Juniper Secure Access: Understanding ECC Certificates

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Understanding ECC Certificates

Public-key cryptography is a cryptographic system that requires a secret key and a public key that are mathematically linked with each other. One key encrypts the plain text while the other decrypts the cipher text. RSA is the most widely used public-key algorithm.

Elliptic Curve Cryptography (ECC) were introduced as an alternative to RSA in public key cryptography. One advantage of ECC over RSA is key size versus strength. For example, a security strength of 80 bits can be achieved through an ECC key size of 160 bits, whereas RSA requires a key size of 1024. With a 112-bit strength, the ECC key size is 224 bits and the RSA key size is 2048 bits.

The most popular signature scheme that uses elliptic curves is called the Elliptic Curve Digital Signature Algorithm (ECDSA). The most popular key agreement scheme is called Elliptic Curve Diffie-Hellman (ECDH). An ECDH exchange is a variant of the Diffie-Hellman (DH) protocol and is an integral part of the Suite B cryptography standards proposed by the National Security Agency (NSA) for protecting both classified and unclassified information.

About Suite B

The Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) is a specification for the encryption of electronic data established by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in 2001. Because a single encryption algorithm cannot satisfy all of the needs of the national security community, NSA created a larger set of cryptographic algorithms, called Suite B, which can be used along with AES in systems used by national security users. In addition to AES, Suite B includes cryptographic algorithms for hashing, digital signatures, and key exchanges.

Per RFC 6460, to be Suite B TLS 1.2 compliant the server and client should negotiate with the following ciphers:


RFC 6460 also lists a transitional Suite B profile for TLS 1.0 and TLS 1.1. Clients and servers that do not yet support Suite B TLS 1.2 should negotiate with the following ciphers:


There is no special configuration to ensure that Secure Access Service and Access Control Service negotiates Suite B ciphers. However, the following general steps should be performed to enable Suite B compliance:

  • An ECC certificate signed by an ECC Root CA is associated with a network port.
    • A P-256 CSR is signed by either a P-256 or P-384 Root CA.
    • A P-384 CSR is be signed by a P-384 Root CA.
  • Manually enable only AES128 and/or AES256 custom ciphers.
Note: Secure Access Service and Access Control Service cannot be configured to allow only Suite B ciphers.

Using ECC Certificates with Secure Access Service and Access Control Service

ECC certificates are currently supported only on the MAG and virtual appliance platforms. As with RSA certificates, ECC certificates are associated with a network port. You can create multiple virtual ports on the server with each port supporting a specific certificate. For example, external virtual port 1 can use a 1024-bit RSA while external virtual port 2 uses ECC P-256 and external virtual port 3 uses ECC P-384. Only clients that support ECC cipher suites can connect to the web server on that network port.

When an Elliptic Curve Cryptography (ECC) certificate is associated with a network port, only clients that support ECC cipher suites can connect to the Web server on that network port.

Except for the key and certificate generation process, the use of ECC certificates is basically the same as using RSA certificates.

Published: 2013-11-15
Client Verification

Click the lock icon located at the end of the address bar and then click the View Certificate link


Click the Details tab and scroll down until you see the Public key field. In this example, the public key value is ECC (256 Bits) which matches the server port p3 certificate.

ECC cert