DIY SSL Certificate Expiry Monitoring

In this post, we will set up a simple SSL certificate expiry monitoring, using cron, ssl-cert-check script and a fail-safe provided by an external service,

Let’s say you administer a website, namely You want to be sure that the SSL certificate of is always renewed in time. Like seldom-used passwords, the annual or bi-annual certificate expiry date is easy to forget about until it is too late. You want to set up an automated system that will remind you 30 days before the certificate expires. Finally, you want something that will “guard the guards themselves”. If your SSL monitoring setup breaks down, you want to be notified about that as well!

The main building block will be the ssl-cert-check script. On Ubuntu and Debian you can install it with a simple

apt-get install ssl-cert-check

Here are its options:

$ ssl-cert-check 
Usage: /usr/bin/ssl-cert-check [ -e email address ] [ -x days ] [-q] [-a] [-b] [-h] [-i] [-n] [-v] { [ -s common_name ] && [ -p port] } || { [ -f cert_file ] } || { [ -c certificate file ] }

-a : Send a warning message through E-mail
-b : Will not print header
-c cert file : Print the expiration date for the PEM or PKCS12 formatted certificate in cert file
-e E-mail address : E-mail address to send expiration notices
-f cert file : File with a list of FQDNs and ports
-h : Print this screen
-i : Print the issuer of the certificate
-k password : PKCS12 file password
-n : Run as a Nagios plugin
-p port : Port to connect to (interactive mode)
-s commmon name : Server to connect to (interactive mode)
-t type : Specify the certificate type
-q : Don’t print anything on the console
-v : Specify a specific protocol version to use (tls, ssl2, ssl3)
-V : Only print validation data
-x days : Certificate expiration interval (eg. if cert_date < days)

Let’s run ssl-cert-check on

$ ssl-cert-check -s -p 443

Host Status Expires Days
-------------------------------- ------------ ------------ ---- Valid Nov 28 2018 928

Great, the status field says “Valid”. Now, let’s run it using a high certificate expiration interval (-x parameter):

$ ssl-cert-check -s -p 443 -x 1000

Host Status Expires Days
-------------------------------- ------------ ------------ ---- Expiring Nov 28 2018 928

Perfect, the status is now “Expiring”. Now, the plan is to run this command regularly and get alerted as soon as the status is anything other than “Valid”.
The ssl-cert-check script has a few flags that will be useful inside a cron task: -q suppresses console output and -n sets the exit code, depending on the status.

$ ssl-cert-check -s -p 443 -x 30 -n -q
$ echo $?
# prints 0

$ ssl-cert-check -s -p 443 -x 1000 -n -q
$ echo $?
# prints 1

Next, let’s set up a check on Log in, and add a new check. Give it a descriptive name like:

A fresh account for SSL certificate monitoring

Here’s how this will work: the check’s URL will need to be requested at least daily to keep it in the green “up” state. As soon as it is not requested for more than a day, its state will go to a red “down” and you will receive an email notification. If you prefer to be notified differently, in the “Integrations” section, you can set up Slack, HipChat, PagerDuty, VictorOps and Pushover notifications. You can add more email addresses to be notified, and you can also integrate with your notification systems using webhooks.

Now, with the check’s URL handy, we are ready to put together a cron command:

ssl-cert-check -s -p 443 -x 30 -n -q && curl -fsS --retry 3 > /dev/null

Let’s go over what this command does. First, we execute ssl-cert-check command. If the certificate is valid for at least 30 more days, it exits with exit code 0. Otherwise, it exits with a non-zero exit code.

Next, we chain the curl call using && operator. When two commands are delimited with &&, the second command only runs if the first command succeeds. In our case, if the certificate is valid, the curl command will run. If the certificate is expiring or expired, the curl command will not run.

The curl command has a few flags to suppress console output, and to retry transient HTTP failures:

  • -f, –fail Makes curl treat non-200 responses as errors
  • -s, –silent Silent or quiet mode. Don’t show progress meter or error messages
  • -S, –show-error When used with -s it makes curl show error message if it fails.
  • –retry <num> If a transient error is returned when curl tries to perform a transfer, it will retry this several times before giving up. Setting the number to 0 makes curl do no retries (which is the default). Transient error means either: a timeout, an FTP 4xx response code or an HTTP 5xx response code.

Finally, we redirect curl’s output to /dev/null. If cron runs a command and the command outputs anything to the console, cron will email the output, and here we do not want that.

You can now see how this will all work together: if the ssl-cert-check command returns success, the curl command will run and keep the check in the green “up” state. If the ssl-cert-check command returns a failure, the curl command will not be run and the check will go down. And if something happens to the whole machine running cron, the check will also go down. When the check goes down for either reason, will send you an alert.

Now it is time to add this command to cron. Pick or launch an Ubuntu or Debian machine you expect to be up and running for a long time. If you have a machine that’s dedicated to doing backups and similar background jobs, that is perfect. Log in as unprivileged user and use the “crontab -e” command to edit the user’s crontab:

$ crontab -e

In the crontab editor, add this line:

20 7 * * * ssl-cert-check -s -p 443 -x 30 -n -q && curl -fsS --retry 3 > /dev/null

Save the file and you are done. From now on, each day at 7:20 your machine will run an SSL expiry check and then notify If the certificate expires in less than 30 days, or if the machine stops working, will send you a notification.

This is an example of how you can set up simple, reasonably robust monitoring tasks. If this setup seems too hacky for your taste, if you have no appropriate machine to run cron tasks on, or if you are looking for more than just a certificate expiry check, it makes good sense to look into self-hosted or SaaS services for SSL monitoring.