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Intermediate Certificates

Posted on 2011-03-01
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Last Modified: 2012-05-11
2 years back, I have been provided with .cer (SSL Certificate )and .pfx( Digital Signing Certificate) file by the vendor to connect to an Webservice .

While coding in VC++ I used ".pk8" or "".pem"for the testing after converting the cer using openSSL and was able to make connection in dev and production.

Now after 2 years, I have got an "Intermediate Certificate" from the vendor. I wanted to know since we have never installed certificates in production server browser as the process calls the private and public keys from the files stored locally , extracted from root certificates and those  certificates were not installed on the server browser, so I really need "Intermediate Certificates"?
 I am able to connect to in development without the use of intermediate certificates. am I missing anything?

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Question by:rbhargaw
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Dave Howe earned 500 total points
ID: 35009658
This is actually an interesting question.

historically, it was down to the server to deliver not only the end use certificate but also any intermediate certificates needed to complete the certification chain.

More recently though, modern certificates seem to *assume* that an intermediate certificate will be required, and provide, not that certificate, but a reference within the end use certificate to where the intermediate certificate can be found. It is then down to the relying client to obtain the intermediate certificate from the URI supplied, using the embedded reference.

Not all old browsers support this however, so you may see cases where an older browser (or ssl library) refuses a valid certificate because the intermediate was not supplied and it does not respect the embedded URI that could be used to obtain it.  In such cases, you can obtain and import the certificate manually to complete the authentication (this is painful, but from a security point of view it might be better than trusting not only every root ca in your store, but a potentially unlimited number of intermediates; sadly they could still achieve validity even in such older browsers by supplying the intermediate in the ssl handshake)
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by:rbhargaw
ID: 35011503
Thanks Dave! So do think I ask the support team to just install the certificates?
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by:Dave Howe
ID: 35012175
depends on the server. normally though, the process from a commercial CA is that you generate a local CSR file, which you upload to the CA; you get back from that a CER file (actually a DER or PEM encoded certificate) which you then import into the system that generated the CSR, and it combines it (internally) with the secret key to form a pair.

That can then be exported as a pkcs #12 (p12 or pfx) file, but usually isn't (other than for backup purposes) as usually the system generating the CSR is also the server that will be using it.
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