Certificate Server Types

Before covering the installation of Certificate Services in Windows 2000, it is important to understand the different types of Certificate Authorities that can be installed. A root CA is the top link in a chain of CAs, while a subordinate CA is a downlevel server that has one or more CAs above it (and eventually reaching a Root CA). Windows 2000 supports 4 types of CAs, as described below.

Enterprise Root CA – An Enterprise Root CA is used in corporate environments for issuing certificates to users and computers. An Enterprise CA requires that Active Directory exist, DNS be configured correctly, and that the user configuring the server have Enterprise Administrator privileges. In an Active Directory environment, an Enterprise Root CA is automatically registered in Active Directory and trusted by domain computers. In a large PKI setup, the Enterprise Root CA is usually used to issue certificates only Enterprise subordinate CAs, who then issue certificates to users and computers. Though this is often the case, it does not have to be, as an Enterprise Root CA can issue user and computer certificates as well.

Enterprise Subordinate CA – An Enterprise Subordinate CA is a certificate server that exists hierarchically under an Enterprise Root CA. Often Subordinates are used to for a specific purpose, such as granting certificates for users, or computers, or for a specific portion of an organization. A Subordinate CA requires all of the same services and privileges as an Enterprise Root CA, and cannot be created unless an Enterprise Root CA exists. Note that although the Enterprise Root CA might be another internal Windows 2000 certificate server, it might also be an external CA such as Verisign. In fact, if you want the outside world to trust the authenticity of your certificates, it is pretty much imperative that you trust an External Root CA such as Verisign. Otherwise, external users will need a copy of your Root CA’s certificate, which they are certain not to have, unless as part of some partner relationship.

Standalone Root CA – For environments without Active Directory, a Standalone Root CA can meet certificate requirements. These servers require only Administrator privileges on the server. If Active Directory does not exist in the environment, this is the only type of Root CA that can be installed.

Standalone Subordinate CA – Much like the Enterprise Subordinate CA, this certificate server might be used to issue certificates to certain departments or users or computers, but does not require Active Directory. However, it does require a Root CA, which can again be internal or external.

An important consideration when choosing the type of CA is the environment and the way in which you intend to use the certificates. If it is strictly for internal use, then your options are wide open according to your environment (for example is you have AD, then use you can use either Enterprise or Standalone CAs). If however you need certificates to secure a public website, then an external certificate authority will need to be involved, either providing the certificates for that site directly, or via a chain of trust.

Author: Dan DiNicolo

Dan DiNicolo is a freelance author, consultant, trainer, and the managing editor of 2000Trainers.com. He is the author of the CCNA Study Guide found on this site, as well as many books including the PC Magazine titles Windows XP Security Solutions and Windows Vista Security Solutions. Click here to contact Dan.