Setting up CodeSign Protect to use HSM keys

Because of the sensitive nature of code signing keys, most organizations store them on Hardware Security Modules (HSM). HSMs are specifically designed to generate and protect sensitive cryptographic keys.

Using an HSM with Venafi CodeSign Protect allows you to take advantage of the security offered by the HSM, coupled with the usability, key use restrictions, and auditing provided by CodeSign Protect. This strikes the optimal balance between security, usability, and visibility.

This article walks you through all of the steps to configure CodeSign Protect to use keys on an HSM, whether those key already exist on the HSM or whether you'll use CodeSign Protect to generate new ones.

Before you start

Before getting started, you'll need to have a few things in place:

  • At least one Trust Protection Platform server installed
  • Venafi CodeSign Protect and Venafi Advanced Key Protect licensed and enabled
  • An HSM that has a PKCS#11 library. See our supported HSM list for recommendations.

Ready to go?

The following table and flowchart summarize the steps you'll take as you work through this article. There are several systems and roles involved, so this article is written with multiple interim completion points. These tasks must be completed in order since the output from one task becomes the input to the next task.

Click here to open a larger version of this flowchart in a new tab.

This table summarizes the high-level tasks, who performs them, and what their inputs and outputs are.

  High-level task Role To begin, you'll need... At the end, you'll have...
1 Master Admin Installed and running Trust Protection Platform server with an installed and configured HSM client HSM connections on the Trust Protection Platform server. These connections are available to use in CodeSign Protect environment templates
2 Configure environment template to use HSM connector Code Signing Administrator A Trust Protection Platform server with HSM connectors CodeSign Protect environment templates that use an HSM connector as a key storage location
3 Configure CodeSign Protect Project to use environment template Project owner (or Code Signing Administrator if using pre-existing HSM keys) Environment templates with an HSM connector as a key storage location CodeSign Protect project with environments that reference the HSM
4 Configure code signing systems Key users A CodeSign Protect project that includes one or more environments that use HSM key storage and specify the user in the key user role Synced code signing certificates or keys, with the associated private keys on the HSM.
5 Sign code Key user Code signing certificates and keys that are synced with CodeSign Protect

Code signed with private key on HSM

Create an HSM connector

First things first

You'll need to log on to the Trust Protection Platform server as a Master Admin server to complete these steps.

Step 1: Connect your HSM to the Windows server

To get started, you'll need to establish a connection between the HSM and the Windows server that hosts Trust Protection Platform. Since each HSM is different, you'll need to rely on your HSM vendor's documentation for steps on creating this connection.

NOTE  Trust Protection Platform requires the HSM vendor's PKCS#11 library in order to communicate with the HSM. This library is usually available as an installation option, so make sure to select that option, and the note the name of that library. You'll need it later.

Once this connection is made, Trust Protection Platform can be configured to recognize this connection

Step 2: Create the HSM connector on Trust Protection Platform

Now that the HSM is connected to the Windows server, you can set up an HSM connector in Trust Protection Platform. This section walks you through how to create that connection.

NOTE  These steps show how to create an HSM connector after initial Trust Protection Platform configuration. If you configured Trust Protection Platform to use hardware encryption during initial configuration, then you already have an HSM connector called Default HSM, and you can use that HSM with CodeSign Protect.

If you want to use Default HSM, go to the Connectors node in Venafi Configuration Console, open the Properties for Default HSM, and check the Allow Key Storage box. Then proceed to Step 3: Enable Venafi Advanced Key Protect.

To create a new connector, follow these steps:

  1. Sign in to the Trust Protection Platform server and open Venafi Configuration Console.
  2. In the navigation panel on the left, click Connectors.
  3. In the Actions panel in the right, click Create HSM Connector. You may be asked to sign in with your local master admin credentials.
  4. Complete the fields in the HSM Connector according to the following guidelines:




    Name of the HSM connector. This name will be how Code Signing Administrators identify this HSM connector when they are creating environment templates. In this example, we'll name it Code Signing HSM.

    Cryptoki DLL Path

    Trust Protection Platform requires access to the 64-bit version of Cryptoki DLL.

    For SafeNet Luna SA devices, this is the path to the cryptoki.dll file.

    For Entrust nShield Connect HSM devices, this is the path to the cknfast.dll file.

    After selecting the DLL, click Load Slots. Trust Protection Platform will query the HSM and return the available slots.

    IMPORTANT  Trust Protection Platform requires the path to the DLL file to initialize the connection to the HSM device. This path will be used for all Trust Protection Platform servers in the cluster (connected to the same database). All servers in the cluster must have their DLL file in the same location.


    Slot ID for the HSM partition where you want Trust Protection Platform to access the encryption keys.

    NOTE  While slot numbers are listed in the drop-down list, Trust Protection Platform does not depend on slot numbers. Trust Protection Platform identifies HSM partitions by label first, and in the case that there are duplicate labels, it falls back to the serial number.

    User Type

    User type required to access the HSM keys on the designated partition (Slot ID).

    The designated User Type must have sufficient permissions to use the keys in the Encryption Driver’s Permitted Keys list.


    Pin, if one is required to access the HSM.

    If you use Entrust nShield token protection, leave the field empty.

    If you are setting up AWS CloudHSM, the pin must be in the following format: <CU_user_name>:<password> .

  5. Click Verify. Trust Protection Platform will attempt to connect to the HSM.

    NOTE  This may take a couple of minutes.

  6. If the connection is successful, you'll see a Permitted Keys box and an Allow Key Storage checkbox.

    For the purposes of this procedure, don't select anything in Permitted Keys, but do select the Allow Key Storage checkbox.

    NOTE  The keys shown in the Permitted Keys box are keys available for data encryption purposes, not code signing purposes. If you want to use an existing code signing key on your HSM, you'll be able to select that key when you create your environment.

    The Allow Key Storage checkbox enables this HSM connector to store code signing keys on the HSM itself.

    At this point, your HSM connector dialog should look something like this:

  7. Click Create.

The HSM connector is now created, and you'll see it listed in under the Encryption Connectors section of the Platform Connectors page.

If you want to create more HSM connectors, just repeat these steps.

Step 3: Enable Venafi Advanced Key Protect

If Venafi Advanced Key Protect is not yet enabled, you'll need to enable it. In the Connectors node of Venafi Configuration Console, click Enable Venafi Advanced Key Protect.

Step 4: Restart Services

Click the Product node in Venafi Configuration Console left navigation pane. In the Windows Services section in the center pane, restart any services that are currently in the Running or Started state. To do this, click the service to highlight it, and then click Restart in the Actions pane in the right.

You'll need to restart the services for each Trust Protection Platform server connected to the database.

Configure environment template to use HSM connector

First things first

  • This step can be performed either by the master admin or by a Code Signing Administrator. To assign a Code Signing Administrator, go to the Administrators node in Venafi Configuration Console, and select Assign CodeSign Protect Administrator in the Actions panel on the right.
  • Configuring environment templates can be done using the Code Signing Administration MMC snap-in, so the Code Signing Administrator doesn't have to be signed into the Trust Protection Platform server to create templates.

Step 1: Enable the HSM connector in Global Code Signing Configuration

  1. Right-click the Venafi Code Signing node (in either the Code Signing Administration MMC Snap-in or Venafi Configuration Console), and then select Properties.

  2. In the Global Code Signing Configuration tab, there is a section called Private Key Generation and Storage. From here, you'll see the HSM connectors your Master Admin created previously. Check the locations you want to allow for key generation and storage. In this example, we'll select Code Signing HSM and Software.

    DID YOU KNOW?  The Software location refers to the Trust Protection Platform software Secret Store.

  3. If you want to set other global configuration options, you can do that now.
  4. Click OK. The HSM connectors are now available for use in environment templates.

Step 2: Select the HSM on Key Storage tab in environment templates

For any new or existing environment template, you can now select the HSM from the Key Storage Location tab.

NOTE  Since the focus of this article is on creating the HSM connection, not all of the options for environment templates are explained here. For instructions on creating new environment templates, or to learn more details about the other tabs, see Create Environment Templates.

Also, not all environment templates have the same tabs, so your screen may look different than the example below.

Select the HSM, and then click Add.

DID YOU KNOW?  If the Key Storage list has only one location listed, then that location will be used in all environments that use this template. If it has more than one, then the Project Owner will be allowed to select which location to use when configuring environments.

Configure CodeSign Protect Project to use environment template

First things first

  • Project Owners will be able to configure environments to generate new keys using the HSM connector.
  • Code Signing Administrators have the ability to create new environments that use existing HSM keys, so if you want to use an existing key, a Code Signing Administrator will need to create the environment.

Step 1: Add a new environment to a project

  1. Sign in to CodeSign Protect project interface by going to https://tpp-server-url/aperture/codesign in a web browser.
  2. In the menu bar, click Projects.

    If you already have a Project that you want to add an environment to, select that project. If not, see the steps for creating new projects.

  3. In the Project screen, click the Environments tab.
  4. Click Add Environment, and then select the type of environment you want to add.

    NOTE  The environment type you choose will only allow environment templates of the same type. For example, if the Code Signing Administrator added the HSM connector to a Certificate & Key environment template, then you'll need to select a Certificate & Key environment in this step to see that template.

  5. After selecting an environment type, a modal will open that includes a drop-down to select an Environment Template. From here, select the template that the Code Signing Administrator assigned the HSM as a Key Location to.
  6. To complete environment configuration, follow the steps in the Environments Tab section of Creating CodeSign Protect Projects.

Step 2: Verify the Users & Roles on the project

Anyone that needs to sign code using this environment must be listed as a Key User on the project (or be a member of a group this given Key User authority).

  1. On the Project screen, click Properties.
  2. In the Users & Approvers section, add the appropriate individuals or groups to the Key User field.

    NOTE  Users & Approvers are project level settings, so Key Users will be given access to the keys managed by all environments in the project.

Step 3: Save Project or Submit for Approval

If the project is already approved, you can simply save it by clicking Save.

If it's a new project, it needs to be approved before if can be used. Click Submit for Approval. The Code Signing Administrator will need to approve the project.

Configure code signing systems

Now that the project is set up with the Key User and the environment, the Key User can sync the keys and certificates with CodeSign Protect. Once synced, the code signing systems can use the HSM-hosted private keys to sign.

First things first

To complete these steps, you'll need the URL to your Trust Protection Platform server and the credentials for a Key User on the project.

Install the Venafi CodeSign Protect client

Venafi Code Signing clients can be installed on Windows, Linux, or macOS. If not already installed, follow the installation instructions.

Sync the keys and certificates

The method for syncing with CodeSign Protect depends on the type of environment that you want to sync with. From the list below, select what type of environment you are setting up, and then follow the configuration instructions on the signing system.

At the conclusion of client configuration, the HSM-hosted keys will be available on the client for signing.

Certificate & Key environments

GPG enviornments


Sign code

After the certificates or public keys are synced to or advertised on the signing system, the associated private keys are available to use as if they were hosted on the signing system locally (though subject to the rules and restrictions placed on the use of the key by the Code Signing Administrator and Project Owner).

Refer to our sample integration guides for guidance on how to integrate with common code signing applications. See Integrating signing applications with CodeSign Protect.