Certificates, Keys, and Authorities

Certificates

VPNs use certificates and keys. We're going to spend some time building certificates and keys, so we should get clear on what they are.

  • A certificate is used to prove who you are. (More accurately, it proves that a computer is who it says it is.) A driver's license is an example of a non-computer certificate.
  • A key is used to lock/unlock something. (More accurately, it encrypts or decrypts something.) The key to your front door is an example of a non-computer key.
  • A certificate authority is used to mark certificates and keys as being 'official.'

Certificates and encryption are what make OpenVPN secure. Managing client certificates is a big part of managing any VPN server. I'm going to generate a server certificate and I'm going to generate many client certificates. It will be more than I think I'll need, but I'll go ahead and generate them all now, before I forget how. I'll use a tool called easy-rsa.