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Upon installation, both services generate a self-signed X509 certificate. An administrator then establishes a trust relationship between the two by exchanging the public key thumbprints of each service to the other. This is a common security model in B2B applications, and it means both services are able to authenticate without exchanging a shared secret or password, or being on the same active directory domain. 509 certificates on Windows is, well, a pain in the ass. It’s the source of a lot of bug reports. In this post, I’m going to share what I’ve learned about dealing with them so far.
On Windows a certificate typically has a . Sometimes it’s handy to export the X. On Windows we typically use the . Export call above, giving you both the certificate and private key. Tip 2: Understand the certificate stores Windows has an MMC snapin that allows you to store certificates. You might think that Windows has some special file on disk somewhere that this snapin manages.
In fact, the certificates live in the registry and in various places on disk, and the certificate store just provides convenient access to them. Remove Snap-in, you can select the Certificates snap-in. Each certificate in the store lives in the registry, and the private keys associated with the certificate live on disk. My maps to the Personal folder in recent versions of Windows. Certificates sub key is a key with a long, random-looking name. That name is actually the public thumbprint of the certificate.
You can verify this by looking at the thumbprint properties from the snap-in. There’s an MSDN article with more information about these paths if you need more details. Tip 3: Understand that private keys live somewhere else As I mentioned, while in . NET you have an X509Certificate2 object containing both a private and public key, the “certificate” is only the public part. While the certificate is stored in the paths above, the private keys are stored elsewhere. They might be stored under the Keys subkey for the store, or, they might be stored on disk.
Then I’ll end up with the private key stored in the registry. I’m importing a certificate for the whole machine to use, so the certificate goes to the registry. But the private key is being written to disk under my personal profile folder. I figured the key would be imported. In reality, the file on disk just gets linked to. If the key isn’t persisted, it can’t be used. In one case, the Local System account didn’t even have access.