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On Ubuntu, it looks like the best place for a private key used to sign a certificate (for use by nginx) is in /etc/ssl/private/

This answer adds that the certificate should go in /etc/ssl/certs/ but that seems like an unsafe place. Do .crt files need to be kept safe or are they considered public?

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up vote 13 down vote accepted

The .crt file is sent to everything that connects; it is public. (chown root:root and chmod 644)

To add to the private key location; make sure you secure it properly as well as having it in there. (chown root:ssl-cert and chmod 640)

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I wonder why that directory isn't g+s by default. – Collin Anderson Sep 30 '14 at 17:43
It doesn't need to be; the directory is 0750, so there's no way for any users not in the group to traverse into the directory to read the files. – womble Aug 12 '15 at 20:52
For most of the applications I use, I see the behavior as described in the linked answer: they use the user root to load the certificate. But the permissions here are well explained. – SimonSimCity Jan 7 at 10:36

There's not really an unsafe place if permission for the individual files/directory is set to something like chown root :0 private.key and chmod 600 private.key so that only root can read it. CSRs and certificate files are less sensitive as you say.

With those permissions the paths you mention and /usr/local/ssl should be fine.

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Often, applications accessing private keys are running as non-root users. I'd suggest maintaining access for the ssl-cert group. – Shane Madden Apr 13 '11 at 16:12
Understood but web servers like Apache spawn a root 'parent' process and assuming nginx too this is pertinent. – Jonathan Ross Apr 13 '11 at 16:19

Under Ubuntu systems I personally keep mine in /etc/apache2/ssl/private or a similar user created area under httpd/apache configuration in /etc. (The default area is normally /etc/ssl - see bottom of this answer for more)

sudo mkdir /etc/apache2/ssl
sudo mkdir /etc/apache2/ssl/private
sudo chmod 755 /etc/apache2/ssl
sudo chmod 710 /etc/apache2/ssl/private

You can also use the group 'ssl-cert' for private/ under Ubuntu:

sudo chown -R root:root /etc/apache2/ssl/
sudo chown -R root:ssl-cert /etc/apache2/ssl/private/

( If you do not have ssl-cert group, just use root:root for everything under ssl/ )

Put needed public www ssl pubic certificate(s) in /etc/apache2/ssl
Put needed private ssl key(s) in /etc/apache2/ssl/private

Then set permissions:

Public Certificates(s)

sudo chmod 644 /etc/apache2/ssl/*.crt

Private Key(s)

sudo chmod 640 /etc/apache2/ssl/private/*.key

Then edit any web server '.conf' files and where they point for SSL as needed. Restart web service. Done.

As mentioned, it really doesn't matter where you put your private key(s) as long as you properly protect them.

NOTE: I do not use the default location /etc/ssl in above example (It's easier for me to keep all mine in a separate area.) You may view ("cat /etc/apache2/sites-available/default-ssl.conf") as a good example of default directories normally used under simple ubuntu apache/ssl install for SSL certificates,keys,bundles,etc, as well as common directives used for a given SSL site. Default /etc/ssl area should already be protected correctly as installed.

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not sure why you would suggest setting 710 for permissions for /etc/apache2/ssl/private. Setting the execute bit for the directory (for the group) without setting the read bit for the directory (for the group) doesn't make a lot of sense to me. Did you mean to set it as 750? – chriv Mar 22 at 18:09

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