Back in the day, it was a little simpler to keep track of your keys and certificates. There were fewer people involved in the process. And you could run a pretty tight PKI using a spreadsheet or SharePoint site. You may even have developed some custom scripts to make things even easier. But now times have changed. HTTPS Everywhere and DevOps efforts radically increase the number of people who need access to certificates. And as you move to the cloud, you are spinning up machines many times a day—and each one requires unique keys and certificates to validate their machine identities.
At first glance, it would seem that you could use your certificate authority (CA) dashboard to make sense of all of your growing number of certificates. But, sadly, it’s not that easy. Like most large organizations, yours is probably sourcing certificates from a number of internal and external CAs. (Plus, given the availability of free or low-cost certificates, you may have CAs that aren’t on your radar.) And while the tools that CAs provide are indeed quite useful (certainly a step up from the manual or homegrown methods that many organizations have used), they will only give you data on the certificates that are issued by that particular CA.
In this scenario, you may end up splitting your management efforts between dashboards and you’ll never get a centralized view of all your machine identities (unless, of course, you put all your eggs in one basket and consolidate certificates onto one CA). But even if you do that, these CA tools may not tell you where all of your unique certificates are installed. So if you’re hit by an outage caused by an expired certificate, you’ll be hard pressed to locate and replace it in short order. Same goes for certificates with weak, out-of-date or compromised cryptography. In all of these situations, you’ll need to be able to act quickly to minimize impact. Better yet, you’ll have taken steps to proactively avoid these situations altogether.
The bottom line is that you need to deploy certificate management that supports your specific business strategy (rather than building your business strategy around your certificate management.) When looking for a certificate management solution that delivers on the promise of maximum flexibility and control, here are five questions you should ask:
Will it give me certificate intelligence from more than one CA?
Most organizations use multiple CAs, but it’s not possible to manage machine identities across multiple CAs using a single CA management console. This means a holistic view of all your organizations’ keys and certificates will require ongoing manual effort that is error prone and time consuming.
How quickly can I change, remove or add a CA to my PKI?
Most organizations need to be able to respond quickly if a CA implementation is compromised through unauthorized access or corrupted due to lost keys. Like all organizations, CAs are not infallible. Some may make errors that can negatively impact the trust of their certificates, so the ability to switch CAs easily offers a critical security advantage.
Will it help me maintain consistent security across all keys and certificates?
Many business groups who request certificate don’t understand how to provision strong keys and certificates. They often revert to older, more familiar issuance practices that can compromise your machine identities. If you rely solely on your CA to manage machine identities, you may need to repeat the implementation of security policies across multiple CAs.
How quickly can I respond to a CA compromise or serious error?
If large groups of certificates are disabled or distrusted, it leaves many CA customers scrambling to find another CA and to convert all their keys and certificates. If you need to switch CAs, any automated processes, integrations with security infrastructure and policies that were developed using the compromised CAs must be rewritten.
Will I be able to identify and react to a certificate-related outage or breach?
If you rely on multiple CAs and don’t have enterprise-wide awareness of your key and certificate security posture, you may not be able to quickly detect and respond to a misused certificate, an unplanned outage or a vulnerability. And when you’re experiencing an outage or a breach, time is critical. The longer the outage or breach continues, the greater the potential damage to your organization.
To maximize business agility, look for certificate management that allows you to actively manage all your certificates from a single console. You won’t tie your organization’s security posture to any single CA vendor. Plus, you’ll be equipped to implement consistent security policies across all machine identities and deliver audit-ready reports and documentation about your company-wide key and certificate management program.