented as one or more attributes on every certificate issued by a PKI.

This path, literal, share, lightweight directory access protocol (LDAP), and HTTP is clearly defined and uses variables to simplify the configuration. After definition, the PKI publishes CRLs and delta CRLs (if you choose to publish delta CRLs) for the computers that hold certificates that it has issued. Don’t worry too much about the variable names used in the list. We will define exactly how you configure and use the CDP variables.

Definitions that you can use to define a CDP:

  • Local CA path – Typically defined as C:\Windows\system32\CertSrv\CertEnroll\<CDP variables>
  • LDAP – Typically defined as ldap://CN=<CDP CA name variable>,CN=<CDP server variable><other CDP variables>
  • HTTP/HTTPS – http://<CA server name>\CertEnroll\<CDP variables>
  • File path – Typically defined as file://<CDP variables>
  • File share path – Typically defined as \\<server name>\<share>\<CDP variables>

How Do I Configure CDP?

To understand the configuration of the CDP, let’s define a couple elements that will allow us to create a CDP. First, our CA is collocated on our domain controller (DC), and it is named DC1. To support the full feature set of a PKI, you must install Active Directory Certificate Services (ADCS) as a role in Server Manager, and deploy Internet Information Services (IIS) on the DC for the CertEnroll and other specific CA purposes. For detailed, step-by-step procedures for installing the Active Directory Certificate Services, see Install Active Directory Certificate Services. You also use a file share and the file share is placed on FS01. FS01 also uses IIS for communication with the CA and for issuing CRLs.

When the configuration is complete, Web services will be able to access and retrieve the CRL and delta CRL from the file share. You can extend this process, but this solution delivers a functional location for computers to find and retrieve CRLs.

Important: It is not required that you install the CA on your DC. We use it as an example here to reduce the steps. You can deploy standalone CAs, or a more complex PKI consisting of online and offline CAs, intermediate CAs, and purpose-built CAs for a specific type of certificate. Note: regardless of what type of PKI you deploy or how many CAs make up your PKI, the CDP is unique to the CA that issues the certificate. For that reason the variables used in the CDP definition – will always find the CA that issued the certificate, regardless of what the literal values represented in the CDP variables. For more information, see the Windows PKI Documentation Reference and Library.

Configure the CDP settings on the certificate authority

1. On DC1, click Start, Administrative Tools, and click Certification Authority.

2. In the details pane, right-click the name of the CA. For example, DC1-CA, then click Properties.

3. Click the Extensions tab.

4. On the Extensions tab, click Add. In Location, type http://crl.<the domainname>/crld/ For example, http://crl.dc1.contoso.com/crld/

5. In Variable name, click <CaName>, click Insert; click <CRLNameSuffix>, click Insert; click <DeltaCRLAllowed>, click Insert.

6. In Location, type .crl at the end of the Location string and then click OK.

7. Select Include in CRLs. Clients use this to find Delta CRL locations. And Include in the CDP extension of issued certificates, then click Apply. Click No in the dialog box asking you to restart the ADCS.

Configure the file share definition:

1. Click Add.

2. In Location, define the file server and share name. For example, type \\fs01\crldist$\ . (See Note above.)

Note: The file share definition above contains the special character ‘$’ that has the effect of making the file share invisible to simple browsing methods. If you know the name of the server and share, you can connect – given that you have the permissions. But browsing a list of computers and their shared resources will not list the share crldist. Not intended as a security mechanism, but more of a method to hide shares that are special purpose and not meant for users.

3. In Variable, click <CAName>, click Insert; In Variable, click <CRLNameSuffix>, click Insert; In Variable, click <DeltaCRLAllowed>, click Insert.

4. In Location, type .crl at the end of the Location string and then click OK.

5. Select Publish CRLs to this location and Publish Delta CRLs to this Location, then click Apply. Click Yes in the dialog box asking you to restart the ADCS.

6. Close the Certification Authority console.

Create a DNS record for crl.contoso.com

1. On your DNS Server, click Start, click Administrative Tools, click DNS.

2. In the DNS Manager console, expand your DNS server, expand Forward Lookup Zones. Right-click your domain name, and click New Host (A or AAAA).

3. In the New Host dialog, type crl in the Name (uses parent domain name if blank). In IP address, type the IP address of the CA server. Click Add Host. Click OK in the dialog noting that the record was created. Click Done in the New Host dialog box.

4. Close the DNS Manager console.

Configure the file server for HTTP CRL distribution

1. Install the IIS role on FS01. Accept at the least the defaults, and click Install.

2. Verify that the IIS installation was successful and then click Close.

3. To create the web-based CDP, click Start, point to Administrative Tools, and then click Internet Information Services (IIS) Manager.

4. In the console tree, navigate to FS01\Sites\Default Web Site. Right-click Default Web Site and click Add Virtual Directory.

5. In the Add Virtual Directory dialog box, in Alias, type CRLD. Next to Physical path, click the ellipsis “…” button.

6. In the Browse for Folder dialog box, click Local Disk (C:), and then click Make New Folder.

7. Type CRLDist, and then press ENTER. Click OK in the Browse for Folder dialog box.

8. Click OK in the Add Virtual Directory dialog box.

9. In the middle pane of the console, double-click Directory Browsing.

10. In the details pane, click Enable.

11. In the console tree, click the CRLD folder.

12. In the middle pane of the console, double-click the Configuration Editor icon.

13. Click the down-arrow for the Section drop-down list, and then navigate to system.webServer\security\requestFiltering.

14. In the middle pane of the console, double-click the allowDoubleEscaping entry to change the value from False to True.

15. In the details pane, click Apply.

16. Close the Internet Information Services (IIS) Manager console.

Configure the file server for file share CRL publishing

1. On APP1, click Start, and then click Computer.

2. Double-click Local Disk (C:).

3. In the details pane of Windows Explorer, right-click the CRLDist folder and click Properties.

4. In the CRLDist Properties dialog box, click the Sharing tab, and then click Advanced Sharing.

5. In the Advanced Sharing dialog box, select Share this folder.

6. In Share name, add a “$” to the end so that the share name is CRLDist$. Recall that appending the $ hides the share from simple browsing.

7. In the Advanced Sharing dialog box, click Permissions.

8. In the Permissions for CRLDist$ dialog box, click Add. (See Note above.)

9. In the Select Users, Computers, Service Accounts, or Groups dialog box, click Object Types.

10. In the Object Types dialog box, select Computers, and then click OK.

11. In the Select Users, Computers, Service Accounts, or Groups dialog box, in Enter the object names to select, type DC1, and then click Check Names. Click OK.

12. In the Permissions for CRLDist$ dialog box, select DC1 (CONTOSO\DC1$) from the Group or user names list. In the Permissions for DC1 section, select Allow for Full control. Click OK.

13. In the Advanced Sharing dialog box, click OK.

14. In the CRLDist Properties dialog box, click the Security tab.

15. On the Security tab, click Edit.

16. In the Permissions for CRLDist dialog box, click Add.

17. In the Select Users, Computers, Service Accounts, or Groups dialog box, click Object Types.

18. In the Object Types dialog box, select Computers. Click OK.

19. In the Select Users, Computers, Service Accounts, or Groups dialog box, in Enter the object names to select, type DC1, and then click Check Names. Click OK.

20. In the Permissions for CRLDist dialog box, select DC1 (CONTOSO\DC1$) from the Group or user names list. In the Permissions for DC1 section, select Allow for Full control. Click OK.

21. Click Close in the CRLDist Properties dialog box.

22. Close the Windows Explorer window.

Wow! That’s a Lot of Stuff!

Yes, it is. There is one more thing that we need to do – we need to be sure that the CRLs are actually being published to the file share CDP. You publish the CRLs and delta CRLs to the FS01 file share by doing the following:

1. On DC1, click Start, point to Administrative Tools, and then click Certification Authority.

2. In the console tree, open DC1-CA. Right-click Revoked Certificates, point to All Tasks, and then click Publish.

3. In the Publish CRL dialog box, click New CRL, and then click OK.

4. Click Start, type \\FS01\CRLDist$ and press ENTER.

5. In the Windows Explorer window, you should see the DC1-CA (this is the full CRL) and DC1-CA+ (this is the delta CRL) files.

6. Close the Windows Explorer window. Close the Certification Authority console.

What Does This Look Like on the Certificate?

Important: This CDP will only appear on certificates created AFTER the CDP is defined. This means that if you have issued certificates, you will need to re-issue certificates to have the CDP available to those computers. There is no way around this.

We know why the CDP is important, but what does it actually look like? Note the http:// and file:// path and how it relates to the process we’ve detailed. We’ve seen variables, but what do those variables contain? We configured the following:

For the Web services on the CA:

http://crl.dc1.contoso.com/crld/<CaName><CRLNameSuffix><DeltaCRLAllowed>.crl

Note: You should be able to reach this location using a browser, and is an effective troubleshooting measure.

What do the three variables used resolve to?

  • CaName: Inserts the DNS Name of the server into the path.
  • CRLNameSuffix: Appends a suffix to distinguish the CRL file name.
  • DeltaCRLAllowed: Substitutes the delta CRL name suffix for the CRL file name suffix, if appropriate.

Based on what the certificate needs, it will use the populated information to retrieve the CRL or delta CRL using a path like the following, which is derived from the populated CDP according to the rules for the Web services on the CA.

URL=http://crl.contoso.com/crld/DC1-CA.crl

And, just for fun, here is the LDAP CDP:

URL=ldap:///CN=DC1-CA,CN=DC1,CN=CDP,CN=Public%20Key%20Services,

CN=Services,CN=Configuration,contoso,DC=com?certificateRevocationList?base?objectClass=cRLDistributionPoint

This article contains a lot of information. Don’t be intimidated if the CA topic is new to you. Just think of the CDP as a defined path to where all issued certificates look for their CRLs. That’s the net of what the CDP is.

Reminders

A CDP only applies to certificates issued AFTER the CDP path is created and published. Certificates created before the path was published will look to the existing CDP path on that certificate.

CDP can be hosted by an LDAP path, HTTP path, file path or file share. Note that there is the local C:\Windows System32 path that was discussed earlier. This is the local store where the CA puts files for its own use – not other computers.

Finally, kudos to my friends that write the Test Lab Guides. The Test Lab Guides series is an invaluable resource for defining base lab configurations and scenario labs on your base configuration. The number of topics covered is impressive. And, they’re free! You can find the guides on TechNet at: Test Lab Guides. The Test Lab Guides slogan? Wanna make something of it?

Additional Resources

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Keywords: certificate revocation list distribution point authority CDP