Certificate-related outages are completely preventable. Yet, they still manage to hit organizations that pride themselves in enforcing rigorous policies and processes. Even the likes of Apple, Google and Microsoft are not immune. Yet they are certainly not alone. A new study from Venafi investigated the scale, frequency and causes of certificate-related outages found that 79% of organizations have suffered at least one outage in the past year.
Regardless of how much you prepare to avoid outages, they seem to have a life of their own. Case in point. You’re fairly certain that your organization is doing everything right. You’ve got a team that’s tracking certificates and expiration dates. You’re sending out notices to system admins and LOB managers when they need to renew. And bam! You get that dreaded call and your teams are scrambling to find and replace the culprit certificate that a now-departed contractor requested and didn’t log.
Despite the best of intentions, outages remain a significant operational headache for organizations. Venafi wanted to quantify their impact. So, we asked 505 IT professionals responsible for cryptographic assets across the USA, UK, France and Germany. Their responses validated that inadequate cryptographic controls are relatively common, negatively impacting the reliability and availability of their vital systems and services:
The majority (79 percent) of respondents suffered at least one certificate-related outage in 2016.
Over a third (38 percent) suffered more than six certificate-related outages in 2016.
Almost one in twenty (4 percent) suffered 100 or more certificate-related outages in 2016.
Almost two-thirds (64 percent) said their organizations could not respond to a certificate-related security event in six hours or less.
When even one certificate can slip through the cracks, it indicates a lack of control. Given the sensitive nature of keys and certificates, it’s critical that organizations treat them wisely and with respect. “Certificates and keys are identity and access management for machines, just like user names and passwords do for humans,” notes Venafi vice president of security strategy Kevin Bocek. “Certificates allow machines to communicate securely and that makes them an essential, but underappreciated, part of every organization’s digital ecosystem and our global digital economy.”
Yet, most organizations do not seem to be prepared to meet the rigors of managing keys and certificates. According to Bocek, “Unfortunately, most businesses do not have the visibility or tools necessary to manage this fundamental element of cyber security and operational availability effectively.” And the study validates this operational gap:
Almost two-thirds (65 percent) of organizations do not manage all their keys and certificates centrally.
Of those that do manage certificates centrally, 65 percent rely on security controls from their Certificate Authorities (CAs), which limit their visibility to certificates provided by the issuing CA.
Basically, the survey found that most organizations need to up their games. They do not have control over their key and certificate inventory. Nor do they have an automated process for renewals or a central record of when certificates are due to expire. Why is this so hard? It’s the scope of the problem. An undaunted growth in keys and certificates—fueled by the explosion in the number of DevOps applications and IP-enabled devices on business networks—leaves many organizations struggling to keep up with tens of thousands of certificates.
For organizations who wish to minimize their exposure to certificate-related outages, Bocek recommends that they automate the discovery, issuance, lifecycle, and remediation of all keys and certificates from the data center to the cloud to the IoT edge of their networks. “Failure to do so,” he cautions, “puts the reliability and availability of critical services at risk and dramatically increases cyber security risks.”
Is your organization ready to enter the outage-free zone?