Elasticsearch TLS Search Guard

Creating Search Guard TLS certificates with OpenSSL

by Cliff Staley on January 4, 2019

SearchGuard security heavily relies on TLS certificates. For proof-of-concept instances, they can be generated by our demo installer or using our online TLS Generator. For production environments we have created an offline TLS tool. In this article, we describe how to create certificates from scratch based on OpenSSL command line. This allows more custom setup when necessary.

SearchGuard distinguishes three different certificate types:

  • Node certificates – used to identify and secure traffic between Elasticsearch nodes on the transport layer
  • Client certificates – used to identify Elasticsearch clients on the REST and transport layer.
  • Admin certificates – which basically are client certificates that have elevated rights to perform administrative tasks.

Generating Root CA

Root CA (Certificate Authority) is a certificate that will be used to sign all other certificates within a system. In other words, Root CA is an issuer of node, client and admin certificates. We start with changing certificates’ directory permissions to 600. Then we can create config file cert_config:

[ req ]
prompt             = no
distinguished_name = demo-ca

[ demo-ca ]
commonName = demo-root-ca
countryName = DE
organizationName = Demo-SearchGuard
organizationalUnitName = demo-cluster
stateOrProvinceName = Brandenburg

Based on this, Root CA can be generated with a command:

openssl req -x509 -newkey rsa:4096 -keyout key.pem -out root-ca.pem -days 365 -nodes -config cert_config

The whole certificate can be viewed with a command:

openssl x509 -in root-ca.pem -text -noout

or the following command just to present subject:

openssl x509 -in root-ca.pem -subject -noout

Generating Node Certificate

Next, we generate node certificate issued by the Root CA. We start with a similar config file (country and organisational unit fields may be copied) which additionally contains:

  • Extended Key Usage (EKU)
  • Service Alternative Name (SAN entries) that may be used for hostname verification
[ req ]
prompt             = no
distinguished_name = node
req_extensions     = req_ext

[ node ]
commonName = demo-node
countryName = DE
organizationName = Demo-SearchGuard
organizationalUnitName = demo-cluster
stateOrProvinceName = Brandenburg

[ req_ext ]
subjectAltName = @alt_names
extendedKeyUsage = serverAuth,clientAuth

DNS.1 = localhost
IP.1 =

Then the following two commands will create a certificate as specified and issued by Root CA:

openssl req \
  -newkey rsa:4096 \
  -keyout key.pem \
  -out node-cert.csr \
  -days 365 \
  -nodes \
  -config <<node-config-file>> 

openssl x509 \
  -req \
  -in node-cert.csr \
  -CA <<root-ca-certificate>>.pem \
  -CAkey <<root-ca-key>>/.pem \
  -CAcreateserial \
  -out node-cert.pem \
  -extensions req_ext \
  -extfile node_cert_config \
  -days 365

At this stage it is worth to check if an issuer is correctly set:

$ openssl x509 -in node-cert.pem -issuer -noout
issuer= /CN=demo-root-ca/C=DE/O=Demo-SearchGuard/OU=demo-cluster/ST=Brandenburg

X509 extensions part of a certificate should look like this:

X509v3 extensions:
            X509v3 Subject Alternative Name:
                DNS:localhost, IP Address:
            X509v3 Extended Key Usage:
                TLS Web Server Authentication, TLS Web Client Authentication

This means we have successfully added Subject Alternative Names and Extended Usages that are necessary for SearchGuard.

Generating Admin Certificate

Generating admin certificate can be done exactly the same way and only commonName has to be modified.

Configuring SearchGuard

We ensure that the following keys in elasticsearch.yml target to certificate and key files we have created before:

searchguard.ssl.transport.pemcert_filepath: node-cert.pem 
searchguard.ssl.transport.pemkey_filepath: node-key.pem 
searchguard.ssl.transport.pemtrustedcas_filepath: root-ca.pem


searchguard.ssl.http.pemcert_filepath: node-cert.pem 
searchguard.ssl.http.pemkey_filepath: node-key.pem 
searchguard.ssl.http.pemtrustedcas_filepath: root-ca.pem

Note that Elasticsearch requires key and certificate files to be located within its config directory. Make sure to change directory permissions to 600.

We also define which certificate (Distinguished Name of subject) will be used for admin requests:

 - "ST=Brandenburg,OU=demo-cluster,O=Demo-SearchGuard,C=DE,CN=demo-admin"


We restart the cluster and run sgadmin, to see if it works:

./sgadmin.sh -w   
  -cacert <<root-ca>>.pem    
  -cert <<admin-cert>>.pem
  -key <<admin-key>>.pem    

The -w option will print whoami of admin user, so it may be good for testing.

The command results with a response:

Connected as ST=DE,OU=demo-cluster,O=Demo-SearchGuard,C=DE,CN=demo-admin
  "whoami" : {
    "dn" : "ST=DE,OU=demo-cluster,O=Demo-SearchGuard,C=DE,CN=demo-admin",
    "is_admin" : true,
    "is_authenticated" : true,
    "is_node_certificate_request" : false

which assures our setup works correctly.

Where to go next:

Image: shutterstock / Profit Image

Cliff StaleyCreating Search Guard TLS certificates with OpenSSL

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