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Version: v2.11.x LTS

Zowe security concepts glossary

Zowe security concepts glossary

Zowe implements a number of modern cyber-security concepts. Before getting started with configuring certificates, it is useful to familiarize yourself with the basic terminology. Read the following definitions for explanation of the security terms related to the core security technologies applied by Zowe:

Certificate concepts


The keystore is the location where Zowe stores certificates that Zowe servers present to clients and other servers. In the simplest case, the keystore contains one private key and a certificate pair, which can then be used by each Zowe server.

When using a key ring, a single key ring can serve both as a keystore and as a truststore if desired.


The truststore is used by Zowe to verify the authenticity of the certificates it encounters, whether communicating with another server, with one of Zowe own servers, or with a client that presents a certificate. A truststore is composed of Certificate Authority (CA) certificates which are compared against the CAs that an incoming certificate claims to be signed by. To ensure a certificate is authentic, Zowe must verify that the certificate's claims are correct. Certificate claims include that the certificate was sent by the host that the certificate was issued to, and that the cryptographic signature of the authorities the certificate claims to have been signed by match those signatures found within the truststore. This process helps to ensure that Zowe only communicates with hosts that are trusted and have been verified as authentic.

When using a key ring, a single key ring can be both a keystore and a truststore if desired.


PKCS12 is a file format that allows a Zowe user to hold many cryptographic objects in one encrypted, password-protected file. This file format is well-supported across platforms but because it is just a file, you may prefer to use z/OS key rings instead of PKCS12 certificates for ease of administration and maintenance.

z/OS Key Ring

z/OS provides an interface to manage cryptographic objects in "key rings". As opposed to PKCS12 files, using z/OS key rings allows the crypto objects of many different products to be managed in a uniform manner. z/OS key rings are still encrypted, but do not use passwords for access. Instead, SAF privileges are used to manage access. Java's key ring API requires that the password field for key ring access be set to "password", so despite not needing a password, you may see this keyword.

Use of a z/OS keystore is the recommended option for storing certificates if system programmers are already familiar with the certificate operation and usage. Creating a key ring and connecting the certificate key pair requires elevated permissions. When the TSO user ID does not have the authority to manipulate key rings and users want to create a Zowe sandbox environment or for testing purposes, the USS keystore is a good alternative.

Server certificate

Servers need a certificate to identify themselves to clients. Every time you go to an HTTPS website for example, your browser checks the server certificate and its CA chain to verify that the server you reached is authentic.

Client certificate

Clients do not always need certificates when communicating with servers, but sometimes client certificates can be used wherein the server verifies authenticity of the client similar to how the client verifies authenticity for the server. When client certificates are unique to a client, this can be used as a form of authentication to provide convenient yet secure login.

Self-signed certificates

A self-signed certificate is one that is not signed by a CA at all – neither private nor public. In this case, the certificate is signed with its own private key, instead of requesting verification from a public or a private CA. This arrangement, however, means there is no chain of trust to guarantee that the host with this certificate is the one you wanted to communicate with. Note that these certificates are not secure against other hosts masquerading as the one you want to access. As such, it is highly recommended that certificates be verified against the truststore for production environments.

Certificate verification

When you configure Zowe, it is necessary to decide whether Zowe will perform verification of certificates against its truststore. In the Zowe configuration YAML, the property zowe.verifyCertificates controls the verification behavior. It can be DISABLED, NONSTRICT, or STRICT.

You can set this property either before or after certificate setup, but it is recommended to set zowe.verifyCertificates before certificate setup because it affects the automation that Zowe can perform during certificate setup.

DISABLED verification

If you set zowe.verifyCertificates to DISABLED, certificate verification is not performed. This is not recommended for security reasons, but may be used for proof of concept or when certificates within your environment are self-signed.

If you set DISABLED before certificate setup, Zowe will not automate putting z/OSMF trust objects into the Zowe truststore. This can result in failure to communicate with z/OSMF if at a later time you enable verification. As such, it is recommended to either set verification on by default, or to re-initialize the keystore if you choose to turn verification on at a later point.

NON-STRICT verification

If you set zowe.verifyCertificates to NONSTRICT, certificate verification will be performed except for hostname validation. Using this setting, the certificate Common Name or Subject Alternate Name (SAN) is not checked. Skipping hostname validation facilitates deployment to environments where certificates are valid but do not contain a valid hostname. This configuration is for development purposes only and should not be used for production.

STRICT verification

STRICT is the recommended setting for zowe.verifyCertificates. This setting performs maximum verification on all certificates Zowe sees and uses a Zowe truststore.

Zowe certificate requirements

If you do not yet have certificates, Zowe can create self-signed certificates for you. This is not recommended for production. Note that the certificates must be valid for use with Zowe.

Extended key usage

Zowe server certificates must either not have the Extended Key Usage (EKU) attribute, or have both the TLS Web Server Authentication ( and TLS Web Client Authentication ( values present within.

Some Zowe components act as a server, some as a client, and some as both - client and server. The component certificate usage for each of these cases is controlled by the Extended Key Usage (EKU) certificate attribute. Zowe components use a single certificate/the same certificate for client and server authentication. As such, it is necessary that this certificate is valid for the intended usage/s of the component - client, server, or both. The EKU certificate extension attribute is not required. If, however, the EKU certificate extension attribute is specified, it must be defined with the intended usage/s. Otherwise, connection requests will be rejected by the other party.

Hostname validity

The host communicating with a certificate should have its hostname match one of the values of the certificate's Common Name or Subject Alternate Name (SAN). If this condition is not true for at least one of the certificates seen by Zowe, then you may wish to set NON-STRICT verification within Zowe configuration.

z/OSMF access

The z/OSMF certificate is verified according to Zowe Certificate verification setting, as is the case with any certificate seen by Zowe. However, Zowe will also set up a trust relationship with z/OSMF within the Zowe truststore during certificate setup automation if the certificate setting is set to any value other than DISABLED.

Certificate setup types

Whether importing or letting Zowe generate certificates, the setup for Zowe certificate automation and the configuration to use an existing keystore and truststore depends upon the content format: file-based (PKCS12) or z/OS key ring-based.

File-based (PKCS12) certificate setup

Zowe is able to use PKCS12 certificates that are stored in USS. Zowe uses a keystore directory to contain its certificates primarily in PKCS12 (.p12, .pfx) file format, but also in PEM (.pem) format. The truststore is in the truststore directory that holds the public keys and CA chain of servers which Zowe communicates with (for example z/OSMF).

z/OS key ring-based certificate setup

Zowe is able to work with certificates held in a z/OS Key ring.

The JCL member .SZWESAMP(ZWEKRING) contains security commands to create a SAF keyring. By default, this key ring is named ZoweKeyring. You can use the security commands in this JCL member to generate a Zowe certificate authority (CA) and sign the server certificate with this CA. The JCL contains commands for all three z/OS security managers: RACF, TopSecret, and ACF2.

There are two ways to configure and submit ZWEKRING:

  • Copy the JCL ZWEKRING member and customize its values.

  • Customize the zowe.setup.certificate section in zowe.yaml and use the zwe init certificate command.

    You can also use the zwe init certificate command to prepare a customized JCL member using ZWEKRING as a template.

A number of key ring scenarios are supported:

  • Creation of a local certificate authority (CA) which is used to sign a locally generated certificate. Both the CA and the certificate are placed in the ZoweKeyring.
  • Import of an existing certificate already held in z/OS to the ZoweKeyring for use by Zowe.
  • Creation of a locally generated certificate and signed by an existing certificate authority. The certificate is placed in the key ring.