I setup this blog using S3 as the origin server, CloudFront as my CDN, and HTTPS for roughly $10. Since there were so many articles to read along the way, I’ve gathered up what worked for me here.
Step 0: Background & Assumptions
CloudFront offers HTTPS at no additional charge in certain situations. CloudFront takes advantage of an extension to the TLS protocol called Server Name Indication (“SNI”), which allows servers on a single IPv4 address to serve multiple domains over HTTPS. It’s a huge cost savings for Amazon, and they’ve decided to pass on the savings to you. Pay attention to step 5 below to take advantage of SNI. You’ll still have to buy your own SSL certificate.
I’ll assume you’re already using Jekyll or another static site generator to create HTML files that you plan to host on S3. Throughout this tutorial I’ll use the domain name of this blog to help you understand. You’ll want to replace “bryce.fisher-fleig.org” with your domain name anywhere you see it below.
Step 1: Create an S3 Bucket
Bucket Name: Your bucket name must be like bryce-fisher-fleig-org to work with CloudFront (bryce.fisher-fleig.org won’t work).
Permissions: Grant everyone read access to this bucket so that CloudFront can read out the content. Here’s how:
- Open the Change the Permissions tab on your shiney new bucket
- Click “Edit bucket policy”
- Copy and paste this JSON snippet into the policy editor:
- Change “bryce-fisher-fleig-org” above to your bucket name
- Click Save
Static Website Hosting Open this tab and select “Enable website hosting”. Make sure to set your Index document to index.html so that folders work right. Keep the “Endpoint” url handy for later.
This would be a great time to start uploading all the things to your new bucket, and try clicking on the Endpoint url to make sure things are groovy.
Step 2: Create a CloudFront Distribution
- Choose “Web”
- Origin Domain Name - Paste the “Endpoint” from S3’s Static Website Hosting tab here
- Minimum TTL - Click “Customize”. Keep this at 5 minutes (360 seconds). Once everything is groovy, change it to something higher (for instance, 24 hours).
- Price Class - I use US, Europe, and Asia. Choose whatever you’re comfortable paying for.
- Alternate Domain Names - Enter “bryce.fisher-fleig.org” (or whatever your subdomain is). You’ll have to use Route53 if you want to use a root domain with CloudFront.
- Default Root Object enter “index.html”. Otherwise, http://bryce.fisher-fleig.org/ wouldn’t display the root index.html file.
Don’t worry about the various HTTPS settings yet, we’ll come back to that later. None of the other settings need to be changed either.
Step 3: Obtain an SSL Certificate
This step walks you through paying a company called a Certificate Authority (“CA”) to verify your identity and issue an SSL certificate with their name on it. No matter which CA you pick, you’ll have to create a Certificate Signing Request (CSR) which you will upload to the CA. You’ll also need to generate a matching file called a private key.
The CA’s act as a kind of notary public for the internet. Anyone can generate an SSL certificate for free, but if your certificate isn’t signed by an official CA, then Chrome, Firefox, Safari, etc will not allow visitors to access your site over HTTPS. There’s a limited number of these Certificate Authorities around, thus they can and do charge obscene prices. Resellers, like the two I mention below, offer much better prices.
Different CA’s offer different kinds of certificates with various degrees of verification and encryption. For a personal blog, choose a single domain certificate verified using Domain Validation (“DV”). If you’re doing e-commerce, you probably want the more complicated and expensive process called Extended Validation (“EV”).
Step 3.A: Buy an SSL Certificate on the Cheap
The best place I can find legit certs is ClickSSL.com. They provide an awesome search filter, and their certificates are all signed using SHA-2 (more on this below). All certificates have 2048-bit key length meaning that your certificate has reasonable encryption strength for the near future.
Previously, I advocated using CheapestSSLs.com, but I’ve discovered that they can have slow customer service and weaker encryption. It’s unclear if they support SHA-2. CheapestSSLs.com is a little cheaper than ClickSSL.com.
With either reseller, my main criteria for a certificate are:
- SHA-2 (sometimes also called “SHA-256”) – Chrome and Firefox have pledged to start showing really scary security warnings to users for sites using the older SHA-1 signing algorithm by 2017. They already print warnings in the console today.
- Domain Validation (aka “DV”) – this means you can get the certificate right away through a self-service process. This option is only available for single domain certificates.
At my renewal time, I chose the RapidSSL certificate for this domain because I only want to serve one domain using this certificate, and the price was only $27 for two years. I highly recommend buying a two year certificate so that you don’t have to go through this process every single year.
Step 3.B: Generate a matching private key and CSR
Once you’ve paid for a certificate, generate a private key and a certificate signing request (CSR) using this command in the terminal:
(There’s a great article on what this command is doing at entrust.net, but don’t worry too much about it.)
Openssl will ask you a series of questions once you enter the command above:
- Country Name - two letter ISO 3166-1 code for your country (e.g. “US”)
- State or Province - e.g. “California”
- Locality Name - e.g. “San Francisco”
- Organization Name - your DBA, LLC, corp, or personal name. E.g. “Bryce Fisher-Fleig”
- Organizational Unit - optional, type “.” to leave blank
- Common Name - This is the one you MUST get right. Use the domain name you want to serve over HTTPS. E.g. “bryce.fisher-fleig.org”
- Email address - This is the email that will be exposed to spammers on the public certificate. You must have it, but consider creating a dedicated email address here for spam to collect in. E.g. “email@example.com”
Later on, we’ll provide this private key to CloudFront, but it’s vital that you keep the private key very, very private. The security of your website depends on the private key being accessible only to you and CloudFront. You should never email or share this file with anyone for any reason, and you shouldn’t store this file Dropbox or Google Drive. If the key is ever compromised, many CA’s will allow you regenerate your certificate for free.
Step 3.C: Upload the CSR to your Certificate Authority
This part was very simple for me with both Comodo and RapidSSL. I did have to re-enter some details that I entered on the CSR such as the domain name.
Step 3.D: Get validated!
Honestly, verifying that I owned the domain is the worst part every time I’ve done this. I can’t complain about price or customer service, but the process seemed to take forever. Thank yourself for choosing Domain Validation now, because you’ve saved yourself a week of effort.
There’s three ways to complete the DV process:
- Click a link sent to a special email address (usually firstname.lastname@example.org). This seems the hardest to me, because you have to setup the email server ahead of time, add MX records, create email accounts, and possibly setup anti-spam measures. I try never to do this, but this is only option for RapidSSL. If you have to go this route, I highly recommend using gandi.net. They provide all the email setup for you as part of all domain name purchases, and their prices are very reasonable.
- Host a file at a special url on that domain. This is tricky, but usually easier than email. Comodo supports this option. If you use S3, just upload the file they give you to S3.
- Set a dns TXT Record. This is easiest possible way. Unfortunately, I’ve never used a CA that supported this option. If you find one, please tell me in the comments!
If you don’t hear anything right away, you failed the domain validation. Don’t wait! Contact customer support immediately to help you resolve the issue. I’ve found support helpful, but the response time was unbearably slow (24hrs or more).
Step 4: Upload the Certificate to IAM
Amazon stores all of the SSL certificates used by any of the AWS services inside it’s Identity Access and Management (IAM) service. In order to upload an SSL certificate you must create an IAM user with sufficient permissions. The root account user will not work.
Create an admin IAM user:
- On the AWS Web Console, go to the IAM service
- Click on the “Users” tab
- Click “Create New Users”
- Enter the first user name. E.g. “SslKingPin”
- Click “Create”
- Show or download the credentials – we’ll need them a little bit later.
- Click on the newly created user
- In the user console at the bottom of the page, choose the “Permissions” tab
- Click “Attach User Policy”
- Copy and paste this JSON snippet into the Policy Editor and click save:
The JSON snippet above gives this user all privileges, so be careful!
Setup AWS Cli
For Mac just use homebrew:
On Debian/Ubuntu, just apt-get:
For other platforms, see the official AWS documentation
Configure the AWS Cli:
The only tricky part here is to make sure you enter the IAM credentials for our SslKingPin user. The other settings are a matter of preference.
Finally! Upload the Damn Certificate:
- Download the zip file from Comodo containing your new SSL certificate.
- Unzip all the files into the same directory you have the CSR and private key files.
- Follow these steps to upload your ssl certificate to IAM:
This command is REALLY tricky to get right. So, lets break it down a bit:
- server-certificate-name This is just an alpha-numeric label you see inside AWS consoles. It doesn’t matter to anyone except you.
- certificate-body The certificate from Comodo
- private-key This is the very first crypto file we made in Step 3.B.
- certificate-chain Using Comodo, this turned out to be the PositiveSSLCA2.crt file. For RapidSSL, it’s this intermediate certificate chain. It’s basically any files between but not including the trusted root certificate and the certificate with your domain name on it.
- path This ends in a slash, and it must start with /cloudfront/.
Step 5: Configure CloudFront to use SSL
- Inside the CloudFront dashboard, edit the distribution you created in step 2.
- On the General tab, click “edit”
- SSL Certificate - choose “Custom SSL Certificate (stored in AWS IAM)” and choose the certificate name from step 4 in the drop down (e.g. “BryceFisherFleigOrg”).
- Custom SSL Client Support - choose “Only Clients that Support Server Name Indication (SNI)”. This saves you tons and tons of money, but means older versions of IE and Android can’t use the SSL.
- Click “Yes, Edit”
- Click the “Behaviors” tab
- Edit the behavior there.
- Viewer Protocol Policy - choose “redirect HTTP to HTTPS” to force everyone to use SSL when viewing your site.
- Click “Yes, Edit”
- Go “back to distributions”. You’ll see that the status is “In Progress” until the change takes effect all over the world.
Step 6: Point your DNS to CloudFront
From the CloudFront distribution screen, copy the “Domain Name” value. It will be something like zxy9qwnududu7.cloudfront.net. Go to your DNS nameservers and create a CNAME for this value. These changes will take some time to propagate fully (for me about 10-15 minutes, but your mileage may vary).
Did you find an error in my tutorial? Did something not make sense? Tweet or comment below and I’d love to help you figure this out. Happy blogging!