Grid certificates

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Revision as of 13:14, 16 May 2013 by Lars Viklund (HPC2N) (talk | contribs) (Requesting membership in the SweGrid VO)
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< Getting started with SweGrid
< SweStore

Introduction to certificates

In order to get access to computer and storage resources on the grid or SweStore you must have a valid (grid) certificate. This certificate is used instead of a username and password when accessing the resource. The resource have a certificate that tells you that you have contacted the right resource. This is exactly the same mechanism used when you use a web browser to contact your bank.

A certificate is the similar to a passport in real-life. In the same way you have prove your credentials when you acquire a passport the same is true for a certificate. A third party, the Certificate Authority or CA, that both you and the resource trust has to vouch for your identity and sign your certificate.

A certificate consist of a public key, some user information and a signature of the CA. In addition to the certificate you have a private key. The private key is secret and should be kept as secure as possible.

For more information regarding certificates and public key cryptography:

  • The grid certificate and the private key are stored in your web browser and/or located in ~/.globus at the host(s) from where you will be accessing the resource:
  • The certificate contains your public key, your name and organization and a signature by the CA. It is does not contain any username.
  • The certificate is valid for 13 month and should be renewed yearly.
  • The private key should be handled with great care. It should only be readable by you and not by the group or others (i.e. ``chmod 400 userkey.pem). Store the key on trusted computers and transfer the key between computers using encryption (using for example scp).
  • On shared file systems make sure that ~/.globus is not readible by everybody:
chmod 700 ~/.globus

and on AFS:

fs sa ~/.globus system:anyuser none
  • The private key is encrypted using a passphrase. Anyone that can decrypt the private key will be able to authenticate as you to grid resources. This is similar to the private key in SSH. You must choose a strong passphrase for the private key. This passphrase must not be used anywhere else. You must never ever give away the passphrase to somebody else.
  • You should not share the certificate with someone. It's personal.

For more information regarding certificates and public key cryptography:

Requesting a certificate

Certificates are issued by a Certificate Authority or CA. For Swedish users there are two relevant CA:s that can issue grid/eScience certificates, Terena and Nordugrid. The Terena CA is preferred if it is available for your university or research group, but many sites has not enabled this service yet. The Nordugrid CA can also be used but requires more manual work by all parties.

Recommended procedure for each university:

University CA Specific instructions
LU Terena CA more...
LiU Terena CA more...
CTH NorduGrid CA more...
GU NorduGrid CA more...
UU Terena CA more...
KTH Terena CA more...
SU NorduGrid CA more...
KI NorduGrid CA more...
UmU Terena CA more...

Instructions for the Terena CA

Instructions for the NorduGrid CA (use only if Terena eScience isn't available at your site)

Requesting membership in the SweGrid VO

SweGrid and SweStore resources are currently being allocated for VO:s, virtual organizations, rather than individual users. A VO is basically just a list of users. To be able to use a SweGrid or SweStore resource a membership in the SweGrid VO (virtual organization) and a corresponding subgroup is required. To apply for membership, make sure that the NorduGrid root CA certificate and your personal certificate is installed in the browser.

The NorduGrid CA cert can be installed by clicking on the following link:

Make sure you check the "Trust this CA to identify web sites." boxes in the dialog shown.


When certificates have been installed in the browser go to the following URL:

and follow the instructions. In a couple of hours you will be added to the SweGrid VO.

In order to be added to the correct project/allocation groups use the Request membership function in the Your groups and roles section of your VOMS homepage at as shown in the following screenshot, selecting the project in the dropdown box and clicking the Request membership button. No further actions need to be taken on that page after requesting the membership.


If that doesn't work for some reason, contact SweGrid support at or SweStore support at as appropritate.

Proxy certificates

Authentication on the grid is done using special short lived proxy certificates. There are several tools available for creating, checking and destroying these proxy certificates.

Creating a proxy certificate

To create a short lived proxy that can be used for authentication with grid services, the arcproxy command can be used. A 12 hour (default) proxy is created in the following example:

$ arcproxy
Your identity: /O=Grid/O=NorduGrid/ Kula
Enter pass phrase for /home/kalle/.globus/userkey.pem:
Proxy generation succeeded
Your proxy is valid until: 2011-03-11 03:00:14

The proxy file itself will be created in the /tmp directory with the format x509up_uid, where uid is the user id number for your account.

In some cases a longer lived proxy will be needed. This is achieved using the --constraint switch. A 24-hour can be created by issuing the following command:

$ arcproxy --constraint="validityPeriod=24H"
Your identity: /O=Grid/O=NorduGrid/ Kula
Enter pass phrase for /home/kalle/.globus/userkey.pem:
Proxy generation succeeded
Your proxy is valid until: 2011-03-11 15:03:19

Creating a proxy certificate using the Firefox/Thunderbird credential store

Using the ARC 3.x client tools it is now possible to generate a proxy certificate directly from the Firefox or Thunderbird credential stores. To do this the -F flag is used as shown in the following example:

$ arcproxy -F
There are 2 NSS base directories where the certificate, key, and module datbases live
Number 1 is: /Users/lindemann/Library/Application Support/Firefox/Profiles/t22f3aj2.default
Number 2 is: /Users/lindemann/Library/Thunderbird/Profiles/7abb733v.default
Please choose the NSS database you would use (1-2): 1

Here ARC finds the available Firefox and Thunderbird profile in which the credential stores are stored. Next the passphrase for the credential store is used to unlock the stored credentials:

NSS database to be accessed: /Users/lindemann/Library/Application Support/Firefox/Profiles/t22f3aj2.default
Enter Password or Pin for "internal (software)":

If the passphrase was correct, ARC will list the available certificates in the credential store and ask you for which you would like to use.

There are 2 user certificates existing in the NSS database
Number 1 is with nickname: Jonas Lindemann's TERENA ID (Jonas Lindemann
    expiration time: 2013-06-04 01:59:59
Number 2 is with nickname: Imported Certificate (Jonas Lindemann)
    expiration time: 2014-01-18 16:55:52
Please choose the one you would use (1-2): 1
Certificate to use is: Jonas Lindemann's TERENA ID
Proxy generation succeeded
Your proxy is valid until: 2013-05-01 04:11:37

Checking proxy lifetime

The remaining lifetime of a proxy certificate can be checked using the arcproxy command with the --info switch.

$ arcproxy --info
Subject: /O=Grid/O=NorduGrid/ Kula/CN=1567862803
Identity: /O=Grid/O=NorduGrid/ Kula
Time left for proxy: 11 hours 55 minutes
Proxy path: /tmp/x509up_u500
Proxy type: X.509 Proxy Certificate Profile RFC compliant restricted proxy

In this example the proxy certificate is valid for 11 hours 55 minutes more.

Destroying a proxy certificate

A proxy can be destroyed with the -r or --remove switch.

$ arcproxy -r


$ arcproxy --remove

VOMS certificates

As long as you are a member of only one VO or VO group, you can authenticate to a grid service with the regular grid proxy certificate as defined in the previous section. If you are a member of more than one VO or VO group you may want to select which membership you want to be authenticated as. For example, if you are a member of (operations staff) and and want to write a file, who should be the owner? Ops or bils? You need to provide some additional information. In the grid world this is done with a voms proxy certificate which basically is a regular proxy certificate but with a so called voms extension that contains a list of your VO group memberships (and roles and attributes, which we don't use in Swegrid/Swestore at the moment).

Please note, if you only have one membership you can skip this section!

The voms extension of the certificate is signed by the virtual organization management server, or VOMS server. The same VOMS server you used when applying for the VO membership in the first place. To enable this signing process you need to add a few configuration files to your system. First add this to the file /etc/vomses:

  "" "" "15009" "/O=Grid/O=NorduGrid/CN=host/" ""

Next create the necessary directories and the file /etc/grid-security/vomsdir/ with the following contents:

  /O=Grid/O=NorduGrid/CN=NorduGrid Certification Authority

Creating a VOMS proxy

VOMS proxies in ARC1 can be created using the arcproxy command and the -S or --voms switches as shown in the following example (if you are a member of the / group. Adjust as necessary):

$ arcproxy -S
Your identity: /O=Grid/O=NorduGrid/ Kula
Enter pass phrase for /home/kalle/.globus/userkey.pem:
Contacting VOMS server (named on port: 15009
Proxy generation succeeded
Your proxy is valid until: 2011-03-10 23:33:06

Signing your e-mail with your certificate

First, you will need your grid certificate in PKCS12 format:

How to transform your certificate from PEM format into PKCS#12 format

This is how you transform your cert into PKCS12 format that can be used within your webbrowser or email send program: You first will have to change directory into where you created and keep the certificate, historically this is often in ~/.globus

openssl pkcs12 -export -in usercert.pem -inkey userkey.pem -out cert+key.p12	 

First you will have to enter the password you used for your private key, then you will be asked for a new password to protect the new file. cert+key.p12 contains your private key, and is therefore 'lika känslig' as userkey.pem. See also #Introduction to certificates. Security wise the safest way is to delete the PKCS12 file after having imported it into your mail client or browser. Don't forget this.

Remarks: openssl will either need the variable RANDFILE to be set or that ~/.rnd is writable. So you have to make sure that the current $HOME is yours if you have pagshed away, otherwise the command will fail with unable to write 'random state.

Signing in mew

Mew uses gpgsm.

1. Import the nordugrid root cert

1.1. get 1f0e8352.0 from nordugrid web

1.2. gpgsm --import 1f0e8352.0

1.2. Make it trusted:
     gpgsm --list-keys 2>/dev/null | grep fingerprint | awk '{print $2 " S"}' | grep THE-FINGERPRIT-YOU-WANT >> .gnupg/trustlist.txt

2. Add your own key from the cert+key.p12 file in this case

2.1 openssl pkcs12 -in cert+key.p12 -out tmp.pem -nokeys

2.2. gpgsm --import tmp.pem ; rm tmp.pem

2.3. Tell gpgsm not to use revocation lists (bad bad security)
     echo disable-crl-checks >> .gnupg/gpgsm.conf

3. Test
   gpgsm --detach-sign file > sign  # should ask for passphrase and give some kind of sign file

4. Use:
   C-uC-cC-s  then enter your email address (must match email in cert) and passphrase

Signing in thunderbird

In thunderbird: options/security/digitally sign this message.

If you do this for the first time and haven't defined yet the certificate to sign with, thunderbird will pop up the according preferences [Account settings/Security], where you can choose between your imported certificates in PKCS12 format.

In the beginning, of course, you haven't imported any: Click there on the same preferences tab that popped up on [View Certificates]. In the new window that opens you can import the certificate.

Afterwards you can then choose this certificate to be used for signing and for encryption for this email account.

Don't forget to actually check that you then really sign the corresponding mail.