AWS Certificate Manager

January 21, 2016

Yesterday Amazon shipped their best addition to the AWS toolchain in a long time in form of the AWS Certificate Manager. The service issues TLS/SSL certificates under Amazon’s authority and allows you to easily attach them to a CloudFront distribution or Elastic Load Balancer. That may not sound spectacular, but the real win is the price: free with the use of other Amazon services.

ACM won’t change how people use AWS, but it does play very nicely for anyone using Amazon for other services. Where previously I’d have to use CloudFlare’s SNI proxy to get HTTPS for a static site built on CloudFront and S3, I can now issue a certificate and have CloudFront serve it directly, taking a big hop out of the critical path.

Another nice surprise is that ACM will allow you to issue wildcard certificates (I issued a *.brandur.org that can be examined here as a sample). This is tremendously convenient for microservices-style architectures because a single certificate can be created and then attached to a number of different nodes. ACM also manages certificate rotation automatically, so everything will stay online even through the expiration of the original certificate.

One of the downsides brought up on HN is that unlike Let’s Encrypt, Amazon doesn’t give users access to certificate private key, meaning that they’re not portable outside of the AWS product infrastructure. It may be somewhat controversial, but this is the perfect kind of product trade-off for them to make: it offers a very convenient path for users of existing products while also preventing any kind of abuse that the service might incur by being overly generous with its free offerings.

Domain verification works by having Amazon e-mail a domain’s public contact and having them follow back a verifiction link. This system may be a little less open than some of the Let’s Encrypt ACME challenges that have been submitted to the IETF, but it’s more convenient and faster to use.

The ACM certificate chain:

Certificate chain

AWS Certificate Manager was published on January 21, 2016.

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