Thursday, 15 November 2018

Understanding and extending AD CS CRL publication periods

By default when you deploy a two-tier AD CS the default CRL publication period is 1 week. This is set on the Offline CA and the Onsite CA. 

What does this mean?

If you have the CRL publication period set to one week, a new CRL must be published and available to clients on a weekly basis of certificate revocation will fail. 

In a two-tier AD CS infrastructure there are two CRL's in created;

Offline CA CRL - this is published by the Offline CA and should be blank unless you have revoked historic Root Certificates. This CRL is only used to by the Online CA to check the validity of Root Certificate which has been issued by the Offline CA. If certificate revocation fails for the Offline CA Root Certificate, the entire AD CS will fail. This is because all certificates are signed by the top certificate in the trust chain. By default this is set to one week, which means every week an administrator will have to boot the Offline CA, publish a new CRL and then copy it to the revocation points. It is likely that your Offline CA will only issue a single certificate, to the Online CA, if this is the case there is no risk in setting the Offline CA's CRL publishing time to months, or even years. 

To do this login to the Offline CA, open Certification Authority expand the server object, right click on Revoked Certificates and select Properties. Once this is committed, a new CRL must be created which can be done if you right click Revoked Certificates and select All Tasks > Publish. 

The newly published CRL can be found at C:\Windows\System32\CertSrv\CertEnroll the CRL files should be copied to the revocation points which are usually stored in AD LDAP, HTTP or both. It's typical for a HTTP revocation point to be on the Online CA, so that it's reachable by clients. 



Online CA CRL - this is published by the Online CA and will contain any certificates that have been revoked by administrators. Revoked certificates are not listed in the CRL until a new CRL has been generated. The Online CA CRL publication period is more important than the Offline CA, this is because it's likely that certificates issued by the Online CA might actually be revoked during the course of normal business. I usually set the Online CA to have a CRL publication period of 1 month, which means a new CRL will automatically be published every month, however once published the CRL files are not automatically copied to the revocation points on disk, which are usually served over HTTP by IIS or similar. If no certificates are revoked over the period of a month, the CRL will be unchanged, however the new files must be copied into the revocation point locations or certificate revocation will fail. 

With the Online CA CRL set to 1 month I usually just build it into a monthly maintenance task that should be provided by the SysAdmin team who are managing the AD CS environment. 

A useful way to check CRL expiration times is to use pkiview.msc which gives a clear overview of the CRL's all the way up the trust chain.


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