When you look at a public certificate, in the first part of the output you will find information that is similar to that in self-signed certificates. In fact, the only difference will be that this certificate has a different parent, as indicated by the issuer information.
Certificate: Data: Version: 3 (0x2) Serial Number: 03:5e:50:53:75:08:1a:f2:7d:27:64:4f:d5:6f:1a:02:07:89 Signature Algorithm: sha256WithRSAEncryption Issuer: C = US, O = Let's Encrypt, CN = Let's Encrypt Authority X3 Validity Not Before: Aug 2 23:10:45 2020 GMT Not After : Oct 31 23:10:45 2020 GMT Subject: CN = www.feistyduck.com Subject Public Key Info: Public Key Algorithm: rsaEncryption RSA Public-Key: (2048 bit) Modulus: 00:c8:14:4f:33:9a:db:bb:e7:e3:78:93:46:5d:56: a7:bc:58:86:43:dc:ea:c1:01:52:4b:0f:20:b7:38: [...] Exponent: 65537 (0x10001) X509v3 extensions: [...]
The main differences are going to be in the X.509 extensions, which contain a great deal of very interesting information. Let’s examine what’s in the extensions and why it’s there, in no particular order.
The Basic Constraints extension is used to mark certificates as belonging to a CA, giving them the ability to sign other certificates. Non-CA certificates will either have this extension omitted or will have the value of CA set to
FALSE. This extension is critical, which means that all software-consuming certificates must understand its meaning.
X509v3 Basic Constraints: critical CA:FALSE
The Key Usage (KU) and Extended Key Usage (EKU) extensions restrict what a certificate can be used for. If these extensions are present, then only the listed uses are allowed. If the extensions are not present, there are no use restrictions. What you see in this example is typical for a web server certificate, which, for example, does not allow for code signing:
X509v3 Key Usage: critical Digital Signature, Key Encipherment X509v3 Extended Key Usage: TLS Web Server Authentication, TLS Web Client Authentication
The CRL Distribution Points extension lists the addresses where the CA’s Certificate Revocation List (CRL) information can be found. This information is important in cases in which certificates need to be revoked. CRLs are CA-signed lists of revoked certificates, published at regular time intervals (e.g., seven days). Let’s Encrypt doesn’t provide CRLs, so I took the following snippet from another certificate:
X509v3 CRL Distribution Points: Full Name: URI:http://crl.starfieldtech.com/sfs3-20.crl
You might have noticed that the CRL location doesn’t use a secure server, and you might be wondering if the link is thus insecure. It is not. Because each CRL is signed by the CA that issued it, clients are able to verify its integrity. In fact, if CRLs were distributed over TLS, browsers might face a chicken-and-egg problem in which they want to verify the revocation status of the certificate used by the server delivering the CRL itself!
The Certificate Policies extension is used to indicate the policy under which the certificate was issued. For example, this is where you can expect to find an indication of the type of validation used to ascertain the identity of the owner. Extended validation (EV) indicators can be found (as in the example that follows). These indicators are in the form of unique object identifiers (OIDs), some of which are generic and some specific to the issuing CA. In the following example, the OID 126.96.36.199.2.1 indicates a domain-validated certificate. In addition, this extension often contains one or more Certificate Policy Statement (CPS) points, which are usually web pages or PDF documents.
X509v3 Certificate Policies: Policy: 188.8.131.52.2.1 Policy: 184.108.40.206.4.1.449220.127.116.11 CPS: http://cps.letsencrypt.org
The Authority Information Access (AIA) extension usually contains two important pieces of information. First, it lists the address of the CA’s Online Certificate Status Protocol (OCSP) responder, which can be used to check for certificate revocation in real time. The extension may also contain a link to where the issuer’s certificate (the next certificate in the chain) can be found. These days, server certificates are rarely signed directly by trusted root certificates, which means that users must include one or more intermediate certificates in their configuration. Mistakes are easy to make and will invalidate the certificates. Some clients will use the information provided in this extension to fix an incomplete certificate chain, but many clients won’t.
Authority Information Access: OCSP - URI:http://ocsp.int-x3.letsencrypt.org CA Issuers - URI:http://cert.int-x3.letsencrypt.org/
The Subject Key Identifier and Authority Key Identifier extensions establish unique subject and authority key identifiers, respectively. The value specified in the Authority Key Identifier extension of a certificate must match the value specified in the Subject Key Identifier extension in the issuing certificate. This information is very useful during the certification path-building process, in which a client is trying to find all possible paths from a leaf (server) certificate to a trusted root. Certification authorities will often use one private key with more than one certificate, and this field allows software to reliably identify which certificate can be matched to which key. In the real world, many certificate chains supplied by servers are invalid, but that fact often goes unnoticed because browsers are able to find alternative trust paths.
X509v3 Subject Key Identifier: A1:EC:11:C6:E1:E8:F7:E6:98:85:FA:9A:53:F8:B8:F1:D6:88:F9:A3 X509v3 Authority Key Identifier: keyid:A8:4A:6A:63:04:7D:DD:BA:E6:D1:39:B7:A6:45:65:EF:F3:A8:EC:A1
The Subject Alternative Name extension is used to list all the hostnames for which the certificate is valid. This extension used to be optional; if it isn’t present, clients fall back to using the information provided in the common name (CN), which is part of the Subject field. If the extension is present, then the content of the CN field is ignored during validation.
X509v3 Subject Alternative Name: DNS:www.feistyduck.com, DNS:feistyduck.com
Finally, the most recent addition is the Certificate Transparency (CT) extension, which is used to carry proof of logging to various public CT logs. Depending on the certificate lifetime, you can expect to see anywhere from two to five Signed Certificate Timestamps (SCTs). There isn’t a single set of unified requirements for the numbers and types of SCTs that are necessary to recognize a certificate as valid. Technically, it’s up to every client to specify what they expect. In practice, Chrome was the first browser to require CT and other clients are likely to follow its lead.1
CT Precertificate SCTs: Signed Certificate Timestamp: Version : v1 (0x0) Log ID : 5E:A7:73:F9:DF:56:C0:E7:B5:36:48:7D:D0:49:E0:32: 7A:91:9A:0C:84:A1:12:12:84:18:75:96:81:71:45:58 Timestamp : Aug 3 00:10:45.300 2020 GMT Extensions: none Signature : ecdsa-with-SHA256 30:45:02:21:00:BB:7F:D0:E1:E6:CD:4B:E7:79:30:AE: BE:F6:50:4F:36:A4:F6:1D:65:21:1A:05:A9:B3:F0:53: BA:FA:AC:6D:FB:02:20:52:23:B9:F9:B6:73:34:7F:3D: 7F:42:5C:E3:9D:3D:DA:D8:7F:B3:7E:21:0C:27:54:9B: DA:E1:3F:0F:8E:09:60 [...]