Successful digital transformation requires effective governance and tools to improve business operations while securing access to corporate assets. As organizations expand their digital capabilities, they must also consider who is accessing what at any time. As more and more non-human entities request access to networks and data, the need to authenticate these machines and manage their identities effectively is becoming essential.
Machines include physical devices, such as servers, personal computers, laptops and even printers. The Internet of Things (IoT) uses physical devices such as sensors. Machines are also applications and the mobile devices that we use to download them. DevOps teams use containers and microservices, which are also machines. The proliferation of such technologies drives the explosion of machines that request access to assets and data.
All of these machines require a unique identity, as well as protection and a secure connection to communicate with other machines. In general, each time a machine requires a connection to another machine, the machine requesting access must identify itself to the other machine, so that it can make an authorization decision and either allow or deny the connection.
Machine identities, such as digital certificates, communicate with other machines to establish trust at every junction or connection. The most common and well-known digital certificate is the Secure Socket Layer (SSL). It dates back to the mid-1990s and is the first cryptographic protocol used to secure Internet communications. Transport Layer Security (TLS), based on SSL, is an improvement to SSL. SSL/TLS certificates are used to establish secure connections to websites and protection of the underlying transactions that may occur while using the website. In addition to SSL/TLS certificates, there are three other digital certificates that facilitate machine identity and authentication.
Code signing certificates verify the authenticity and integrity of software. It helps customers know that a company is the official publisher of its code and that no other third party has modified it since you signed it. These certificates, however, are a valuable commodity on the dark web due to the ability of attackers to misuse unprotected code and sign their malware, circumvent malware detection techniques and make it look like a legitimate company is the official publisher of the code and that it has not been modified.
Secure Shell (SSH) is primarily used to provide system administrators with secure privileged access to critical systems. While SSH is recognized as a secure way of ensuring that only trusted users and machines have access to critical network systems and the underlying data, SSH based access has several vulnerabilities, including SSH keys that have not been terminated, unaudited user keys (resulting in backdoors) and misuse of keys. If a cybercriminal gains access to a SSH key, he or she may gain privileged access to high value corporate assets.
Cryptographic keys facilitate the encryption of data at rest stored on endpoints, databases or cloud workloads. The keys must be managed securely to prevent unauthorized access to data. In addition to secure management of the keys, organizations must have expertly implemented encryption of data in transit to reduce risks associated with man-in-the-middle attacks.
It is possible for cyber criminals to misuse unprotected or poorly managed machine identities and gain unauthorized access to other machines and corporate assets. Additionally, organizations are faced with the possibility of certificate-related outages, key theft or misuse of keys. For example, without effective machine identity and key management in place, organizations may lack visibility into their SSH key inventory or fail to automatically rotate their SSH keys.
There has been a meteoric rise in the volume of machine identities due to the proliferation of connected devices and a distributed workforce. This makes machine identity management a top priority for organizations engaged in digital transformation initiatives and for any company conducting business in the global digital economy.
Successful machine identity management requires organizations to keep pace with not only the sheer volume of machine identities, but also the types of machine identities. Manually managing machine identities is a complex task, prone to human error, which can lead to the organization being at risk from bad actors. To ensure your company has a smooth digital transformation, investing in cyber security solutions such as the Venafi Trust Protection Platform, to fully automate the process of machine identity management is highly recommended.