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Top 4 Machine Identity Management Challenges PKI Teams Face

Top 4 Machine Identity Management Challenges PKI Teams Face

machine identity challenges
August 31, 2021 | Scott Carter

As your PKI grows and your team is responsible for managing a growing number of keys and certificates, you’re probably going to run into some common challenges; this is especially true if you’re transitioning from a traditional program to a next-generation machine identity protection program.

Understanding how and why these obstacles come about is the best way to ensure your organization avoids them!

Ready to Take Control of Your Machine Identities & ELIMINATE Outages? Read our Dummies Guide.
  1. Lack of ownership of the full certificate lifecycle

One of the biggest challenges in machine identity protection programs is reimagining how your enterprises delegates responsibility for the management and security of machine identities. Ideally, your security team would provide services that deliver policy-enforced, secure, and reliable key and certificate management. You would then require the different lines of business to rely on these services to minimize risk and comply with policy on the machines they control.

Unfortunately, the more common occurrence is that each group that generates, uses, and maintains machine identities is left to their own devices in determining how best to manage and protect them. Teams with different goals and skills decide how they’ll secure the machine identities in their charge, and this results in enterprise-wide chaos. With no strategy or cohesion regarding how machine identities are handled, mistakes are inevitable. This is how failed audits, security breaches, and certificate-related outages occur.

  1. Too many administrators have direct access to private keys

Private keys must be kept secret, and most of those used in machine identities are stored in files called key stores. The management and protection of these files, and the keys they store, is usually left to individual system administrators. This flexibility gives administrators direct access to the private keys when they need them, but it can also open the door to many actions that weaken overall security, such as making copies of private keys.

Giving system administrators direct access to private keys becomes particularly problematic when an administrator is reassigned or terminated. The keys (machine identities) controlled by previous administrators must be revoked and replaced immediately after they leave your organization. This ensures that no unauthorized users, including ex-employees or bad actors, can access your network. Most organizations skip this important security step simply because they can’t track keys in relation to administrative reassignments or terminations.

  1. Limited visibility across the entire range of certificates

The only way to truly understand example how and where your machine identities are being used with a complete and accurate inventory of all your machine identities. This lack of enterprise-wide visibility prevents you from detecting anomalous use of machine identities, an early indicator of a breach. Limited visibility and lack of tracking will also lead to certificates unexpectedly expiring, triggering costly and critical service outages.

To make matters worse, a lack of visibility can make it nearly impossible for you to track certificate ownership. If an administrator who controls a machine identity resigns, is terminated, or is reassigned, certificate ownership is in limbo. When one of these orphaned certificates expires, your team will be left scrambling! Without enough information about the certificate to respond quickly, you are now facing a hole in your network.

  1. Lack of administrators with PKI expertise

When your administrators need advice about machine identities they control, they don’t have many experts that they can consult. Surprisingly, even in organizations with hundreds of thousands of machine identities, there are just a few encryption experts on staff who understand the intricacies of the machine identity life cycle. Even in the best circumstances, these experts can’t manage all the machine identities used across your enterprise.

To add insult to injury, the tools your organization uses to manage machine identities usually require in-depth know-how. This leaves your average system administrator using Google to figure out what to do. And because many administrators don’t fully understand the impact of machine identity protection, they often treat it as an afterthought. This comparative lack of attention routinely leaves machine identities untracked, unmanaged, unmonitored, and unsecured.

How can my organization overcome these machine identity challenges?

Feeling overwhelmed? You’re not alone! Machine identity management is a big task, but it is finally starting to get the recognition it deserves as a vital, foundational aspect of any cybersecurity strategy. Organizations that neglect to budget the time and resources to protect machine identities will find themselves at serious risk, especially considering the latest rise in machine-identity related attacks.

Machine identity management is a massive, continuous job that requires constant vigilance and a lot of proactive planning. The good news is that equipping your enterprise with the proper tools will ease a lot of the pressure off of you and your team! Venafi TLS Protect guarantees you a complete and accurate inventory of your machine identities, with seamless automation and partner integrations that give you the protection and control you need.  

NOTE: This blog has been updated. It was originally posted by Scott Carter on June 11, 2019.

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About the author

Scott Carter
Scott Carter

Scott is Senior Manager for Content Marketing at Venafi. With over 20 years in cybersecurity marketing, his expertise leads him to help large organizations understand the risk to machine identities and why they should protect them

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