EFS Certificate Configuration Updater tool is released!

After weeks of battling with Visual Studio over some pretty gnarly code issues, I’ve released the first version of a tool that will make IT admins happy the world over (well, okay, only those few sorry IT admins who’ve struggled to make EFS predictable and recoverable for the past seven years).

EFS Certificate Configuration Updater is a .NET 2.0 application that will examine the digital certificates a user has enrolled and will make sure that the user is using a certificate that was issued by a Certificate Authority (CA).

“Yippee,” I hear from the peanut gallery. “So what?”

While this sounds pretty freakin lame to most of the planet’s inhabitants, for those folks who’ve struggled to make EFS work in a large organization, this should come as a great relief.

Here’s the problem: EFS is supposed to make it easy to migrate from one certificate to the next, so that if you start using EFS today but decide later to take advantage of a Certificate Server, then the certs you issue later will replace the ones that were first enrolled. [CIPHER /K specifically tried to implement this.]

Unfortunately, there are some persistent but subtle bugs in EFS that prevent the automatic migration from self-signed EFS certificates to what are termed “version 2” certificates. Why are “version 2” certificates so special? Well, they’re the “holy grail” of easy recovery for encrypted files – they allow an administrator to automatically and centrally archive the private key that is paired with the “version 2” certificate.

So: the EFS Certificate Configuration Updater provides a solution to this problem, by finding a version 2 EFS certificate that the user has enrolled and forcing it to be the active certificate for use by EFS. [Sounds pretty simple eh? Well, there’s plenty of organizations out there that go to a lot of trouble to try to do it themselves.]

Even though this application fills a significant need, it doesn’t (at present, anyway) do everything that might be needed in all scenarios. The additional steps that you might need to cover include:

  • Enrolling a version 2 EFS certificate. [You can automate this with autoenrollment policy and the Windows Server 2003-based CA that is already in place for issuing v2 certificates and Key Archival.]
  • Updating EFS’d files to use the new certificate. [You can automate this by using CIPHER /U, but it’ll take a while if the user has a lot of encrypted files. The good news, however, is that the update only has to re-encrypt the FEK, not re-encrypt the entire file, so it’s much quicker than encrypting the same set of files from scratch.]
  • Ensuring that the user’s EFS certificate doesn’t expire before a new or renewed certificate is enrolled. [This is very easy to accomplish with Autoenrollment policy, but without the use of Autoenrollment, there is a significant risk that when the user’s preferred EFS certificate expires, the EFS component driver could enroll for a self-signed EFS certificate.]
  • Archiving unwanted EFS certificates. [This is different from deleting a digital certificate – which also invalidates the associated private key, which is NOT recommended. This would keep the certificates in the user’s certificate store, and preserve the private key — so that any files encrypted with that old certificate were still accessible. This is hard to do from UI or script, but is a feature I’m hoping to add to the EFS Certificate Configuration Updater in the near future. This is also optional – it just minimizes the chances of a pre-existing EFS certificate being used if the preferred certificate fails for some reason.]
  • Publishing the user’s current EFS certificate to Active Directory. [This is also optional. It is only necessary to make it possible — though still hardly scalable — to use EFS to encrypt files for access by multiple users (see MSDN for more information). This can be automated during Autoenrollment, but some organizations choose to disable publishing a 2nd or subsequent EFS certificate since the EFS component driver may get confused by multiple EFS certificates listed for a single user in Active Directory.]
  • Synchronizing the user’s EFS certificate and private key across all servers where encrypted files must be stored. [This is not needed if you’re merely ensuring that all sensitive data on the user’s notebook/laptop PC is encrypted, so that the loss or theft of that PC doesn’t lead to a data breach. However, if you must also enforce EFS encryption on one or more file servers, the EFS Certificate Configuration Updater will not help at all in this scenario.]

Try it out — Tell your friends (you have friends who’d actually *use* this beast? Man, your friends are almost as lame as mine – no offense) — Let me know what you think (but no flaming doo-doo on my front porch, please). And have a very crypto-friendly day. 😉

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One thought on “EFS Certificate Configuration Updater tool is released!

  1. YES.. I am one of the Lame ones that will use your program! Thanks to previous admins who never had a decent roll-out plan for EFS we now get to clean up a big mess. Thanks to your tool we can make sure everyone starts using our new V2 certificate in stead of self-signed ones. Thanks a bunch!

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