When accessing websites over HTTPS, users expect a secure, encrypted connection that verifies the identity of the site. However, you may sometimes encounter the cryptic SSL error “self signed certificate in certificate chain” when trying to connect to certain sites.
This alarming message means there is an issue with the website’s SSL/TLS certificate configuration that is preventing your browser from establishing a trusted connection.
In this comprehensive guide, we will demystify the causes of the “self signed certificate in certificate chain” error, walk through steps for troubleshooting the certificate chain, and explain how to fix the problem so you can restore trust and get back to browsing securely.
Whether you are a website owner debugging SSL issues or an end user encountering certificate warnings, understanding and resolving these errors is key to harnessing the full benefits of HTTPS security across the web.
What Causes the “Self-Signed Certificate in Certificate Chain” Error?
SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) and its successor TLS (Transport Layer Security) are encryption protocols that allow secure communication between a browser and web server. Part of this secure connection relies on certificates – essentially digital documents that help prove the identity of the website and encrypt the traffic.
Certificates are issued by certificate authorities (CAs), which are trusted third parties that verify the certificate owner’s identity. The certificate then becomes part of a “chain of trust” that leads back to the CA’s root certificate, which is built into web browsers and devices.
When you get the “self signed certificate in certificate chain” error, it means one of the certificates in the chain was self-signed rather than issued by a proper CA. A self-signed certificate has not gone through the same identity verification steps, so the browser doesn’t inherently trust it.
There are a few common causes of this:
- The website is using a self-signed certificate for HTTPS. Some web servers can generate their own self-signed certificates. However, because they are not validated by a CA, browsers will display errors.
- An intermediate certificate is self-signed. The chain may contain a self-signed intermediate certificate that is failing validation.
- The certificate chain is incomplete. If a certificate in the chain is missing, it can break the link between the website’s certificate and the trusted root.
- The root certificate is not trusted. The root CA certificate may be absent from the browser or device trust stores, so the chain cannot be verified.
- The certificate is expired. Outdated or expired certificates can also trigger this error.
So in summary, the “self-signed certificate in certificate chain” SSL error stems from an issue with the certificate chain – either due to a self-signed cert, incomplete chain, untrusted root, or expired cert. Identifying the specific cause will point you toward the appropriate solution.
How to Fix the “Self-Signed Certificate in Certificate Chain” Error
Here are the general steps to take for troubleshooting and fixing the “self-signed certificate in certificate chain” error:
1. Check Expiration Dates on All Certificates
Use the SSL analysis tool on your server or a website like SSL Labs to inspect the certificate chain. Make sure none of the certificates are expired – if so, they will need to be renewed. The website certificate should be issued to the correct domain name and be valid for the proper server.
2. Verify the Trusted Root CA
Confirm the root CA certificate is present in your server’s trust store and matches the built-in list of trusted CAs in major web browsers and devices. If the root CA is not widely trusted, you may need to install the certificate.
3. Examine the Intermediate Certificates
Carefully inspect any intermediate or chained CA certificates between the root and website certificate. If any are self-signed rather than issued by the parent CA, there is a problem with the chain. The intermediate certs should form an unbroken chain of trust to the root.
4. Make Sure the Full Chain is Installed
Check that the intermediate certificate chain is complete on the server. You may need to install any missing CA certificates in the appropriate trust store to link the website cert to the trusted root.
5. Replace Any Self-Signed Certs
If your website is still using a self-signed certificate, you will need to replace it with a valid certificate issued by a trusted CA. Purchase and install a signed certificate matched to your domain to resolve the trust issue.
6. Update Certificate and Chain
After making any corrections, ensure the updated certificate files and fully completed intermediate chain are installed per your server or application’s SSL configuration. Restart services as needed.
7. Clear Browser Caches
Have users clear their browser caches and then reconnect to the website over HTTPS. The “self-signed cert in chain” error should now be fixed.
- Use online SSL analyzers to debug certificate issues
- Check expiration dates, domains, and signature validity
- Review server and browser certificate trust stores
- Make sure the intermediate chain is complete without gaps
- Identify and replace any self-signed certs
- Update certificate stores/config after making changes
- Clear browser caches to load the new certificate
Following certificate best practices like using validated certs from trusted CAs and keeping chains up-to-date will help avoid “self-signed certificate in certificate chain” errors. Proper SSL configuration is important for delivering secure, encrypted websites to your users.
The “SSL error: self-signed certificate in certificate chain” indicates there is an issue with the certificate chain that is preventing the browser from verifying the website’s identity. This is often caused by self-signed certificates, an incomplete intermediate chain, expired certs, or untrusted root CAs.
Troubleshooting involves carefully inspecting all certificates, replacing self-signed ones, completing the chain, ensuring the root CA is trusted, and installing updates. Clearing browser caches after making corrections will allow users to connect successfully. Applying SSL best practices going forward can prevent the error from recurring.
With some diligent certificate troubleshooting and updated configurations, you can resolve the “self-signed certificate in certificate chain” error. Proper SSL certificates and chains allow browsers to establish encrypted HTTPS connections and trust your website, improving security for your users.