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Website Downtime Due to Expired Certificates Remains a Huge Problem

Website Downtime Due to Expired Certificates Remains a Huge Problem

Website Downtime Due to Expired Certificates Remains a Huge Problem
April 30, 2019 | Guest Blogger: Kim Crawley

It should be the goal of web administrators and all organizations with websites to have as much uptime as possible. Preferably 100% website uptime is best. When websites, web apps, and webpages go down, it hurts organizations. It hurts their image with customers and clientele who want to have access to their services whenever they need it. It hurts prospective customers and clientele who want to find out what your company is all about before they consider spending money.

The reputational damage from web downtime is difficult for an accountant to ledger, but it definitely affects a company’s bottom line. Transactions aren’t made, services aren’t delivered. If I’m in the mood to buy a new pair of boots and the website of one of my favorite shoe stores is down, I’ll just go to the website of another shoe store, their direct competitor. It’s as simple as that.

These days everyone should know that all web content should be delivered through HTTPS, not HTTP. Even if the data being transferred isn’t considered to be sensitive, it should still go through HTTPS. All major web browsers on both desktop and mobile will warn people that HTTP sites are “not secure.” Google has made it publicly known that HTTPS webpages rank higher in Google Search than HTTP webpages. So, all websites and web applications will need SSL/TLS certificates to be deployed at all times. And if there’s no proper certificate for a session, it can cause embarrassing web downtime.

More and more organizations are making sure that their web servers have DDoS attack protection. DDoS attacks are still a significant problem, so that’s a good thing. But web downtime caused by TLS certificate outages may get overlooked.

David Bisson recently wrote about the ongoing TLS certificate problem, and some of the tweets sent by disappointed web surfers and customers. Don’t be surprised if your customers make social media posts about your web downtime. The best thing to do is to acknowledge their report, check if the outage exists and where it is, and then fix it as soon as possible.

TLS certificates can be assigned to certain subdomains (such as shop.website.com, mail.website.com), and IP addresses can also have multiple certificates. Therefore, a certificate outage may only make a specific section or set of webpages of a website go down. That’s why web administrators may not notice certificate outages until it’s too late. It’s crucial to deploy certificate monitoring systems, because websites and web apps these days are very complex and partial web downtime can be subtle... but the consequences can be terrible to your business!

Andrew Ray is an excellent web developer with an impressive portfolio. A certificate outage on his own professional website was reported by a user on Twitter. As you can see, Ray responded in the correct way.

This example shows that TLS outages can happen even to experts who know what they’re doing. But Ray’s business is a one-man operation, right? Surely this happens a lot less frequently to large organizations with thousands of people? Well, you would be wrong. Dungeons and Dragons is one of the most popular offline games ever. I should know, I’m a human cleric with a few DnD 5th edition character sheets laying around the house. I’m of Chaotic Good alignment if you’re curious. Dungeons and Dragons intellectual property owner Wizards of the Coast is a large company which was acquired by Hasbro in 1999. Fans expect their website to have uptime, but a user tweeted about a TLS outage caused downtime.

Mastadon is a social network with a reported over two million users. It seems like they have frequent certificate outages on their site. This can’t be good if they want to compete with other social networks in order to grow their user base.

Salesforce is a huge online business. Even well-run companies with a strong online presence run the risk of outages in diverse lines of business.

Lots of people worldwide subscribe to Sirius XM satellite radio. It’s a huge media business. Their website needs to authenticate users, but it can’t when their certificates are invalid.

One of Adobe’s platforms had certificates that expired two months ago. This just goes to show that even leading, security-oriented companies continue to struggle with outages.

ESPN is a hugely popular sports media brand which is owned by Disney.

Public sector entities experience certificate outages too. Here’s what happened to a major Indian government agency.

Venafi recently conducted a survey of 550 chief information officers (CIOs) from the U.S., U.K., France, Germany and Australia. It was about their experiences with certificate outages. Here are some of the key findings:

  • 85% believe the increasing complexity and interdependence of IT systems will make outages even more painful in the future.
  • Nearly 80% estimate certificate use in their organizations will grow by 25% or more in the next five years, with over half anticipating minimum growth rates of more than 50%.
  • Almost two-thirds of organizations (60%) experienced certificate-related outages that impacted critical business applications or services within the last year.

Venafi vice president Kevin Bocek said, “Overall, CIOs need greater visibility, intelligence and automation of the entire life cycle of all certificates prevent outages.” And some of the symptoms of that need are seen by your customers, and also reported all over Twitter.

Find out how Venafi can help you prevent certificate related outages.

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About the author

Guest Blogger: Kim Crawley
Guest Blogger: Kim Crawley
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