Intra-cluster encryption

Securing client-to-server communication is not covered in this chapter (e.g. Bolt, HTTPS, Backup).


The security solution for cluster communication is based on standard SSL/TLS technology (referred to jointly as SSL). Encryption is just one aspect of security, the other cornerstones are authentication and integrity. A secure solution is based on a key infrastructure which is deployed together with a requirement of authentication.

The SSL support in the platform is documented in detail in SSL framework. This section covers the specifics as they relate to securing a cluster.

Under SSL, an endpoint can authenticate itself using certificates managed by a Public Key Infrastructure (PKI).

The deployment of a secure key management infrastructure is beyond the scope of this manual, and should be entrusted to experienced security professionals. The example deployment illustrated below is for reference purposes only.

Example deployment

Generate and install cryptographic objects

The generation of cryptographic objects is for the most part outside the scope of this manual. It generally requires having a PKI with a Certificate Authority (CA) within the organization and they should be able to advise here. Note that the information in this manual relating to the PKI is mainly for illustrative purposes.

If setting up intra-cluster encryption as part of a cluster configuration, ensure that the certificates used on the cluster endpoint support server and client usage. This is because when connecting between the Neo4j servers for clustering, each server uses its own certificate to authenticate as a client on the connection to another server.

This could be verified from within the certificate details:

openssl x509 -in public.crt -noout -text

We should see that the X509v3 Extended Key Usage section shows both the usages listed:

X509v3 Extended Key Usage:
    TLS Web Server Authentication, TLS Web Client Authentication

When the certificates and private keys are obtained they can be installed on each of the servers. Each server has a certificate of its own, signed by a CA, and the corresponding private key. The certificate of the CA is installed into the trusted directory, and any certificate signed by the CA is thus trusted. This means that the server now has the capability of establishing trust with other servers.

Be sure to exercise caution when using CA certificates in the trusted directory, as any certificates signed by that CA are then trusted to join the cluster. For this reason, never use a public CA to sign certificates for your cluster. Instead, use an intermediate certificate or a CA certificate which originates from and is controlled by your organization.

In this example a mutual authentication setup is deployed, which means that both ends of a channel have to authenticate. To enable mutual authentication the SSL policy must have client_auth set to REQUIRE (which is the default). Servers are by default required to authenticate themselves, so there is no corresponding server setting.

If the certificate for a particular server is compromised, it is possible to revoke it by installing a Certificate Revocation List (CRL) in the revoked directory. It is also possible to redeploy using a new CA. For contingency purposes, it is advised to have a separate intermediate CA specifically for the cluster which can be substituted in its entirety should it ever become necessary. This approach would be much easier than having to handle revocations and ensuring their propagation.

Example 1. Generate and install cryptographic objects

In this example, assume that the private key and certificate file are named private.key and public.crt, respectively. The policy configuration for the key and certificate names/locations can be overridden if different names are desired. For this server, use the default configuration, create the appropriate directory structure, and install the certificate:

$NEO4J_HOME> mkdir certificates/cluster
$NEO4J_HOME> mkdir certificates/cluster/trusted
$NEO4J_HOME> mkdir certificates/cluster/revoked

$NEO4J_HOME> cp $some-dir/private.key certificates/cluster
$NEO4J_HOME> cp $some-dir/public.crt certificates/cluster

Configure the cluster SSL policy

By default, cluster communication is unencrypted. To configure a cluster to encrypt its intra-cluster communication, set dbms.ssl.policy.cluster.enabled to true.

An SSL policy utilizes the installed cryptographic objects and additionally allows parameters to be configured. Use the following parameters in the configuration:

Table 1. Example settings
Setting suffix Value Comment



Setting this to REQUIRE effectively enables mutual authentication for servers.



A particular single strong cipher can be enforced and thus remove any doubt about which cipher gets negotiated and chosen. The selected cipher offers Perfect Forward Secrecy (PFS) which is generally desirable. It also uses Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) for symmetric encryption which has great support for acceleration in hardware and thus allows performance to generally be negligibly affected.



With control of the entire cluster, the latest TLS standard can be enforced without any concern for backwards compatibility. It has no known security vulnerabilities and uses the most modern algorithms for key exchanges, etc.

In the following example, an SSL policy is created and configured that is used in the example cluster.

Example 2. Configure the cluster SSL policy

This example assumes that the directory structure is created, and certificate files are installed, as per the previous example.

Add the following content to the neo4j.conf file:


Any user data communicated between instances is now secured. Note that an instance that is not correctly setup is not able to communicate with the others.

The policy must be configured on every server with the same settings. The actual cryptographic objects installed are mostly different since they do not share the same private keys and corresponding certificates. However, the trusted CA certificate is shared.

Validate the secure operation of the cluster

To make sure that everything is secured as intended, it makes sense to validate using external tooling such as, for example, the open source assessment tools nmap or OpenSSL.

Example 3. Validate the secure operation of the cluster

This example uses the nmap tool to validate the secure operation of the cluster. A simple test to perform is a cipher enumeration using the following command:

nmap --script ssl-enum-ciphers -p <port> <hostname>

The hostname and port have to be adjusted according to the example configuration. This can prove that TLS is in fact enabled and that only the intended cipher suites are enabled. All servers and all applicable ports should be tested.

For testing purposes, it is also possible to utilize a separate testing instance of Neo4j which, for example, has an untrusted certificate in place. The expected result of this is that the test server is not able to participate in replication of user data. The debug logs generally indicate an issue by printing an SSL or certificate-related exception.