Certificate Access Error for WCF hosted services

The problem appears when a WCF Service hosted in an IIS tries to load a certificate from the Windows Certificates Store with the account of the Application Pool where the service runs, and the account’s profile is not previously loaded. When a user logs on interactively, the system automatically loads the user's profile. If a service or an application impersonates a user, the system does not load the user's profile. Therefore, the service or application should load the user's profile with LoadUserProfile.

When this happens the operation throws the following exception:

System.Security.Cryptography.CryptographicException: The system cannot find the file specified. [VIA Mariano Sanches Blog]


The problem is basically related to the method that WCF uses to encrypt the Secure conversation cookie. By default, WCF encrypts the cookie using DPAPI (Current User), so the user profile should be loaded in order to use that encryption method.

Mariano mentioned one of the workarounds, which requires to load the user's profile of the account configured in the IIS Application pool using some windows API's.

Another workaround is to change the method used by WCF to encrypt the SCT cookie and eliminate the DPAPI dependency. An advantage of this method is that it works fine for Web Farm scenarios.

Fortunately, WCF provides an extension to change the method used to encrypt and serialize the SCT Cookie. This extension is a SecurityStateEncoder and it can be plugged-in by code in the service host:


You can find an excellent example about how to implement a custom SecurityStateEncoder here, (WCF.Netfx3.com web site, WS-SC With State Encoder)

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