10 Best Practices For Continuous Compliance When Managing Digital Certificates

It is not enough to claim you are secure; you must also be able to demonstrate your commitment towards keeping your infrastructures and your customers’ information safe. Prioritizing compliance is how you do it.

On May 22nd this year, the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) imposed a mind-bending, record-breaking fine of 1.3 billion USD on the social media giant, Meta, for violating GDPR guidelines on international transfer.

Year after year, big and small organizations alike are being slapped with massive regulatory penalties. Amazon, Google, British Airways, and Marriot have coughed up fines in millions, highlighting the serious implications of non-compliance.

It Is Time to Take Compliance Seriously

Given the speed of digital transformation and the unprecedented surge in cybercrime today, ensuring compliance has become a business necessity rather than just another routine box to tick on the security checklist.

Regulatory bodies around the world, such as HIPAA in healthcare, PCI DSS in the Payment Card Industry, eIDAS for electronic services in the EU, and GDPR for personal information protection in the EU, have become more alert and stringent about data security measures. Old guidelines are being amended with new updates for protecting sensitive data and ensuring the privacy of people.

PKI and Digital Certificate Compliance

As PKI (public key infrastructure) and digital certificates are critical enforcers of trust and data security on the Internet, certificate-related compliance is a major security priority. However, an exponential increase in the number of digital certificates has made governing certificate issuance and managing their life cycles a persistent challenge for PKI and security teams. Due to these challenges, ensuring certificates meet the standards created by NIST, FIPS, CA/Browser Forum and others has become a struggle for most organizations.

The problem only magnifies with Google now proposing to reduce public TLS certificate validity from 398 days to just 90 days. Reducing certificate validity is bound to drastically increase the management workload, in turn complicating compliance.

PKI and certificate-related compliance can be daunting without PKI expertise and effective tools and procedures to stay on top of it. Here are some important practices to follow to ensure your digital certificates are always well-managed, secure, and compliant.

1. Establish and Maintain a Certificate Inventory

Maintain an inventory of all certificates used within your organization. This includes both public and private trust certificates, along with details such as their location, expiration dates, and other metadata. A centralized inventory provides complete visibility of your certificate landscape and helps weed out orphaned, rogue, and non-compliant certificates. The latest version of PCI DSS, v4.0, mandates maintaining an up-to-date inventory of all certificates and keys for compliance.

2. Use Strong Crypto Standards

It is crypto standards that decide the effectiveness of cryptography. As new threats are uncovered and existing vulnerabilities are discovered, standards are updated. The TLS protocol, hashing algorithm SHA, and encryption algorithm RSA have all undergone revisions. Regularly review all your certificates for these crypto standards, identify certificates with weak standards, and replace them with safer standards to prevent vulnerabilities and ensure compliance. PCI DSS v4.0, in fact, mandates documenting and reviewing cryptographic cipher suites and protocols once a year as a best practice.

Read the blog on PCI DSS v4.0 to know more about the cryptographic requirements it specifies and how you can comply with them.

To learn more about why it is dangerous to use outdated crypto standards, read the blog here.

3. Implement Certificate Expiration Alerts

Manually tracking certificates for expiry can be impractical. Set up automated alerts to notify certificate owners and administrators or preferably set up auto-renewal well in advance of certificate expirations. This ensures timely renewal or replacement of certificates, minimizing the risk of application outages and vulnerabilities due to expired certificates.

2023 EMA Report: SSL/TLS Certificate Security-Management and Expiration Challenges

4. Enforce Strong Certificate Policies

Define and enforce policies for certificate issuance and management across all business units. This includes specifying approved CAs, crypto standards, certificate lifetimes, and trust levels. Implement role-based access control (RBAC) to regulate permissions and provide the right level of access to certificates and keys to the right roles. Providing conditional access is especially important to prevent mismanaged or unauthorized actions related to certificates and CAs. Align your policies with industry standards and regulatory requirements to ensure compliance.

5. Automate Certificate Lifecycle Management

While you may have implemented organizational policies as required by NIST, you will still need a reliable way to enforce them consistently. Automation is an effective way of simplifying certificate lifecycle management (CLM) and enforcing policies to standardize certificate processes. For instance, if you want new certificates to be provisioned with ECC keys instead of RSA keys , automated solutions allow you to define and enforce this as a policy to ensure the use of strong encryption. Additionally, automating CLM also helps reduce manual errors and enables effective management of certificates at scale.

6. Regularly Monitor and Audit Certificates

Group certificates and keys based on specific business use cases to simplify tracking. Create audit trails to log every certificate and key-related activity for granular control and easy auditing. Generate periodic reports to detect anomalies, eliminate non-compliant certificates, and simplify auditing.

7. Secure Certificate and Key Storage

Do not hard code key values. Use secure and encrypted storage solutions to store private keys and perform key operations. Store private keys in an AES-256-bit encrypted database or a hardware security module (HSM) to protect them from unauthorized access and disclosure, as well as comply with FIPS 140 guidelines. Use a built-in or third-party password vault for protecting device credentials. Enable automated key rotation and retirement within the HSM to minimize human contact with keys and prevent key compromises.

8. Implement Certificate Revocation Checking

Enable certificate revocation checking to ensure that revoked certificates are not accepted or trusted. This prevents the use of compromised or revoked certificates and helps maintain the security and integrity of your systems.

9. Document Certificate Management Procedures

Maintain comprehensive documentation of your certificate management procedures, including policies, processes, and controls. This documentation serves as a reference for administrators, auditors, and compliance officers, demonstrating that you have established and followed proper certificate management practices.

10. Stay Up-to-Date with Regulatory Requirements

Always keep an eye out for changing regulatory requirements related to cryptography and certificate management. Regularly review and update your practices to ensure compliance with the latest standards and regulations.

As the compliance landscape evolves and more regulations are introduced, the cost of non-compliance can be too big to bear. GDPR now has a fine framework of up to €20 million or 4% of an organization’s global annual revenues.

This is a reminder for all organizations to set their compliance priorities right. Moreover, compliance is not just about avoiding hefty fines. It’s about following best practices to build cyber-resilience and maintain trusted relationships with customers, vendors, and partners.

Following the best practices discussed above can help establish a robust and reliable certificate lifecycle management process that provides complete visibility and control of the certificate ecosystem to reduce risks, enhance security, and ensure continuous compliance.

How AppViewX CERT+ Helps You Ensure Continuous Certificate Compliance

AppViewX CERT+ is a ready-to-consume, scalable certificate lifecycle management (CLM) solution that automates all certificate processes end-to-end. You can discover, inventory, monitor, and automate the complete lifecycle for every certificate, all through a central console. It brings together visibility, control, and insights across on-premises, multi-cloud, hybrid cloud, IoT, and containerized environments to simplify certificate lifecycle management, build crypto-agility, and ensure continuous compliance.

Talk to an expert or register for a live demo to learn all about AppViewX PKI+ and AppViewX CERT+.

Tags

  • Certificate Management
  • crypto-agility
  • Digital Certificates
  • PKI management
  • Private keys
  • public keys
  • TLS certificate validity

About the Author

Krupa Patil

Product Marketing Manager

A content creator focused on providing readers and prospective buyers with accurate, useful, and latest product information to help them make better informed decisions.

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