Description of the necessary configuration settings for the "Common PKI" certificate profile

The following is a description of what configuration settings are necessary for a certificate hierarchy based on Active Directory Certificate Services to be compliant with the "Common PKI" standard.

The "Common PKI" standard is described as follows.

The Common PKI specification is a profile of internationally used and recognized standards for electronic signatures, encryption and public key infrastructures. The Common PKI takes into account all business-relevant electronic signatures up to the qualified electronic signature according to the German Signature Act (SigG), which can be used to comply with the formal requirements in private and administrative law. The specification also includes security functionalities for secure e-mail with different security levels and compatibility with internationally accepted standards. This enables the rapid availability of interoperable security products both at the certification service provider level and at the user level (client side).


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The following configuration requirements for Microsoft certification authorities are derived from the Common PKI:

  • The "Key Usage" extension of the certification authority certificates must not include the "DigitalSignature" key usage (see also RFC 5280).
  • The "Key Usage" extension of each certificate in the hierarchy must be marked as critical.
  • The subject of each certificate in the hierarchy should be be encoded in UTF-8 instead of Unicode to allow the use of special characters such as Umlauts to enable. This is the default setting of the Microsoft Certification Authority since at least Windows Server 2012 R2.

Strings MAY be encoded as PrintableString in order to ensure a better interoperability with legacy applications. If a string cannot be represented in the PrintableString character set, UTF8String encoding MUST be used.

Common PKI Part 1 - Page 12

This extension MUST always be included in CA and end entity certificates and MUST be marked critical.
CA certificates: the keyCertSign bit MUST be set. Additionally, the crlSign bit MAY be set too, if the CA uses the corresponding key to sign CRLs too. Other bits MUST NOT be set.

Common PKI Part 1 - Page 22

If the subject public key is only to be used for verifying signatures on certificates and/or CRLs, then the digitalSignature and nonRepudiation bits SHOULD NOT be set.

RFC 5280,

The Common PKI Standard further specifies that Relative Distinguished Names (RDNs) must be no longer than 64 characters, which is the default behavior of the Microsoft Certification Authority, however could be changed.


The implementation differs depending on the Certification Authority role:

  • Special settings for root certification authorities (root CA).
  • Special settings for offline certification authorities (whether root, intermediate or subordinate certification authority).
  • Settings for all types of Certification Authorities.

Special settings for root certification authorities

This step must take place before the root certification authority is installed, or before the root certification authority certificate is renewed. However, a renewal of the root certification authority certificate requires that this must be communicated to all subscribers, since it technically involves the establishment of a new certification authority hierarchy.

Root Certification Authorities not only issue certificates for other Certification Authorities, but also issue their own.

In order to cause the "Key Usage" extension of the own certification authority certificate to be marked as critical and not include the "DigitalSignature" key usage, the capolicy.inf File of the root Certification Authority to be extended by the following section.

[Extensions] = AwIBBg==
Critical =

Contrary to instructions to the contrary, it is not necessary to explicitly configure the encoding of the subject DN and issuer DN of root certificate authorities to UTF-8. This can lead to compatibility issues when verifying the certificate chain.

In general, only characters that can be encoded with ASN.1 PrintableString (effectively all representable ASCII characters) should be used for the Subject DN of a certification authority.

Special settings for offline certification authorities

Offline certification authorities do not know certificate templates, so they have to fall back on default values.

To cause the "Key Usage" extension in certificates issued by the certification authority to be marked as critical and not include the "DigitalSignature" key usage, the following command line command must be executed on each offline certification authority.

certutil -setreg policy\EditFlags -EDITF_ADDOLDKEYUSAGE

After the change, the Certification Authority service must be restarted for the changes to be applied.

Settings for all types of Certification Authorities

Contrary to the official guide from Microsoft it is not necessary and in some cases even harmful, force all Relative Distinguished Names (RDNs) in issued certificates to be encoded with UTF-8 by setting the ENUM_TELETEX_FORCEUTF8 flag. Instead, the flag ENUM_TELETEX_UTF8 (without "FORCE") should be set, which is already the case in the default setting.

Thus, RDNs that contain only ASCII characters are automatically encoded in ASN.1 PrintableString (if they already were in the submitted certificate request), which is compliant with Common PKI. If an RDN also contains other special characters, it is automatically mapped to UTF-8 in the issued certificate.

Related links:

External sources