Due to the number of certificates an organization owns at a time, managing all these certificates at once can be challenging for human labor and requires some skills and intellect. At any one time, an organization may have critical enterprise, security, management, and other operational software certificates for the company. Managing all the certificates is critical to prevent security risks, untimely expiry, certificate compromise and other challenges, such as using illegitimate certificates, which can further increase the security threats.
A certificate lifecycle refers to the certificate timeline beginning from acquisition, active use in the company and when renewed, revoked or discarded. Failure to manage your certificates can lead to security vulnerabilities, damage costs due to late renewals, brand reputation due to security attacks and other consequences. To prevent these consequences, let’s explore the need, requirements and activities involved in managing all your certificates.
Critical Components for Certificate Lifecycle Management
Managing the certificate involves different activities; however, you must meet various requirements ideal for the ideal certificate management practices. These requirements include:
- Installation Guidelines and Requirements
Before diagnosing any issues with the certificate, you must install the certificate then configure it to the company domain, performing various roles such as validating and inspecting the certificate. Meeting these requirements is to ensure the certificate is compatible with the organization’s systems and it is error-free. Only after installation can you understand the validity and legitimacy; hence you need tools to identify the certificate validity, vendor authentication, successful installation and diagnosis for any security issues.
- Monitoring and Audits Tools
Upon installation, you must have automation systems which audit the certificate throughout its lifecycle. The audit process involves investigating the certificate’s status vs organizational needs vigilance to ensure constant security and identify a compromise or loophole. Audits are key to certificate lifecycle management to prevent fraud and unauthorized access whenever they occur, then take an instant corrective measure.
Audit and monitoring can be performed by the administrators and the automated monitoring systems to give the admins a glimpse of what the users are doing with the certificates. It is the key security strategy to ensure employees do not act maliciously; neither can external forces access the authority to the organization system with the help of employees.
- Automation Tools and Requirements
Managing all the organizational certificates can be overwhelming to be performed by people hence the need for automation. Managing all the certificates using human labor can lead to errors and is time-consuming due to the volume of work and the repetitive nature. To automate, you must have a digital management system with details of all active certificates and the authority to perform additional functions. These functions include audit, testing for validity, security management etc.
5 Stages of Certificate Lifecycle Management
Managing your certificate involves various activities that are mainly divided into different stages, each having different activities. These stages include:
- Issuance and Installation
Once the certificate is issued after you complete the purchase and the purchase is validated by the untrusted certificate authority, the next stage is installation. You must follow the installation guidelines to install the certificate for your domain or the servers. During this stage, your role is to ensure the issuance authority is legitimate; the license should be offered by a trusted vendor or the actual manufacturer.
This stage can also be called the certificate validation process to ensure validity by investigating the relevant authorities’ identity and legitimacy. Another process involved is certificate distribution, which is distributing the certificate after installation onto your systems. The activities at this stage include creating security profiles for those who grant access permission and ensuring the existence of various infrastructures to accomplish the roles.
- Certificate Remediation
Suppose you identify any issue with the certificates; there are two actions you can take that is reissuing and revoking. A reissue is to order another certificate from the vendor, especially when there is a notable concern with the existing certificates; hence another one is issued to address the original needs. To revoke a certificate to stop using it due to security concerns and then prove these damages to the issuing authority.
Revoking the certificate involves sending the details to the CA so that the CA can confirm revocation, upon which the CA confirm if the certificate is good, unknown or revocation. Therefore, it is also ideal for the company to confirm the certificate is legitimate by verifying the details, such as the issuing CA. In case of any issues, especially errors from your actions, you are likely to take responsibility; however, if the error is due to certificate features and weaknesses, the CA can reissue or be liable for damages.
- Certificate Auditing and Monitoring
Certificate auditing is a continuous process that involves activities like examining the certificates to ensure it not compromised, still, satisfy the company’s needs, the security details are in company or manager control etc. Certificate audit reveals the certificate’s unsuitability, compromise, suitability for the organizations and other concerns.
This process is ideal for tracking and monitoring the certificates issued for your servers and domains to enable you to keep track of the certificates to ensure they are renewed in time before expiry. It also involves monitoring details such as issuance, expiry, authority etc. hence the need to use digital tools to manage the certificates. If you have multiple certificates, this is one of the most crucial stages to ensure you have control over all certificates.
Based on the audit outcomes, the company can proceed to other stages, which are certificate renewal and destruction:
- Certificate Destruction
If the use for the certificate expires, the certificate will be destroyed, which is the process of destroying the certificate since it is no longer in use and should not be used. The destruction is a process in case the company changes the vendor, software and other security features that are no longer compatible or suitable for the existing certificates.
- Certificate Renewal
When the certificate you are using meets all your needs and adequately addresses your security concerns, you can use it for the full term. Once a certificate expires, the security benefits also expire, creating a loophole for security threats hence more vulnerabilities.
Therefore, the best strategy is to plan for a renewal before the expiry date reaches i.e. you can renew it a month before the actual expiry. Due to the number of certificates you are monitoring, you can have a certificate lifecycle management system that detects an expiry and then initiate a renewal process instantly or as it approaches the expiry.
The entire certificate lifecycle management is complicated and challenging due to the number of certificates to manage hence the need for automation using different digital lifecycle management. The automation should include stages and processes like validation, destruction and audit. Automation is more suitable than a human process since it constantly monitors the certificates throughout the lifecycle and their use in the organization.