Windows Server 2008: How to Install Active Directory Certificate Services

I gave a good overview of what Active Directory Certificate Services (AD CS) are and what they do in my last article: Server 2008: Active Directory Certificate Services.

For a short recap, AD CS is the backbone of Microsoft’s Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) implementation. It will allow you to issue certificates for SSL/TTL user on websites or digitally sign your email. Now let’s take a look at installing Active Directory Certificate Services.

Certain versions of Server 2008 only allow certain AD CS components to be installed; please take a look at this table for reference:

Server 2008: Install Active Directory Certificate Services

  • CA – issues certificates to users, computers and services while also managing their validity; comes in root and subordinate
  • Network Device Enrollment Service – allows network devices (i.e. routers) to request and receive certificates based on Simple Certificate Enrollment Protocol (SCEP)
  • Online Responder Service – implements Online Certificate Status Protocol (OCSP) by evaluating certificate status, decoding revocation status requests, and sending back signed responses containing certificate status information

As I outlined in my earlier article, there are two varieties of root CA’s: the Enterprise and Stand-Alone. Each has their advantages and configuration, but in this case we are going to install an Enterprise CA. I am going to be installing this root CA server in my test Active directory domain named ADExample.com on a Windows Server 2008 Enterprise version.

The server is a member of the domain, and is a domain controller. Let’s get started.

1. Open Server Manager.

2. Select Roles, then click Add Roles in the center pane.

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3. The Before You Begin page may show up if you haven’t turned it off already. If you see it just click Next.

4. In the Select Server Roles window go ahead and select Active Directory Certificate Services by placing a checkmark next to it, then go ahead and click Next.

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5. Now you will see an Introduction to Active Directory Certificate Services, where you can read about the good things you can do with AD CS.

The biggest thing to note here is the following:

Name & Domain settings of this computer cannot be changed after a CA has been installed. If you want to change the computer name, join a domain, or promote this server to a domain controller do so BEFORE install thing the CA.

Now with that warning out of the way, go ahead and click on Next.

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6. Next you get to Select Role Services, which can include any of the following depending on what version of Windows Server 2008 you are installing this on — refer to the table above for specifics.

For this install I am going to choose the Certification Authority only.

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7. Now comes the Specify Setup Type, and for this I am going to select the Enterprise radio button.

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8. For the Specify CA Type, I am going to choose the Root CA radio button and then click Next.

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9. In Set Up Private Key, I am going to choose Create a new private key radio button and then select Next.

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10. Now you have to Configure Cryptography for CA in this window and there are quite a few to choose from.

Now I am no expert on cryptography, but some basic rules do apply … the longer the key the harder it is to crack. For our purposes I am going to use the following settings:

RSA#Microsoft Software Key Storage Provider
4096 Key Character length
md5 Hash algorithm

Now I am going to click Next.

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11. In Configure CA Name you can choose to overwrite the default common name for this CA and also the Distinguished name suffix if you so choose.

I am going to overwrite the default common name with Test-Enterprise-CA, but I will leave the rest alone.

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12. Next we will Set Validity Period for this CAs certificate.

Remember a root CA issues itself a certificate. The default is 5 Years so I will just leave it at that. You can change this based on any need you might have in your environment. Click Next.

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13. Configure Certificate Database will let you specify where you want to put the database and log files for the CA.

I am going to leave the default in place. Click Next.

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14. On the Confirm Installation Selections you can see the answers you have chosen and you will again see a warning that you cannot change the computer name or domain settings for this server after installing the CA.

Go ahead and click Install… you know you want to!

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15. After a few minutes you will see the Installation Results, and with any luck you will have the message: Installation succeeded.

After your glow of certificate happiness fades go ahead and click Close.

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16. Now let’s go in and take a look by clicking on Certification Authority in Administrative Tools (if you get a UAC pop up just click Ok).

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17. Now you can see the snap-in is showing the CA named Test-Enterprise-CA in the left pane with a bunch of folders for certificates.

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18. You can also see that if you click the Certificate Templates folder, there are quite a few default templates that are already setup and ready to go.

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Now that we have installed the Active Directory Certificate Services the next step would be to request some certificates and configure them. The installation for a stand-alone CA is very similar to this. In fact if you are not in a domain and if you are not installing as a domain admin you will not even get the option for an Enterprise CA setup, so if you see that grayed out you now know why.

In my next article we will take a look at some of the uses for certificates and how to request and install them on servers and clients.

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