We’ve all seen tutorials which demonstrate how to deploy a simple todo list backend to Azure but how many have you read that go onto secure it? In this post, I’m going to cover how I’m securing the Bait News v2 backend infrastructure as well as covering how to configure custom domains.
Apple announced in 2015 that Apps and their corresponding backend servers would need to support App Transport Security (ATS).
ATS was introduced with iOS 9 as a security enhancement to ensure all connections by apps use HTTPs. Initially slated to go into effect for all new app store submissions from January 2017, it has since been postponed with no update on when it’ll be coming into effect. Although the requirement has been delayed, it’s still something that all app developers should be implementing as it provides our users with added security, making man in the middle attacks impossible to go unnoticed.
Historically, you’ll see most developers (including myself), opt to turn ATS off to make our lives easier. Some will take a lighter touch and only disable ATS for a single domain (they’re backend) which is not much more secure than turning ATS off altogether. Either approach opens up your users and data to attack and should be avoided.
So what do we need to do to secure our app? Lets first register a domain for our backend.
I’ve been using 123-Reg as my domain registrar for 10 years and continue to use them as I migrate my websites to Azure. Most domain registrars will also provide some basic DNS functionality but you would normally want to use a 3rd party DNS Service for more advance situations. In my case, I’m using 123-Regs DNS service and have added a number of CNAMEs pointing to Azure.
Below you see the minimum required records needed to enable my custom domain.
To get started, I have added an A record pointing to the App Service instance using its IP address. You can find your App Service IP address by going into it’s Custom Domain blade within the Azure portal.
Once you’ve added the A record, you can then create the CNAME which will map www requests to your backends url. You can find your destination in the Overview blade of the App Service.
Verify Domain Ownership
Azure needs to know I own the domain I’m trying to map. To prove this, I’ll add two records to my DNS settings which are the temporary records listed above.
Once I’ve added the verify CNAME records, I can save and sit tight. DNS Records need to propagate across the globe, which can take up to 24 hours.
This is end result of what my DNS setting configuration looked like. I also created some CNAMEs to redirect traffic from subdomains to other Azure services.
To finish off, I need to configure the App Service Custom Domain settings.
Hit the ‘Add Hostname’ button and enter the custom domain.
After hitting Validate, Azure will check the DNS records to confirm the domain exists and that you own it. You should see something like this.
Hitting ‘Add hostname’ will complete the process of configuring a custom domain for your App Service. If you’re deploying a mobile backend, you may want to create CNAME record which maps api.domain.net to your mobile backend and whilst keeping www.domain.net mapped to a ASP.NET website.
As mentioned at the start of this post, enabling HTTPS prevents MITM attacks and ensures your communication between server and client is secure. Its pretty straight forward to enable within App Services but much like DNS, it can take a while (but this time its human factors rather than waiting for computers to sync up).
First things first, You’ll need to purchase a certificate. I opted to 123-Reg as they provide a few options to meet most users requirements and its integration with my domain management make it a no brainer to use.
I should admit that I did make a mistake when I first purchase a certificate, which caused a few days of delays, so its important to double check the type of certificate you’re purchasing. I had purchased a certificate which was for only www.baitnews.io. This mean that my mobile api of api.baitnews.io couldn’t use the certificate. 123-Reg refunded the first certificate and I tried again, but this time making sure to purchase a certificate which support unlimited subdomains. You can see below the original certificate has been revoked and the new certificate supports wildcards.
When you apply for a certificate, you’ll be provided a download which includes your certificate request (CSR) in a PEM format. You also get the private key which you’ll use later to create a new certificate.
Once you’ve been issued the certificate, you’re ready to create a new certificate which you’ll use in Azure for everything. This is a pretty easy process as we can use OpenSSL on almost any platform. I’m on a Mac but this works the same on both Windows and Linux.
openssl pkcs12 -export -out baitnews.pfx -inkey /Users/michaeljames/Downloads/SSL-CSR5/private-key.key -in /Users/michaeljames/Desktop/wildcard.cert
- [Output file name] -| What do you want to call the certificate?
- [private-key.key path] The location of the private key. This would have been provided when requesting the certificate.
- [wildcard.cert path] The location of the freshly issued certificate.
Once you press enter, you’ll need to type in a couple of passwords and then you’ll be set. It’ll look something like this:
You now have your certificate ready for uploading to Azure. The conversion of certificates isn’t the easiest of procedures to wrap your head around on the first few goes. If you’re worried about this step then keep in mind you can purchase SSL certificates through the Azure Portal, which skips many of the above steps! It does however add a small premium to the cost involved in securing your backend as you’ll find the certificate a little more expensive but your also required to store it in KeyVault.
Binding Domains with Certificates
Lets upload our new certificate to our App Service. To do this, head over to SSL Certificate blade and hit ‘Upload Certificate’. You’ll need to provide the password used to create the certificate.
If successful, you’ll see your certificate as been imported and is ready to use with your custom domains.
The last step is to bind out SSL certificate with our custom domain. Clicking ‘Add Binding’ will allow you to select both the custom domain and SSL from a drop down.
Hitting Add Binding will finish the process. You now have a custom domain mapped your App Service instance that supports HTTPS. Any users visiting your backend will be greeted with the familiar green padlock in the address bar.
Adding custom domains and enabling secure connectivity between your mobile app and backend is extremely simple and theres no good reason not to enable it (unless you’re hacking on a demo or POC).
In the next post I’m going to cover how to expand our setup to to route traffic to the nearest App Service instance.