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Name: V4/FreeIPA-on-FIPS
Ticket: #5695
Target version: 4.5.0
Author: stlaz
Incomplete.png Pending review
Last updated: 2018-04-18 by Stlaz


FreeIPA is using components that are capable to be run in FIPS mode but is itself unable to do so. FreeIPA should use the components' capabilities and not block users who want to have their system running FIPS-enabled.

FreeIPA only supports fresh FIPS installs, current installations cannot be upgraded to FIPS mode.

Use Cases

  • As an administrator, I want to configure a FreeIPA server/client on a new FIPS-enabled system so that the system complies with my organization regulations.


To be able to use FreeIPA in an FIPS-enabled system (FIPS refers to FIPS-140-2 here and henceforth) we have to make sure all the cryptographic functions used in the whole system meet the FIPS requirements. This also means forcing any third party libraries to use the standardized cryptographic functions. If cryptographic functions are not necessary, replace these with some other means fulfilling the same purpose so that we don't have to deal with this in the future should the standard be updated (e.g. using hash of random bytes to get a readable version of a generated password can be done using simple base64 encoding).

Another part of this effort is checking the usability of our current components. Some of these will force different workflow which may not suit our needs anymore as user experience usually suffers when system security standards are raised. This may affect FreeIPA implementation not only for FIPS mode but also on normal systems for the sake of unification.

FIPS-enabled server and clients support is planned only for new FreeIPA deployments in RHEL for new versions of FreeIPA, which means older versions of FreeIPA servers/client and Domain Level 0 are not supported.

Multiple servers in topology

All the server in the topology have to be either FIPS-enabled or in non-FIPS mode. Any other configuration is not supported. Disabling or enabling FIPS mode after a server has been installed is neither supported, nor recommended. If you aim for a FIPS-enabled topology, you should start with a fresh FreeIPA installation on a FIPS-enabled system from the start.

To prevent accidentally joining a non-FIPS server into a FIPS-enabled topology or vice versa, a basic check is performed. Installation of a replica checks whether FIPS is enabled on the master. If so, the installation requires the replica to also be FIPS-enabled. If the master server is detected to be in non-FIPS mode, the replica can only join if it does not have FIPS enabled. This solution is not designed to prevent any non-FIPS machine operating as a part of FIPS-enabled topology.


As Design Chapter suggests, any cryptographic functions not conforming to FIPS-140-2 will either have to be replaced or their behavior will have to differ in FIPS and non-FIPS systems should their removal cause problems in non-FIPS FreeIPA.

Probably the biggest change is the switch from NSS to OpenSSL as a backend for SSL connections in HTTPS requests. NSS implementation of SSL in FIPS requires any user to know the password to the NSS database in /etc/ipa/nssdb, which is unacceptable. See the design for this change: http://www.freeipa.org/page/V4/Replace_NSS_with_OpenSSL

  • Dependencies: No new dependencies should be introduced.
  • Backup and Restore: There should be nothing new to back up.

Multiple servers in topology

A new environment variable env.fips_mode is introduced. It is a boolean value initialized from /proc/sys/crypto/fips_enabled. It indicates whether FIPS mode is enabled on the server.

During the replica installation check, once a remote API connection is established and server environment data are loaded, FIPS status of the master is checked. Then, FIPS status of the replica is checked. The installation will proceed if and only if the status of FIPS is the same on the master and replica. Otherwise, an error message is displayed, and the installation is aborted.

Feature Management


  • SHA256 fingerprints are displayed instead of MD5.


Displaying server's FIPS mode status:

ipa env fips_mode


FreeIPA will detect whether FIPS is enabled from /proc/sys/crypto/fips_enabled. The steps to configure a RHEL system to go into FIPS mode can be found in the official RHEL Security Guide.

How to Use

Set up your system to be in FIPS-enabled mode and install FreeIPA as you would normally do. Enabling FIPS after installation of IPA on the machine is not supported - some operations will not work.

Test Plan

Test scenarios that will be transformed to test cases for FreeIPA Continuous Integration during implementation or review phase. This can be also link to source in cgit with the test, if appropriate.

Warning red.svg

This article or section needs clarification.
Which test cases do we want? Will simple IPA server install on FIPS enabled system suffice? Do we want to run the entire test suite on a FIPS enabled system? Since our CI reuses machines, do we plan to have dedicated FIPS machines for running CI test suite on FIPS enabled system? Or do we use provisioning to set up FIPS on the machines and then just discard them afterwards?