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Can Machine Identity Management Prevent Data Breaches?

Can Machine Identity Management Prevent Data Breaches?

May 6, 2021 | Scott Carter

As we transform our businesses to become more digital, we are creating unprecedented numbers of connections. These machines collect vast amounts of data, share information with other machines, and make autonomous decisions based on the situation they find themselves. And every one of these machine connections requires a machine identity—whether they are with systems, applications, APIs or cloud native. As a result of this rapid growth, machine identity management is increasingly complex—and can directly impact the security posture of all organizations.

How can cybersecurity professionals justify the resources required to ensure the risks associated with machine identities are properly mitigated? The first answer that comes to mind is the sheer cost of a data breach. According to the 2020 Cost of Data Breach Study, the average cost comes in at $3.68 million. But even though we know that machine identities are misused by cybercriminals in many types of attacks (SSL/TLS certificate toolkits are readily available on the dark web), it’s often difficult to identify and measure their direct impact in a breach.

But there’s another cost justification that is more directly attributable. Certificate expiration can trigger application outages that cost organizations real money in lots of different ways. In fact, one of the reasons that the infamous breach at Equifax went so long undetected was that an expired certificate

Just think about when Ericsson left millions of their UK customers without their mobile network services. Or, when you or your kids were not able to access Pokémon Go. Place yourself in the position of the Conservative party in the UK discovering that your website is down. How did you feel when you couldn’t connect on LinkedIn? And the list goes on and on. Most recently including Epic Games, Google Voice and Spotify.

How do you avoid having your machine identities used in a breach?

From a people perspective we need to reduce the pressure for machine identity security skills and the need for human compliance to focus on machine identity use and protection. We need to automate machine identity management. Automation reduces errors and mistakes that can result from oversights, such as forgetting to perform activities. We also need to make machine identity management more visible and easier for everyone to understand. Security is not one person or team’s job, but everyone’s job.

From a process point of view, we need to enforce policies efficiently and build an inventory of machine identities. Building an inventory of machine identities can be a strenuous and time-consuming job that is almost impossible to be maintained manually, which is exacerbated by the rapid environment provisioning in the cloud.

From a technical perspective, we want to minimize the overhead of manually switching certificate authorities (CAs) and replacing vulnerable machine identities, so we can be confident that we can respond quickly to cryptographic security events.

From a budget point of view, we want to minimize the labor cost—the amount of human days required to achieve the same level of risk mitigation an automation solution provides. Over and above of this, you may want to consider the hidden costs of certificate management, such as slowing down revenue generating functions, fixing avoidable audit findings and stealing resources from more value-added work.

Why do you need visibility, intelligence, and automation?

If you’re looking to increase your efficiency in managing and protecting machine identities, the characteristics you should look for in this developing ecosystem are visibility, intelligence and automation.

A continuous visibility capability that is actively surveying machine identities can help you be prepared to rapidly identify unauthorized access and privilege escalation and prevent a horrible breach, therefore protecting your organization’s reputation from damage and avoiding all the necessary remediation costs.

Having comprehensive and actionable intelligence across the entire machine identity lifecycle that includes certificate enrollment, installation, renewal, and revocation will help you protect and secure authorized, encrypted communications between machines. This level of machine identity intelligence will allow you to avoid much of the cost associated with managing the certificates in your machine landscape.

Automating management and security processes is the most effective way to build and maintain a successful machine identity protection program. Automation allows you to orchestrate a set of rapid actions that can be focused on a single machine identity or an entire group of identities at machine speed. You can secure the entire machine identity lifecycle, enforce strong certificate security policies, streamline and expedite remediation, validate that certificates are properly installed and working correctly, and continuously monitor the strength and security of your certificates.

How can you reduce the risk of certificate outages or misuse?

Venafi recommends the following steps to alleviate your organization’s risk of certificate expiration, compromise or misuse:

  • Discover all certificates. Choose a discovery tool that lets you look across your entire extended network—including cloud and virtual instances, and CA implementations. This will help you locate every certificate that can impact the reliability and availability of your organization’s critical infrastructure.
  • Create a complete inventory. Catalog your entire inventory of certificates and store it in a centralized repository where you can track and manage the status of all certificates. This makes it easy to rotate your certificates before they expire.
  • Verify security compliance. Investigate certificate properties to ensure that certificates have proper owners, attributes and configurations so all certificates fall into line with your organization’s regular cadence of renewals.
  • Continuously monitor certificates. Conduct non-stop surveillance of all certificates so that you’ll know immediately when something isn’t right. This is the most efficient way to keep tabs on renewal requirements, as well as misuse.
  • Automate renewals. Eliminate the risk of human error by automating certificate renewals, allowing you to install, configure and validate certificates in seconds. You’ll not only improve availability; you’ll be able to do it in a fraction of the staff hours previously required.

“Overall, CIOs need greater visibility, intelligence and automation of the entire lifecycle of all certificates to prevent outages.” says Kevin Bocek, vice president, security strategy and threat intelligence at Venafi.

Are you ready to protect your machine identities against digital attackers? You can start with a solution that monitors machine identities for signs of abuse. Automating the entire certificate Lifecyle will also help you minimize the possibility of misuse or compromise. A machine identity management solution such as the Venafi Trust Protection Platform. Is the solution of choice for the world’s largest and most security conscious organizations. Contact us to see how we can do the same for you.


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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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