Code signing using AWS Certificate Manager Private CA and AWS Key Management Service asymmetric keys
August 31, 2021: AWS KMS is replacing the term customer master key (CMK) with AWS KMS key and KMS key. The concept has not changed. To prevent breaking changes, AWS KMS is keeping some variations of this term. More info.
In this post, we show you how to combine the asymmetric signing feature of the AWS Key Management Service (AWS KMS) and code-signing certificates from the AWS Certificate Manager (ACM) Private Certificate Authority (PCA) service to digitally sign any binary data blob and then verify its identity and integrity. AWS KMS makes it easy for you to create and manage cryptographic keys and control their use across a wide range of AWS services and with your applications running on AWS. ACM PCA provides you a highly available private certificate authority (CA) service without the upfront investment and ongoing maintenance costs of operating your own private CA. CA administrators can use ACM PCA to create a complete CA hierarchy, including online root and subordinate CAs, with no need for external CAs. Using ACM PCA, you can provision, rotate, and revoke certificates that are trusted within your organization.
Traditionally, a person’s signature helps to validate that the person signed an agreement and agreed to the terms. Signatures are a big part of our lives, from our driver’s licenses to our home mortgage documents. When a signature is requested, the person or entity requesting the signature needs to verify the validity of the signature and the integrity of the message being signed.
As the internet and cryptography research evolved, technologists found ways to carry the usefulness of signatures from the analog world to the digital world. In the digital world, public and private key cryptography and X.509 certificates can help with digital signing, verifying message integrity, and verifying signature authenticity. In simple terms, an entity—which could be a person, an organization, a device, or a server—can digitally sign a piece of data, and another entity can validate the authenticity of the signature and validate the integrity of the signed data. The data that’s being signed could be a document, a software package, or any other binary data blob.
To learn more about AWS KMS asymmetric keys and ACM PCA, see Digital signing with the new asymmetric keys feature of AWS KMS and How to host and manage an entire private certificate infrastructure in AWS.
We provide Java code snippets for each part of the process in the following steps. In addition, the complete Java code with the maven build configuration file pom.xml are available for download from this GitHub project. The steps below illustrate the different processes that are involved and the associated Java code snippet. However, you need to use the GitHub project to be able to build and run the Java code successfully.
Let’s take a look at the steps.
1. Create an asymmetric key pair
For digital signing, you need a code-signing certificate and an asymmetric key pair. In this step, you create an asymmetric key pair using AWS KMS. The below code snippet in the main method within the file Runner.java is used to create the asymmetric key pair within KMS in your AWS account. An asymmetric KMS key with the alias CodeSigningCMK is created.
2. Create a code-signing certificate
To create a code-signing certificate, you need a private CA hierarchy, which you create within the ACM PCA service. This uses a simple CA hierarchy of one root CA and one subordinate CA under the root because the recommendation is that you should not use the root CA directly for signing code-signing certificates. The certificate authorities are needed to create the code-signing certificate. The common name for the root CA certificate is root CA, and the common name for the subordinate CA certificate is subordinate CA. The following code snippet in the main method within the file Runner.java is used to create the private CA hierarchy.
3. Create a certificate signing request
In this step, you create a certificate signing request (CSR) for the code-signing certificate. The following code snippet in the main method within the file Runner.java is used to create the CSR. The END_ENTITY_COMMON_NAME refers to the common name parameter of the code signing certificate.
4. Sign the CSR
In this step, the code-signing CSR is signed by the subordinate CA that was generated in step 2 to create the code-signing certificate.
Note: The code-signing certificate that’s generated contains the public key of the asymmetric key pair generated in step 1.
5. Create the custom signed object
The data to be signed is a simple string: “the data I want signed”. Its binary representation is hashed and digitally signed by the asymmetric KMS private key created in step 1, and a custom signed object that contains the signature and the code-signing certificate is created.
The below code snippet in the main method within the file Runner.java is used to create the custom signed object.
6. Verify the signature
The custom signed object is verified for integrity, and the root CA certificate is used to verify the chain of trust to confirm non-repudiation of the identity that produced the digital signature.
The below code snippet in the main method within the file Runner.java is used for signature verification:
During this signature validation process, the validation method shown in the code above retrieves the public key portion of the AWS KMS asymmetric key pair generated in step 1 from the code-signing certificate. This process has the advantage that credentials to access AWS KMS aren’t needed during signature validation. Any entity that has the root CA certificate loaded in its trust store can verify the signature without needing access to the AWS KMS verify API.
Note: The implementation outlined in this post is an example. It doesn’t use a certificate trust store that’s either part of a browser or part of a file system within the resident operating system of a device or a server. The trust store is placed in an instance of a Java class object for the purpose of this post. If you are planning to use this code-signing example in a production system, you must change the implementation to use a trust store on the host. To do so, you can build and distribute a secure trust store that includes the root CA certificate.
In this post, we showed you how a binary data blob can be digitally signed using ACM PCA and AWS KMS and how the signature can be verified using only the root CA certificate. No secret information or credentials are required to verify the signature. You can use this method to build a custom code-signing solution to address your particular use cases. The GitHub repository provides the Java code and the maven pom.xml that you can use to build and try it yourself. The README.md file in the GitHub repository shows the instructions to execute the code.
If you have feedback about this post, submit comments in the Comments section below. If you have questions about this post, start a new thread on the AWS Certificate Manager forum or contact AWS Support.
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