Encrypt the traffic between nodes in your elasticsearch cluster


Tags: elastic

Encrypting the traffic between elasticsearch nodes using X-Pack security.

In my opinion, it is quite important to encrypt the traffic between the backend services. Especially, if you don’t control your infrastructure (or don’t trust your infra provider). Let’s see how to encrypt the elasticsearch cluster transport traffic with X-Pack.

X-Pack uses TLS to encrypt the traffic between nodes in the cluster and between clients and the cluster. Additionally, a hostname verification can be performed as well. The prerequisite for internal TLS is to assign a X.509 certificate to each node. The certificates should be sign by a trusted certificate authority, or CA.

In this blogpost we will use official docker images of elasticsearch and docker compose to demonstrate the setup. You can find the code to reproduce the setup on my github at elasticsearch-fun-with-tls.

Goal #

In this exercise we want to set up three elasticsearch nodes. Two of them will have certificates signed by a trusted CA and the third one is an alien — its certificate is not trusted. We will show that it can’t join the cluster formed by the two.

Note that we use docker images with default config here (including passwords) which is not the best production config. In this post we are only interested in demonstrating the TLS setup.

Certificate generation #

First lets produce the certificates. Elasticsearch has a tool which helps with that #

certgen. It can generate a CA cert + key and a set of certificates + keys for all the nodes. In a production scenario you want to generate keys + CSRs and then sign the CSRs with you CA to get the node certificates. See the certgen documentation for that.

Let’s start with a following instances.yaml

  - name: "node-0001"
      - "elasticsearch-1"
      - "localhost"  # so that it is easy to curl node-0001 from
                     # host machine
      - ""
  - name: "node-0002"
      - "elasticsearch-2"
      - ""

It defines two nodes together with their dns names and ip addresses (to allow hostname verification).

And use a temporary docker container to run certgen:

$ mkdir -p certificates
$ docker run -it --rm \
    -v '$(cwd)/instances.yaml:$(es_dir)/config/x-pack/instances.yaml' \
    -v '$(cwd)/certificates:$(es_dir)/config/x-pack/certificates' \
    -w $(es_dir) \
    'docker.elastic.co/elasticsearch/elasticsearch:$(es_version)' \
    bin/x-pack/certgen -in instances.yaml \
        -out $(es_dir)/config/x-pack/certificates/bundle.zip
$ unzip -o certificates/bundle.zip -d certificates
$ rm certificates/bundle.zip

We will end up with the following certs:

$ tree certificates
├── ca                  # CA certificate and private key
│   ├── ca.crt
│   └── ca.key
├── node-0001
│   ├── node-0001.crt   # Node certificate
│   └── node-0001.key
└── node-0002           # Second node certificate
    ├── node-0002.crt
    └── node-0002.key

3 directories, 6 files

Let’s also create another set — signed by a different CA — for the alien node-0003.

# file: alien.yaml
  - name: "node-0003"
      - "elasticsearch-3"
      - ""

Which after using certgen and unzipping produces the following:

$ tree alien-certificates
├── ca
│   ├── ca.crt
│   └── ca.key
└── node-0003
    ├── node-0003.crt
    └── node-0003.key

2 directories, 4 files

Cluster definition #

We are going to use docker compose the spin up the cluster. We define three services elasticsearch-1, elasticsearch-2 and elasticsearch-3 plus a network bridge between them. To simplify the setup we are going to use static ipv4 addressing.

First service:

  # We use official elasticsearch docker images which already contain X-Pack
  image: docker.elastic.co/elasticsearch/elasticsearch:5.3.0
  container_name: elasticsearch-1
  mem_limit: 2g
    - "./data-1:/usr/share/elasticsearch/data"  # The default storage driver do not play well with io-instensive databases or search engines
    - "./elasticsearch-1.yml:/usr/share/elasticsearch/config/elasticsearch.yml"        # We are going to mount our own config
    - "./certificates/ca/ca.crt:/usr/share/elasticsearch/config/x-pack/tls/ca/ca.crt"  # CA cert to trust
    - "./certificates/node-0001:/usr/share/elasticsearch/config/x-pack/tls/node-0001"  # Node cert + private key to use
      ipv4_address:  # Static address, the same as provided during the cert generation
    - 9200:9200                  # We want to expose the default elasticsearch port to the host
    - "ES_JAVA_OPTS=-Xms1024m -Xmx1024m"

and its config:

cluster.name: "docker-cluster"
node.name: "node-0001"       # node name, the same as provided during cert generation
transport.host:  # bind the inter-node communication to docker bridge network

discovery.zen.minimum_master_nodes: 1  # in should be set to quorum n/2 + 1 in a production deployment

# Private key the node-0001 uses to initiate TLS connection
xpack.ssl.key: /usr/share/elasticsearch/config/x-pack/tls/node-0001/node-0001.key

# Public certificate signed by a CA that other nodes trust
xpack.ssl.certificate: /usr/share/elasticsearch/config/x-pack/tls/node-0001/node-0001.crt

# List of CAs to trust, note that a java key store can be used as well; check the x-pack docs for details
xpack.ssl.certificate_authorities: ["/usr/share/elasticsearch/config/x-pack/tls/ca/ca.crt" ]

# Verify both the certificate and the hostname, alternative is `certificate` which won't verify the hostname
xpack.ssl.verification_mode: full

# Use TLS for inter-cluster communication
xpack.security.transport.ssl.enabled: true

# Use TLS (https) for outbound communication
xpack.security.http.ssl.enabled: true

The other nodes have similar configs with slight differences.

You can find the full configuration in the repo.

Connecting it all together #

Let’s start the first node

$ docker-compose up elasticsearch-1

elasticsearch-1    | [2017-04-01T11:27:51,670][INFO ][o.e.c.s.ClusterService   ] [node-0001] new_master {node-0001}{bSihiuKnS4S-CnEbpdc3VQ}{qB1elbDhRuW31hho1AY_pQ}{}{}, reason: zen-disco-elected-as-master ([0] nodes joined)

And check how our cluster looks now:

$ curl --cacert certificates/ca/ca.crt -u 'elastic:changeme' https://localhost:9200/_cat/nodes 13 20 4 0.08 0.06 0.02 mdi * node-0001

Things to notice:

Now the second node:

$ docker-compose up elasticsearch-2

elasticsearch-2    | [2017-04-01T12:32:56,103][INFO ][o.e.c.s.ClusterService   ] [node-0002] detected_master {node-0001}{WSZmQkfAREa81n9XaYni-w}{NtCHIMQLRbCAtS_HqCxEhw}{}{}, added \{\{node-0001\}\{WSZmQkfAREa81n9XaYni-w\}\{NtCHIMQLRbCAtS_HqCxEhw\}\{\}\{\},\}, reason: zen-disco-receive(from master [master {node-0001}{WSZmQkfAREa81n9XaYni-w}{NtCHIMQLRbCAtS_HqCxEhw}{}{} committed version [9]])
$ curl --cacert certificates/ca/ca.crt -u 'elastic:changeme' https://localhost:9200/_cat/nodes 15 43 4 0.52 0.33 0.25 mdi - node-0002 23 43 4 0.52 0.33 0.25 mdi * node-0001

As we can see it joined the cluster.

Finally, lets try the third one — alien signed off by a different CA.

$ docker-compose up elasticsearch-3

It can’t join the cluster:

elasticsearch-3    | [2017-04-01T12:35:00,803][WARN ][o.e.x.s.t.n.SecurityNetty4Transport] [node-0003] exception caught on transport layer [[id: 0x1dbe4afa, L: ! R:/]], closing connection
elasticsearch-3    | io.netty.handler.codec.DecoderException: javax.net.ssl.SSLHandshakeException: General SSLEngine problem

And it is not present in the node list:

curl  --cacert certificates/ca/ca.crt -u 'elastic:changeme' https://localhost:9200/_cat/nodes 14 59 3 0.51 0.39 0.28 mdi - node-0002 21 59 9 0.51 0.39 0.28 mdi * node-0001

Summary and next steps #

There we go, we’ve configured the cluster in such a way that all the inter-node communication is encrypted. We see that we need a set of per-node certificates signed off by a trusted CA.

Seeing is believing so one should dump the docker network bridge traffic to verify it is indeed tls encrypted. This is left as an exercise for the reader.

Next step is the certificate rotation. In most of the production grade setups you want the ability to rotate the certificates without cluster downtime. I plan to cover it in some future blog posts.

If you want to play with this setup, be sure to check the accompanying github repo.

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