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At times, a CA needs to limit the use of a certificate temporarily but does not require that it be revoked. For example, a corporate end user may be going on vacation. In such cases, the certificate can be suspended, disabling the use of PKI-enabled applications that should not be accessed in the employee s absence. When the employee returns, the CA removes the suspension. This approach saves the CA time by not requiring it to revoke and then reissue the certificate. To suspend a certificate, the CA uses the value Certificate Hold in the Reason Code extension of the CRL.
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Like end users, CAs themselves are identified by certificates. Just as end user certificates may require revocation, so do CA certificates. An authority revocation list (ARL) provides a means of disseminating this revocation information for CAs. ARLs are distinguished from CRLs via the Issuing Distribution Point field within the revocation list.
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Depending on the size of the PKI population, CRLs can become unwieldy. Even if you use the CRL techniques we ve discussed (CRL distribution points, indirect CRLs, and delta CRLs), the workload associated with CRLs can become burdensome. On the other end, relying parties must spend considerable resources obtaining the most current CRL. A newer protocol, the Online Certificate Status Protocol (OCSP), can be used to check whether a digital certificate is valid at the time of a given transaction. OCSP enables relying parties to conduct these checks in real time, providing a faster, easier, and more dependable way of validating digital certificates than the traditional method of downloading and processing CRLs. Figure 6-4 illustrates the interaction between various OCSP components. Here s how it works. The CA provides a server, known as an OCSP responder, that contains current revocation information. Relying parties can query the OCSP responder to determine the status of a given certificate. The best way to obtain the information is to have the CA feed it directly into the responder. Depending on the relationship between the CA and the OCSP responder, the CA can forward immediate notification of a certificate s revocation, making it instantly available to users.
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Figure 6-4 Interaction between a relying part and an OCSP responder
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The relying party sends a simple request to the OCSP responder, suspending the use of the certificate in question until a response is received. The OCSP request contains the protocol version, the service requested, and one or more certificate identifiers. The certificate identifier consists of a hash of the issuer s name, a hash of the issuer s public key, and the certificate serial number. The OCSP responder provides a digitally signed response for each of the certificates in the original request. Replies consist of a certificate identifier, one of three status values (Good, Revoked, or Unknown), and a validity interval (This Update and, optionally, Next Update). The response may also include the time of revocation as well as the reason for revocation.
NOTE:
RFC2560 states that an OCSP request must be protocol-independent, although HTTP is the most common approach in use.
Trust Models
Trust models are used to describe the relationship between end users, relying parties, and the CA. Various models can be found in today s PKIs. The following describes the two most widely used and well known: certificate hierarchies and cross-certification models.
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It should be noted, however, that each of these can be used not only alone but in conjunction with one another as well.
Certificate Hierarchies
As a PKI population begins to increase, it becomes difficult for a CA to effectively track the identities of all the parties it has certified. As the number of certificates grows, a single authority may become a bottleneck in the certification process. One solution is to use a certificate hierarchy, in which the CA delegates its authority to one or more subsidiary authorities. These authorities, in turn, designate their own subsidiaries, and the process travels down the hierarchy until an authority actually issues a certificate. Figure 6-5 illustrates the concept of certificate hierarchies.
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