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Making Elasticsearch Secure A Peek into SSL/TLS Implementation


In production environments, network security is ineluctable. When elasticsearch is deployed, there are many ways to secure the environment. Youcan use Ngnix,commercial products like Shield, open source products, or easily selectable plugins viaQbox. However, youcan also create yourown security plugins and have more control over security.This article is intendedto give readers a running starton how to write their ownin-house security plugin.

The Elasticsearch network is built using Netty, which gives us the flexibility to add security to the Netty pipeline via plugin. Netty provides an example on how to add the SSL Handler into the pipeline using an example for secure chat. Please refer to this link . Here we will see how to make use of that information to develop an SSL plugin for elasticsearch.


Elasticsearch uses Netty in the transport layer and HTTP layer, so that in our plugin we can extend the classes NettyTransport for the transport layer and NettyHttpServerTransport for the HTTP layer. Let us call these extended classes CustomNettyTransport and CustomNettyHttpServerTransport . If you are new to elasticsearch plugin development, there are several articles available online which will help you through the basics and you can do some experiments before starting with this.

We can look at some basic information on how the network channel works in Netty, which gives an idea about what we are trying to achieve here.

The ChannelPipelineFactory implemented in both layers is used forchannel creation whenever a new connection comes. We have toimplement the ChannelPipelineFactory for both transport and HTTPin respective CustomNetty classes. The getPipeline method in the ChannelPipelineFactory will return a pipeline which has the encoders, decoders, handlers, and other configurations required for the communication.

For our SSL implementation all weed to add an SSL Handler to this pipeline, but before that we need to configure the handler with required parameters such as protocols, cipher suites, keystore and truststore details.

Creating an SSL Handler

To create an SSL Handler we need the following inputs for the SSL Context:

Keystore and keystore password.

Keystore algorithm.

Truststore and truststore password.

Truststore algorithm.

Start by creating an instance of keymanager factory.

keystore = KeyStore.getInstance("jks"); keystoreIn = new FileInputStream(keystore); keystore.load(keystoreIn, keyStorePassword); kmf = KeyManagerFactory.getInstance(keyStoreAlgorithm); kmf.init(keystore, keyStorePassword);

Similarly, we need a trustmanager factory.

truststore = KeyStore.getInstance("jks"); truststoreIn = new FileInputStream(truststore); truststore.load(truststoreIn, trustStorePassword); tmf = TrustManagerFactory.getInstance(trustStoreAlgorithm); tmf.init(truststore);

We now have the inputs to create the SSL Context and the SSL Engine. It can be done as below.

sslContext = SSLContext.getInstance("TLSv1.2"); sslContext.init(kmf.getKeyManagers(), tmf.getTrustManagers(), null); SSLEngine sslengine = sslContext.createSSLEngine();

Here we use the protocol TLSv1.2 , becauseit isthe latest available in Java. Once we have the SSLContext ready, we need to create an SSL engine and add some properties to it such as protocolsciphersuites and specify whether the engine is to be used in client mode or server mode.

For thetransport layer, we have two channel pipeline factories, one for theserver - ServerChannelPipelineFactory and one for client - ClientChannelPipelineFactory . In our plugin, we need to extend both for the transport section.

In the ServerChannelPipelineFactory , we need to specify that the SSL engine is used as the server with:


In ClientChannelPipelineFactory we need to set it to true. In both pipeline factories, add the protocols and ciphersuites to engine with:

sslengine.setEnabledProtocols(DEFAULT _PROTOCOLS); sslengine.setEnabledCipherSuites(DEFAULT_CIPHERS);

You can decidewhich protocols or Ciphers to be used in your system for your needs. For example:


The getPipeline() needs to be overridden in our ChannelPiplelineFactories , which will allow us to add the sslhandler into the netty’s pipeline as shown below.

super.getPipeline().addFirst("ssl", new SslHandler(engine));

In the case of our ClientChannelPipelineFactory , weneed to add the handshake to the pipeline along with the sslhandler, which performsthe ssl handshake. For that, we need to have a class, CustomMessageChannelHandler , that extends the SimpleChannelHandler then overrides channelConnected() . In the channelConnected we need to do the ssl handshake and if the handshake is successful, send it to upstream channel.

SslHandler sslHandler = ctx.getPipeline().get(SslHandler.class); final ChannelFuture handshakeFuture = sslHandler.handshake(); handshakeFuture.addListener(new ChannelFutureListener() { @Override public void operationComplete(ChannelFuture future) throws Exception { if (future.isSuccess()) { ctx.sendUpstream(e); } else { future.getChannel().close(); } } });

This CustomMessageChannelHandler needs to be added into the pipeline of ClientChannelPipelineFactory :

pipeline.addAfter("ssl", "handshake", new CustomMessageChannelHandler());

In your plugin class, both the custom NettyTransport and NettyHttpServerTransport classes needto be added to the respective modules so that it gets called as default channel.

TransportModule.setTransport(CustomNettyTransport.class, "ssl"); HttpServerModule.setHttpServerTransport(CustomNettyHttpServerTransport.class, "ssl");

The properties such as keystore, truststore, algorithms, ciphers, etc., can allbe made configurable by adding these as properties in the elasticsearch.yml file and read them in the plugin class using elasticsearch settings. You may also provide configuration to enable/disable SSL, so that it modifiesthe pipeline only if it is enabled.

Package the plugin along with the plugin properties file and install into your elasticsearch server. We are now ready to have encryption enabled co

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