All Ubiquiti controllers (mFI, UniFi Controller and UniFi Video Controller) insist on using HTTPS for all connections, which may break the experience in Safari when one uses default out-of-the-box self-signed certificates.

Solution is simple: use Nginx to deal with SSL for most of the cases, the rest is to use SSL via Java to make secure sockets work.

File extensions are very confusing when one is dealing with certificates. In short if you use OpenSSL:

  • PEM means ASCII plaintext, DER means binary format, these only apply to -inform and -outform parameters (quoting this article)
  • PKCS#8 is a format for private keys, Java can read its DER form. Use -topk8 (to PK8 i.e. to PKCS#8) to output it. Use -nocrypt to disable key encryption enabled by default.
  • PKCS#12 is a format for a key bag, where several keys and certificates may be stored. Output is controlled with -nodes (no DES i.e. no encryption), -nocerts (skips public keys), and -nokeys (skips private keys)
  • X.509 is the default format for keys and certificates, can be read by Nginx. Can be directly concatenated in its PEM form

Installing Nginx and Configuring SSL

I assume that one uses NVR Ubiquiti box for all the controllers. That box uses Debian, but most of these instructions would just apply to Ubuntu as well.

NVR has nvr-webui deb package, which has a dependency on nginx-light, which has all the facilities to make all of this work. Otherwise one would apt-get install nginx to get one on the box.

The easiest way to make Nginx to work is to add all the required keys and certificates into a single decrypted X.509 PEM file, where private key goes first. I had NVR_SSL.p12 PKCS#12 SSL certificate keys file and SSL_CA.cer X.509 intermediate CA certificate (both binary files).

(
  openssl pkcs12 -nodes -in NVR_SSL.p12
  openssl x509 -inform der -in SSL_CA.cer
) > /etc/nginx/NVR_SSL_Chain.pem

NVR has an Nginx 1.2.1 Light version preinstalled. A lot of Nginx config options related to SSL and proxying were added much later on. This article may inadvertently rely on newer Debian’s version from backports. Install with: apt-get -t wheezy-backports install nginx-common nginx-light

Configuring Nginx reverse proxy

  • Ubiquiti insists on using HTTPS ports, so we proxy pass to HTTPS ports
  • Nginx by default does not validate proxy SSL certificates
  • Ubiquiti software relies on WebSockets a lot (see Nginx & WebSockets)
  • Ubiquiti software uses X443 ports for HTTPS and X080 ports for HTTP

Overall it’s a standard Nginx SSL reverse-proxy configuration:

cat > /etc/nginx/sites-enabled/ssl-proxy <<EOF

server {
        listen                  443 ssl;
        server_name             mfi.home.timothybasanov.com;

        ssl_certificate         /etc/nginx/NVR_SSL_Chain.pem;
        ssl_certificate_key     /etc/nginx/NVR_SSL_Chain.pem;
        ssl                     on;
        ssl_protocols           TLSv1.2;

        location / {
                proxy_pass              https://localhost:6443;
                proxy_set_header        Host $host;
                proxy_set_header        Upgrade $http_upgrade;
                proxy_set_header        Connection "upgrade";
                proxy_http_version      1.1;
        }
}
server {
        listen                  443 ssl;
        server_name             nvr.home.timothybasanov.com;

        ssl_certificate         /etc/nginx/NVR_SSL_Chain.pem;
        ssl_certificate_key     /etc/nginx/NVR_SSL_Chain.pem;
        ssl                     on;
        ssl_protocols           TLSv1.2;

        location / {
                proxy_pass              https://localhost:7443;
                proxy_set_header        Host $host;
                proxy_set_header        Upgrade $http_upgrade;
                proxy_set_header        Connection "upgrade";
                proxy_http_version      1.1;
        }
}
server {
        listen                  443 ssl;
        server_name             unifi.home.timothybasanov.com;

        ssl_certificate         /etc/nginx/NVR_SSL_Chain.pem;
        ssl_certificate_key     /etc/nginx/NVR_SSL_Chain.pem;
        ssl                     on;
        ssl_protocols           TLSv1.2;

        location / {
                proxy_pass              https://localhost:8443;
                proxy_set_header        Host $host;
                proxy_set_header        Upgrade $http_upgrade;
                proxy_set_header        Connection "upgrade";
                proxy_http_version      1.1;
        }
}

EOF

Fix for a UniFi Video controller’s secure WebSockets

  • UniFi Video uses wss://hostname:7446 for secure web sockets
  • Direct WSS URL is passed from a server via XHR API call
  • We can not find and replace it
  • Nginx can not intercept it as port is already bound
  • Solution: We need to add our SSL certificates to UniFi-Video server

To proxy this call via Nginx one needs to either have a separate IP for Nginx server or to fix the url passed from API in-flight. I did not want to deal with the additional IP address. As for in-flight replacement it requires a module from nginx-full deb package, which conflicts with nginx-light, which is required for nvr-webui which I still rely on.

Ubiquiti published all the instructions in their UniFi Video 3.7.0 release notes:

  1. Stop the service: /etc/init.d/unifi-video stop
  2. Clean up the outdated key store: rm /usr/lib/unifi-video/data/ufv-truststore
  3. Enable support for custom certificates, an experimental feature: echo ufv.custom.certs.enable=true >> /usr/lib/unifi-video/data/system.properties
  4. Create a directory for new certificates: mkdir /usr/lib/unifi-video/data/certificates
  5. Generate X.509 DER certificates file:
    # Generate it from the original files
    (
    
      openssl pkcs12 -nodes -nokeys -in NVR_SSL.p12
      openssl x509 -inform der -in SSL_CA.cer
    ) | openssl x509 -outform DER \
      > /usr/lib/unifi-video/data/certificates/ufv-server.cert.der
    
    # Alternatively read back Nginx configs
    openssl x509 -outform DER -in /etc/nginx/NVR_SSL_Chain.pem \
      > /usr/lib/unifi-video/data/certificates/ufv-server.cert.der
    
  6. Generate PKCS#8 DER private key file:
    # Generate it from the original files
    openssl pkcs12 -nodes -nocerts -in NVR_SSL.p12 \
      | openssl pkcs8 -topk8 -nocrypt -outform DER \
      > /usr/lib/unifi-video/data/certificates/ufv-server.key.der
    
    # Alternatively read back Nginx configs
    openssl pkcs8 -topk8 -nocrypt -outform DER -in /etc/nginx/NVR_SSL_Chain.pem \
      > /usr/lib/unifi-video/data/certificates/ufv-server.key.der
    
  7. Fix up the permissions:
    chmod 600 /usr/lib/unifi-video/data/certificates
    chown -R unifi-video:unifi-video /usr/lib/unifi-video/data/certificates
    
  8. Start the service: /etc/init.d/unifi-video start
  9. Verify less /var/log/unifi-video/server.log log to not to have exceptions about a key import format. If there are issues, start from the first step all over
  10. Clean up: rm -rf /usr/lib/unifi-video/data/certificates

There are several things that Ubiquiti may fix to make our life easier:

  • Allow certificates import directly via Web UI
  • Allow binding to localhost and using HTTP instead of HTTPS
  • Add support for X-Remote-IP headers, now all logins are logged coming from Nginx’s IP address 127.0.0.1
  • Make their deb packages depend on nginx-light or nginx-full

Done. Now everything should work just fine. I verified it to work even in Safari!