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Using the IBM Cloud Certificate Manager service

Using the IBM Cloud Certificate Manager service

Transport Layer Security (TLS) created by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) is a standardized protocol used to protect application data in flight. TLS supports the establishment of trust of the parties in the connection through the use of digital certificates. Secure handling of digital certificates, which are validated (by a Certificate Authority) public keys and their corresponding private keys is an essential capability for a cloud provider platform.

The IBM Cloud Certificate Manager is a free service to help you manage digital certificates used for SSL/TLS connections. This guide will show how to create a Certificate Manager instance, import an existing certificate signed by a public Certificate Authority (CA) and request a new singed certificate from the Let’s Encrypt CA. Related guides will show how to deploy certificates stored in Certificate Manager to the VPC Load Balancer and Kubernetes Ingress.

Certificate Manager can order certificates from Let’s Encrypt for both individual domain names and wildcard domain names. Certificate Manager provides integration with IBM Cloud Internet Services for automatically configuring responses for domain challenges using the Automatic Certificate Management Environment (ACME) protocol. Additionally, Certificate Manager supports the use of any DNS provider through a Callback URL notification process. This guide will provide an example Cloud Function for processing the notification which can be used as is or further integrated with a DNS provider’s API as needed.

The code to manage the Certificate Manager and certificates can be downloaded from the GitHub repository in the directory 14-certificate-management/certificate-management.

Certificate Manager

The Certificate Manager service instance can be created from the IBM Cloud dashboard or CLI. After the instance is created, it can be fully managed through a dashboard web interface. After the service instance is created, this guide will provide examples of managing certificate import and new certificate ordering using terraform.

Before you run through this example, make sure your Terraform environment is setup correctly as documented in the environment setup.

Create a Certificate Manager instance. Begin by logging in to IBM Cloud using the CLI and set the desired resource group and region

ibmcloud login
ibmcloud target -g Default -r us-south
ibmcloud resource service-instance-create "iac-certificate-manager" cloudcerts free us-south

Make a note of the ID returned by the command. It will be of the form crn:v1:bluemix:public:cloudcerts:us-south:a/{account-id}:{instance-guid}:: Assign this to an envrionment variable CMID for later use. This command will work as well if you have jq installed.

CMID=$(ibmcloud resource service-instance iac-certificate-manager --output JSON | jq .[].id | tr -d \")
echo $CMID

Alternatively, the certificate manager instance can be created using terraform by creating an ibm_resource_instance resource using the service name cloudcerts and the free plan.

Importing an existing certificate

Certificate manager can import signed certificates for storage. Either the certificate alone can be imported, or the certificate and the associated private key can be imported. To be able to deploy the certificate to other services, such as the VPC Load Balancer or Kubernetes ingress, the certificate and private key should both be imported. If your certificate requires an intermediate signing certificate, that can be imported at the same time.

Example code to import a certificate, private key and intermediate certificate can be found in the repo in the 14-certificate-managment/import-certificate folder.
data "ibm_resource_instance" "cm" {
name = "iac-certificate-manager"
service = "cloudcerts"
resource "ibm_certificate_manager_import" "cert" {
certificate_manager_instance_id =
name = "iac-imported-certificate"
description="Certificate signed by public CA and imported to Certificate Manager"

To use this code, update the file paths in the file with the local path on the system running terraform to the certificate, key, and intermediate certificate files. Example values are shown for a wildcard certificate on the domain:
variable "certfile_path" {
default = "~/certs/PublicCA-demo/wc_cm_timro_us.pem"
variable "private_keyfile_path" {
default = "~/certs/PublicCA-demo/wc_cm_timro_us.key"
variable "intermediate_certfile_path" {
default = "~/certs/PublicCA-demo/wc_cm_timro_us_intermediate.pem"

Import the certificate using Terraform:

terraform init
terraform plan
terraform apply

After the certificate is uploaded, you can verify the status by viewing the certificate from the Certificate Manager dashboard:

Uploaded certificate

Configuring a certificate notification endpoint

The Certificate Manager automates the support lifecycle of certifications through notifications. Notifications include messages related to certificate activity like certificate imports, domain requests for new certificates, upcoming certificate expirations, automatic renewals and more. Supported notification integrations are through Slack webhooks and a generic Callback URL.

When setting up certificate ordering, Certificate Manager supports two approaches to confirming domain ownership. If you are managing domains using IBM Cloud Internet Services, the service can be configured to automate the domain confirmation process.

For a generic DNS provider, confirming domain ownership is handled through Callback URL notifications. The file 14-certificate-management/functions/cm-callback.js provides a node.js function that will implement an endpoint to receive the domain request and log the necessary information to implement an ACME dns-01 style challenge. This code is a simplified version of example code for integration with the SoftLayer DNS provider.

This code can be deployed as a Cloud Function using the following steps in the IBM Cloud CLI. Begin by installing the cloud functions plugin and then create an IAM namespace for the function.

ibmcloud plugin install cloud-functions
ibmcloud cloud-functions namespace create iac-functions-01
ibmcloud fn property set --namespace iac-functions-01

If you have not already, change to the folder with the cm-callback.js file and install it as an action in the namespace and verify that it is installed:

ibmcloud fn action create cm-callback cm-callback.js --kind nodejs:10 --web true
$ ibmcloud fn action list
/4c87f7d9-ffc9-4d25-863c-8e47d6be4e24/cm-callback private nodejs:10

Next, add parameters to the action that will specify the allowed Certificate Manager instances that will be allowed to post notifications for domain events and also the region of the Certificate Manager instance for request validation.

ibmcloud fn action update cm-callback --param allowedCertificateManagerCRNs "{\"$CMID\":true}" --param cmRegion "us-south"

Obtain the web endpoint for the action and set this to an envrionment variable CALLBACK_URL

CALLBACK_URL=$(ibmcloud fn action get cm-callback --url | grep http)

This URL endpoint can be added to the Certificate Manager using the dashboard by navigating to the Notifications page and clicking on the Create button. Select the “Callback URL” channel type and paste in the URL and save. Note, this step can also be performed using the api.

Verify that your cloud function received the test notification from service (you can re-trigger a notification by clicking on the three vertical dots on the right side of the channel entry and selecting Test Connection)

$ ibmcloud fn activation logs --last
2020-05-30T18:03:56.055864Z stdout: Cloud function invoked.
2020-05-30T18:03:56.056185Z stdout: Get public key for instance crn:v1:bluemix:public:cloudcerts:us-south:a06788ee4fd5a4d779f236bbe43f09b4b:d6cad342-cf54-49d3-b5f9-42e842e43c40::

With your Callback URL in operation, you can now use Certificate Manager to order a certificate.

Requesting a new certificate

When using a DNS provider other than IBM Cloud Internet Services, the requested domain challenge must be added to the DNS domain within 10 minutes of the certificate order. It’s good to verify that you have configured a process that will allow you to add TXT records to the planned domain for the certificate in advance.

Code for ordering a certificate is located in the 14-certificate-management/order-certifcate folder.

Example code to create a certificate request for the domain name is provided as an example. Edit the file to provide a domain name that you can manage.
data "ibm_resource_instance" "cm" {
name = "iac-certificate-manager"
service = "cloudcerts"
resource "ibm_certificate_manager_order" "cert" {
certificate_manager_instance_id =
name = "iac-ordered-certificate"
description = "Certificate ordered using alternate DNS provider"

Configure terraform in the directory and request the certificate. Note, if the Certificate Manager is not able to verify the status of the ACME dns-01 challenge, the certificate status will stay as Pending until the 10 minute period expires.

terraform init
terraform plan
terraform apply

From another terminal (the terraform apply request will block) Check the output log from the cloud function (example output shown)

$ ibmcloud fn activation logs --last
2020-05-30T18:32:30.830748Z stdout: Cloud function invoked.
2020-05-30T18:32:30.830893Z stdout: Get public key for instance crn:v1:bluemix:public:cloudcerts:us-south:a06788ee4fd5a4d779f236bbe43f09b4b:d6cad342-cf54-49d3-b5f9-42e842e43c40::
2020-05-30T18:32:31.037939Z stdout: Validation requested for domain:
2020-05-30T18:32:31.037973Z stdout: TXT record name: _acme-challenge, TXT value: x5_fFA2-dweRRjq5bw4hjGVloS2S6I3-mrkB5pHkHlk

At this point, update your DNS domain with the requested record, use a very short TTL (300-600s). Verify the entry:

$ dig -t TXT +short

This update will be used for a dry-run verification by Certificate Manager. This will be validated in one or two minutes and a second notification will be sent with a new challenge. Update the domain entry to the new value that is shown in the log for the Cloud Function. This second challenge will be used with Let’s Encrypt to create the certificate which usually takes another 2-4 minutes to complete. Retun to monitoring the terraform terminal for status updates.

If the creation of the certificate is successful, the following will be displayed from the terminal with the terraform cli:

Apply complete! Resources: 1 added, 0 changed, 0 destroyed.
ordered-certificate-expires-on = 1598637993000
ordered-certificate-id = crn:v1:bluemix:public:cloudcerts:us-south:a/06788ee4fd5a4d779f236bbe43f09b4b:d6cad342-cf54-49d3-b5f9-42e842e43c40:certificate:df56720b1dab1db089f73d0fd8d6ad20
ordered-certificate-status = valid

When this message appears, you may remove the TXT record for your domain. The certificate is ready for deployment from Certificate Manager. Both certificates are now visible in the service dashboard.

Both certificates

Although these certificates could be removed at this point using terraform destroy, do not perform this action if you plan to continue with the other deployment examples to VPC Load Balancer and Kubernetes Ingress.