Skip to main content


[edit on GitHub]

This guide covers the security features available in Chef Infra Server.

SSL Certificates

Initial configuration of the Chef Infra Server is done automatically using a self-signed certificate to create the certificate and private key files for Nginx. This section details the process for updating a Chef Infra Server’s SSL certificate.

The Chef Infra Server can be configured to use SSL certificates by adding the following settings to the server configuration file:

nginx['ssl_certificate']The SSL certificate used to verify communication over HTTPS.
nginx['ssl_certificate_key']The certificate key used for SSL communication.

and then setting their values to define the paths to the certificate and key.

For example:

nginx['ssl_certificate']  = "/etc/pki/tls/certs/your-host.crt"
nginx['ssl_certificate_key']  = "/etc/pki/tls/private/your-host.key"

Save the file, and then run the following command:

sudo chef-server-ctl reconfigure

For more information about the server configuration file, see chef-server.rb.

Manual Installation

SSL certificates can be updated manually by placing the certificate and private key file obtained from the certifying authority in the correct files, after the initial configuration of Chef Infra Server.

The locations of the certificate and private key files are:

  • /var/opt/opscode/nginx/ca/FQDN.crt
  • /var/opt/opscode/nginx/ca/FQDN.key

Because the FQDN has already been configured, do the following:

  1. Replace the contents of /var/opt/opscode/nginx/ca/FQDN.crt and /var/opt/opscode/nginx/ca/FQDN.key with the certifying authority’s files.

  2. Reconfigure the Chef Infra Server:

    chef-server-ctl reconfigure
  3. Restart the Nginx service to load the new key and certificate:

    chef-server-ctl restart nginx


The FQDN for the Chef Infra Server should be resolvable, lowercase, and have fewer than 64 characters including the domain suffix, when using OpenSSL, as OpenSSL requires the CN in a certificate to be no longer than 64 characters.

SSL Protocols

The following settings are often modified from the default as part of the tuning effort for the nginx service and to configure the Chef Infra Server to use SSL certificates:


The SSL certificate used to verify communication over HTTPS. Default value: nil.


The certificate key used for SSL communication. Default value: nil.


The list of supported cipher suites that are used to establish a secure connection. To favor AES256 with ECDHE forward security, drop the RC4-SHA:RC4-MD5:RC4:RSA prefix. For example:

nginx['ssl_ciphers'] =  "HIGH:MEDIUM:!LOW:!kEDH: \
                         !aNULL:!ADH:!eNULL:!EXP: \
                         !SSLv2:!SEED:!CAMELLIA: \

The SSL protocol versions that are enabled. SSL 3.0 is supported by the Chef Infra Server; however, SSL 3.0 is an obsolete and insecure protocol. Transport Layer Security (TLS)—TLS 1.0, TLS 1.1, and TLS 1.2—has effectively replaced SSL 3.0, which provides for authenticated version negotiation between Chef Infra Client and Chef Infra Server, which ensures the latest version of the TLS protocol is used. For the highest possible security, it is recommended to disable SSL 3.0 and allow all versions of the TLS protocol. For example:

nginx['ssl_protocols'] = "TLSv1 TLSv1.1 TLSv1.2"


See for more information about the values used with the nginx['ssl_ciphers'] and nginx['ssl_protocols'] settings.

For example, after copying the SSL certificate files to the Chef Infra Server, update the nginx['ssl_certificate'] and nginx['ssl_certificate_key'] settings to specify the paths to those files, and then (optionally) update the nginx['ssl_ciphers'] and nginx['ssl_protocols'] settings to reflect the desired level of hardness for the Chef Infra Server:

nginx['ssl_certificate'] = "/etc/pki/tls/private/name.of.pem"
nginx['ssl_certificate_key'] = "/etc/pki/tls/private/name.of.key"
nginx['ssl_ciphers'] = "HIGH:MEDIUM:!LOW:!kEDH:!aNULL:!ADH:!eNULL:!EXP:!SSLv2:!SEED:!CAMELLIA:!PSK"
nginx['ssl_protocols'] = "TLSv1 TLSv1.1 TLSv1.2"

Example: Configure SSL Keys for Nginx

The following example shows how the Chef Infra Server sets up and configures SSL certificates for Nginx. The cipher suite used by Nginx is configurable using the ssl_protocols and ssl_ciphers settings.

ssl_keyfile = File.join(nginx_ca_dir, "#{node['private_chef']['nginx']['server_name']}.key")
ssl_crtfile = File.join(nginx_ca_dir, "#{node['private_chef']['nginx']['server_name']}.crt")
ssl_signing_conf = File.join(nginx_ca_dir, "#{node['private_chef']['nginx']['server_name']}-ssl.conf")

unless File.exist?(ssl_keyfile) && File.exist?(ssl_crtfile) && File.exist?(ssl_signing_conf)
  file ssl_keyfile do
    owner 'root'
    group 'root'
    mode '0755'
    content '/opt/opscode/embedded/bin/openssl genrsa 2048'
    not_if { File.exist?(ssl_keyfile) }

  file ssl_signing_conf do
    owner 'root'
    group 'root'
    mode '0755'
    not_if { File.exist?(ssl_signing_conf) }
    content <<-EOH
  [ req ]
  distinguished_name = req_distinguished_name
  prompt = no
  [ req_distinguished_name ]
  C                      = #{node['private_chef']['nginx']['ssl_country_name']}
  ST                     = #{node['private_chef']['nginx']['ssl_state_name']}
  L                      = #{node['private_chef']['nginx']['ssl_locality_name']}
  O                      = #{node['private_chef']['nginx']['ssl_company_name']}
  OU                     = #{node['private_chef']['nginx']['ssl_organizational_unit_name']}
  CN                     = #{node['private_chef']['nginx']['server_name']}
  emailAddress           = #{node['private_chef']['nginx']['ssl_email_address']}

  ruby_block 'create crtfile' do
    block do
      r =, run_context)
      r.owner 'root' 'root'
      r.mode '0755'
      r.content "/opt/opscode/embedded/bin/openssl req -config '#{ssl_signing_conf}' -new -x509 -nodes -sha1 -days 3650 -key '#{ssl_keyfile}'"
      r.not_if { File.exist?(ssl_crtfile) }

Knife, Chef Infra Client

Chef Server 12 and later enables SSL verification by default for all requests made to the server, such as those made by knife and Chef Infra Client. The certificate that is generated during the installation of the Chef Infra Server is self-signed, which means the certificate is not signed by a trusted certificate authority (CA) that ships with Chef Infra Client. The certificate generated by the Chef Infra Server must be downloaded to any machine from which knife and/or Chef Infra Client will make requests to the Chef Infra Server.

For example, without downloading the SSL certificate, the following knife command:

knife client list

responds with an error similar to:

ERROR: SSL Validation failure connecting to host: ...
ERROR: OpenSSL::SSL::SSLError: SSL_connect returned=1 errno=0 state=SSLv3 ...

This is by design and will occur until a verifiable certificate is added to the machine from which the request is sent.

See Chef Infra Client SSL Certificates for more information on how knife and Chef Infra Client use SSL certificates generated by the Chef Infra Server.

Private Certificate Authority

If an organization is using an internal certificate authority, then the root certificate will not appear in any cacerts.pem file that ships by default with operating systems and web browsers. Because of this, no currently deployed system will be able to verify certificates that are issued in this manner. To allow other systems to trust certificates from an internal certificate authority, this root certificate will need to be configured so that other systems can follow the chain of authority back to the root certificate. (An intermediate certificate is not enough because the root certificate is not already globally known.)

To use an internal certificate authority, append the server–optionally, any intermediate certificate as well–and root certificates into a single .crt file. For example:

cat server.crt [intermediate.crt] root.crt >> /var/opt/opscode/nginx/ca/FQDN.crt

Check your combined certificate’s validity on the Chef Infra Server:

openssl verify -verbose -purpose sslserver -CAfile cacert.pem  /var/opt/opscode/nginx/ca/FQDN.crt

The cacert.pem should contain only your root CA’s certificate file. This is not the usual treatment, but mimics how Chef Workstation behaves after a knife ssl fetch followed by a knife ssl verify.

Intermediate Certificates

For use with 3rd party certificate providers, for example, Verisign.

To use an intermediate certificate, append both the server and intermediate certificates into a single .crt file. For example:

cat server.crt intermediate.crt >> /var/opt/opscode/nginx/ca/FQDN.crt

Verify Certificate Was Signed by Proper Key

It’s possible that a certificate/key mismatch can occur during the CertificateSigningRequest (CSR) process. During a CSR, the original key for the server in question should always be used. If the output of the following commands don’t match, then it’s possible the CSR for a new key for this host was generated using a random key or a newly generated key. The symptoms of this issue will look like the following in the nginx log files:

nginx: [emerg] SSL_CTX_use_PrivateKey_file("/var/opt/opscode/nginx/ca/YOUR_HOSTNAME.key") failed (SSL: error:0B080074:x509    certificate routines:X509_check_private_key:key values mismatch)

Here’s how to tell for sure when the configured certificate doesn’t match the key

## openssl x509 -in /var/opt/opscode/nginx/ca/chef-432.lxc.crt -noout -modulus | openssl sha1
(stdin)= 05b4f62e52fe7ce2351ff81d3e1060c0cdf1fa24

## openssl rsa -in /var/opt/opscode/nginx/ca/chef-432.lxc.key -noout -modulus | openssl sha1
(stdin)= 05b4f62e52fe7ce2351ff81d3e1060c0cdf1fa24

To fix this, you will need to generate a new CSR using the original key for the server, the same key that was used to produce the CSR for the previous certificates. Install that new certificates along with the original key and the mismatch error should go away.

Regenerate Certificates

SSL certificates should be regenerated periodically. This is an important part of protecting the Chef Infra Server from vulnerabilities and helps to prevent the information stored on the Chef Infra Server from being compromised.

To regenerate SSL certificates:

  1. Run the following command:

    chef-server-ctl stop
  2. The Chef Infra Server can regenerate them. These certificates will be located in /var/opt/opscode/nginx/ca/ and will be named after the FQDN for the Chef Infra Server. To determine the FQDN for the server, run the following command:

    hostname -f

    Please delete the files found in the ca directory with names like this $FQDN.crt and $FQDN.key.

  3. If your organization has provided custom SSL certificates to the Chef Infra Server, the locations of that custom certificate and private key are defined in /etc/opscode/chef-server.rb as values for the nginx['ssl_certificate'] and nginx['ssl_certificate_key'] settings. Delete the files referenced in those two settings and regenerate new keys using the same authority.

  4. Run the following command, Chef server-generated SSL certificates will automatically be created if necessary:

    chef-server-ctl reconfigure
  5. Run the following command:

    chef-server-ctl start

Chef Infra Server Credentials Management

New in Chef Server 12.14: Chef Infra Server limits where it writes service passwords and keys to disk. In the default configuration, credentials are only written to files in /etc/opscode.

By default, Chef Infra Server still writes service credentials to multiple locations inside /etc/opscode. This is designed to maintain compatibility with add-ons. Chef Server 12.14 introduces the insecure_addon_compat configuration option in /etc/opscode/chef-server.rb, which allows you to further restrict where credentials are written. insecure_addon_compat can be used if you are not using add-ons, or if you are using the latest add-on versions. Setting insecure_addon_compat to false writes credentials to only one location: /etc/opscode/private-chef-secrets.json.

User-provided secrets (such as the password for an external PostgreSQL instance) can still be set in /etc/opscode/chef-server.rb or via the Secrets Management commands. These commands allow you to provide external passwords without including them in your configuration file.

Add-on Compatibility

The following table lists which add-on versions support the more restrictive insecure_addon_compat false setting. These version also now require Chef Server 12.14.0 or greater:

Add-on NameMinimum Version
Chef Backendall
Chef Manage2.5.0
Push Jobs Server2.2.0

These newer add-ons will also write all of their secrets to /etc/opscode/private-chef-secrets.json. Older versions of the add-ons will still write their configuration to locations in /etc and /var/opt.


/etc/opscode/private-chef-secrets.json's default permissions allow only the root user to read or write the file. This file contains all of the secrets for access to the Chef server’s underlying data stores and thus access to it should be restricted to trusted users.

While the file does not contain passwords in plaintext, it is not safe to share with untrusted users. The format of the secrets file allows Chef Infra Server deployments to conform to regulations that forbid the appearance of sensitive data in plain text in configuration files; however, it does not make the file meaningfully more secure.

SSL Encryption Between Chef Infra Server and External PostgreSQL

New in Chef Infra Server 13.1.13: Chef Infra Server 13.1.13 introduces the ability to encrypt traffic between Chef Infra Server and an external PostgreSQL server over SSL. These instructions are not all-encompassing and assume some familiarity with PostgreSQL administration, configuration, and troubleshooting. Consult the PostgreSQL documentation for more information.

The following is a typical scenario for enabling encryption between a machine running Chef Infra Server and an external machine running PostgreSQL. Both machines must be networked together and accessible to the user.

  1. Run the following command on both machines to gain root access:

    sudo -i
  2. Ensure that OpenSSL is installed on the PostgreSQL machine.

  3. Ensure that SSL support is compiled in on PostgreSQL. This applies whether you are compiling your own source or using a pre-compiled binary.

  4. Place SSL certificates in the proper directories on the PostgreSQL machine and ensure they have correct filenames, ownerships, and permissions.

  5. Enable SSL on PostgreSQL by editing the postgresql.conf file. Set ssl = on and specify the paths to the SSL certificates:

  6. To prevent PostgreSQL from accepting non-SSL connections, edit pg_hba.conf on the PostgreSQL machine and change the relevant Chef Infra Server connections to hostssl.

    Here is a sample pg_hba.conf file with hostssl connections for Chef Infra Server (the contents of your pg_hba.conf will be different):

    # "local" is for Unix domain socket connections only
    local      all             all                                     peer
    # IPv4 local connections:
    hostssl    all             all               md5
    # IPv6 local connections:
    hostssl    all             all             ::1/128                 md5
    # nonlocal connections
    hostssl    all             all          md5
  7. Restart PostgreSQL. This can typically be done with the following command on the PostgreSQL machine:

    /path/to/postgresql/postgresql restart
  8. Edit /etc/opscode/chef-server.rb on the Chef Infra Server and add the following line:

  9. Run reconfigure on the Chef Infra Server:

    chef-server-ctl reconfigure
  10. Verify that SSL is enabled and that SSL connections are up between Chef Infra Server and your running PostgreSQL instance. One way to do this is to log into the PostgreSQL database from the Chef Infra Server by running chef-server-ctl psql and then examine the SSL state using SQL queries.

    Start a psql session:

    chef-server-ctl psql opscode_chef

    From the psql session, enter postgres=# show ssl; which will show if ssl is enabled:

    postgres=# show ssl;
    (1 row)

    Then enter postgres=# select * from pg_stat_ssl; which will return true (t) in rows with SSL connections:

    postgres=# select * from pg_stat_ssl;
      pid  | ssl | version |           cipher            | bits | compression | clientdn
     16083 | t   | TLSv1.2 | ECDHE-RSA-AES256-GCM-SHA384 |  256 | f           |
     16084 | t   | TLSv1.2 | ECDHE-RSA-AES256-GCM-SHA384 |  256 | f           |
     16085 | t   | TLSv1.2 | ECDHE-RSA-AES256-GCM-SHA384 |  256 | f           |
     16086 | t   | TLSv1.2 | ECDHE-RSA-AES256-GCM-SHA384 |  256 | f           |
     16087 | t   | TLSv1.2 | ECDHE-RSA-AES256-GCM-SHA384 |  256 | f           |
     16088 | t   | TLSv1.2 | ECDHE-RSA-AES256-GCM-SHA384 |  256 | f           |
     16089 | t   | TLSv1.2 | ECDHE-RSA-AES256-GCM-SHA384 |  256 | f           |
     16090 | t   | TLSv1.2 | ECDHE-RSA-AES256-GCM-SHA384 |  256 | f           |
     16091 | t   | TLSv1.2 | ECDHE-RSA-AES256-GCM-SHA384 |  256 | f           |
     16092 | t   | TLSv1.2 | ECDHE-RSA-AES256-GCM-SHA384 |  256 | f           |
     16093 | t   | TLSv1.2 | ECDHE-RSA-AES256-GCM-SHA384 |  256 | f           |
     16094 | t   | TLSv1.2 | ECDHE-RSA-AES256-GCM-SHA384 |  256 | f           |
     16095 | t   | TLSv1.2 | ECDHE-RSA-AES256-GCM-SHA384 |  256 | f           |
     16096 | t   | TLSv1.2 | ECDHE-RSA-AES256-GCM-SHA384 |  256 | f           |
     16097 | t   | TLSv1.2 | ECDHE-RSA-AES256-GCM-SHA384 |  256 | f           |
     16098 | t   | TLSv1.2 | ECDHE-RSA-AES256-GCM-SHA384 |  256 | f           |
     16099 | t   | TLSv1.2 | ECDHE-RSA-AES256-GCM-SHA384 |  256 | f           |
     16100 | t   | TLSv1.2 | ECDHE-RSA-AES256-GCM-SHA384 |  256 | f           |
     16101 | t   | TLSv1.2 | ECDHE-RSA-AES256-GCM-SHA384 |  256 | f           |
     16102 | t   | TLSv1.2 | ECDHE-RSA-AES256-GCM-SHA384 |  256 | f           |
     16119 | f   |         |                             |      |             |
    (21 rows)

Key Rotation

See the chef-server-ctl key rotation commands for more information about user key management.