Topic: Secure Apache with Lets Encrypt
Let’s Encrypt is a free open source Certificate Authority that helps in the installation of free TLS/SSL certificates, which helps to secure our website using HTTPS. Letsencrypt uses Certbot as it’s software client, which helps in automating the entire process. The whole process of obtaining and installing a certificate is fully automated on both Apache and Nginx. You can Secure Apache with Lets Encrypt.
As today Google is very strict of checking https over websites it is a good idea to power your website with https using let’s encrypt technology. It is entirely free for use in any number of websites.
In this tutorial, you will use Certbot to obtain a free SSL certificate for Apache on Ubuntu 18.04 and set up your certificate to renew automatically.
This tutorial will use a separate Apache virtual host file instead of the default configuration file. We recommend creating new Apache virtual host files for each domain because it helps to avoid common mistakes and maintains the default files as a fallback configuration. Let’s Secure Apache with Lets Encrypt.
To follow this tutorial, you will need:
- One Ubuntu 18.04 server set up by following this initial server setup for Ubuntu 18.04 tutorial.
- Apache installed by following How To Install Apache on Ubuntu 18.04. Be sure that you have a virtual host file for your domain. This tutorial will use
/etc/apache2/sites-available/example.com.confas an example.
Step 1 – Installing Certbot
The first step to using Let’s Encrypt to obtain an SSL certificate is to install the Certbot software on your server.
First, add the repository:
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:certbot/certbot
You’ll need to press
ENTER to accept.
Install Certbot’s Apache package with
sudo apt install python-certbot-apache
Certbot is now ready to use, but for it to configure SSL for Apache, we need to verify some of Apache’s configuration.
Step 2 – Set Up the SSL Certificate
Certbot needs to be able to find the correct virtual host in your Apache configuration for it to automatically configure SSL. Correctly, it does this by looking for a
ServerName directive that matches the domain you request a certificate for.
If you followed the virtual host set up the step in the Apache installation tutorial, you should have a VirtualHost block for your domain at
/etc/apache2/sites-available/example.com.conf with the
ServerNamedirective already set appropriately.
To check, open the virtual host file for your domain using
nano or your favorite text editor:
sudo nano /etc/apache2/sites-available/example.com.conf
Find the existing
ServerName line. It should look like this:
... ServerName example.com; ...
If it does, exit your editor and move on to the next step.
If it doesn’t, your virtual host may be misconfigured and update it to match. Then save the file, quit your editor, and verify the syntax of your configuration edits:
sudo apache2ctl configtest
If you get an error, reopen the virtual host file and check for any typos or missing characters. Once your configuration file’s syntax is correct, reload Apache to load the new configuration:
sudo systemctl reload apache2
Certbot can now find the correct VirtualHost block and update it.
Next, let’s update the firewall to allow HTTPS traffic.
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Step 3 – Allowing HTTPS Through the Firewall
If you have the
ufw firewall enabled, as recommended by the prerequisite guides, you’ll need to adjust the settings to allow for HTTPS traffic. Luckily, Apache registers a few profiles with
ufw upon installation.
You can see the current setting by typing:
sudo ufw status
It will probably look like this, meaning that only HTTP traffic is allowed to the web server:
Status: active To Action From -- ------ ---- OpenSSH ALLOW Anywhere Apache ALLOW Anywhere OpenSSH (v6) ALLOW Anywhere (v6) Apache (v6) ALLOW Anywhere (v6)
To additionally let in HTTPS traffic, allow the Apache Full profile and delete the redundant Apache profile allowance:
sudo ufw allow 'Apache Full'
sudo ufw delete allow 'Apache'
Your status should now look like this:
sudo ufw status
Status: active To Action From -- ------ ---- OpenSSH ALLOW Anywhere Apache Full ALLOW Anywhere OpenSSH (v6) ALLOW Anywhere (v6) Apache Full (v6) ALLOW Anywhere (v6)
Next, let’s run Certbot and fetch our certificates.
Step 4 – Obtaining an SSL Certificate
Certbot provides a variety of ways to obtain SSL certificates through plugins. The Apache plugin will take care of reconfiguring Apache and reloading the config whenever necessary. To use this plugin, type the following:
sudo certbot --apache -d example.com -d www.example.com
This runs with
--apache plugin, using
-d to specify the names you’d like the certificate to be valid for.
If this is your first time running certbot, you will be prompted to enter an email address and agree to the terms of service. After doing so, certbot will communicate with the Let’s Encrypt server, then run a challenge to verify that you control the domain you’re requesting a certificate for.
If that’s successful, certbot will ask how you’d like to configure your HTTPS settings:
Please choose whether or not to redirect HTTP traffic to HTTPS, removing HTTP access. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 1: No redirect - Make no further changes to the webserver configuration. 2: Redirect - Make all requests redirect to secure HTTPS access. Choose this for new sites, or if you're confident your site works on HTTPS. You can undo this change by editing your web server's configuration. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Select the appropriate number [1-2] then [enter] (press 'c' to cancel):
Select your choice then hit.
ENTER The configuration will be updated, and Apache will reload to pick up the new settings.
certbot will wrap up with a message telling you the process was successful and where your certificates are stored:
IMPORTANT NOTES: - Congratulations! Your certificate and chain have been saved at: /etc/letsencrypt/live/example.com/fullchain.pem Your key file has been saved at: /etc/letsencrypt/live/example.com/privkey.pem Your cert will expire on 2018-07-23. To obtain a new or tweaked version of this certificate in the future, simply run certbot again with the "certonly" option. To non-interactively renew *all* of your certificates, run "certbot renew" - Your account credentials have been saved in your Certbot configuration directory at /etc/letsencrypt. You should make a secure backup of this folder now. This configuration directory will also contain certificates and private keys obtained by Certbot so making regular backups of this folder is ideal. - If you like Certbot, please consider supporting our work by: Donating to ISRG / Let's Encrypt: https://letsencrypt.org/donate Donating to EFF: https://eff.org/donate-le
Your certificates are downloaded, installed, and loaded. Try reloading your website using
https:// and notice your browser’s security indicator. It should indicate that the site is secured correctly, usually with a green lock icon. If you test your server using the SSL Labs Server Test, it will get an A grade.
Let’s finish by testing the renewal process.
Step 5 – Verifying Certbot Auto-Renewal
Let’s Encrypt’s certificates are only valid for ninety days. This is to encourage users to automate their certificate renewal process. The package
certbot we installed takes care of this for us by adding a renew script to
/etc/cron.d. This script runs twice a day and will automatically renew any certificate that’s within thirty days of expiration.
To test the renewal process, you can do a dry run with certbot:
sudo certbot renew --dry-run
If you see no errors, you’re all set. When necessary, Certbot will renew your certificates and reload Apache to pick up the changes. If the automated renewal process ever fails, Let’s Encrypt will send a message to the email you specified, warning you when your certificate is about to expire.
In this tutorial, you installed the Let’s Encrypt client certbot, downloaded SSL certificates for your domain, configured Apache to use these certificates, and set up automatic certificate renewal. If you have further questions about using Certbot, their documentation is a good place to start. We have successfully Secure Apache with Let’s Encrypt technology.