Application outages and security vulnerabilities are two of the key concerns for the modern digital enterprise when it comes to digital identity management. An often-overlooked issue that causes outages and breaches is ambiguous certificate ownership.
When a certificate-related outage or a breach occurs, it inevitably ends in a blame game rooted in ownership dilemmas. Who should have tracked and monitored the digital certificate? Was the approval process followed? Who provisioned it? Who was responsible for maintaining a robust security policy around issuing certificates?
These ownership questions often invoke confused reactions and muddled responses from public key infrastructure (PKI) teams, ultimately hurting an organization’s security posture and the bottom line.
Why is Clear Certificate Ownership Important?
Establishing certificate ownership, or in other words, delegating the management responsibility of certificates and keys, is one of the crucial aspects of certificate lifecycle management.
The core intent of assigning certificate owners and approvers is to structure the certificate enrolment process and ensure that only authorized people are allowed to make changes to the certificate infrastructure.
Defining certificate ownership, an approval workflow, and a certificate enrollment process helps eliminate the existence of phantom, undocumented certificates, which could cause problems on going undetected in the event of expiry or compromise. It also helps standardize certificate management for better compliance.
However, many organizations continue to let ownership fall between the cracks and, as a result, grapple with application outages and security breaches that could have otherwise been prevented.
Blame the Manual Processes for Certificate Ownership Dilemmas
One of the common reasons behind certificate ownership problems is manual processes. Most organizations store certificate ownership information in excel spreadsheets and databases along with other certificates and key-related information. These cursory approaches make establishing ownership and enforcing accountability for certificate actions a significant challenge.
In a typical enterprise PKI setup, there are multiple certificate groups independently managing certificates. When working with excel spreadsheets or CA-based inspection tools, tracking and monitoring these multiple groups and their actions becomes difficult, which inevitably leads to provisioning certificates that go undocumented and unmanaged.
As the organization’s digital footprint increases, the number of digital certificates to be managed can run into thousands. Manually tracking assigned owners and approvers for thousands of interlinked certificates via spreadsheets becomes impractical and, not to mention, highly susceptible to errors.
Unregulated access and insecure certificate provisioning often compromise the security of the application infrastructure. But with manual management, organizations have no means to dictate the right level of access for each stakeholder and regulate access to certificates and keys at a granular level.
Further, in cases where a single person owns a certificate, the ownership information is not shared with other users. When the certificate owner changes position or quits the company, certificate ownership goes unnoticed and is left to linger in uncertainty. When the orphaned certificate expires or is compromised, PKI teams scramble to ascertain the rightful owner to initiate renewals and deployment. Not having this critical piece of information delays incident response, leading to unplanned application downtime.
Automation Helps Simplify and Streamline Certificate Ownership for Better Control and Security
The answer to resolving certificate ownership problems lies in automation. An automated certificate lifecycle management (CLM) solution radically simplifies the process of establishing and maintaining ownership for a growing inventory of certificates. It helps you eliminate the problem of undocumented certificates causing expiry, outages, data breaches, and non-compliance issues. Here’s how:
- Allows establishing an ownership hierarchy with well-defined roles in the PKI management team. Each level in the hierarchy is part of an approval chain that enables the delegation and validation of ownership. Enforcing ownership hierarchies will help prevent multiple teams across geographies from adding, modifying, and removing certificates at random points in time.
- Provides centralized management that allows you to easily monitor and manage multiple certificate groups from a single location. It helps build holistic visibility of various certificate groups and their owners that helps ensure all certificate tasks are carried out in time without fail.
- Allows enforcing strict policies for using and generating certificates and keys – such as recommended cryptographic techniques, hashing algorithms, key lengths, certificate authorities of CAs, and workflows – consistently across the infrastructure to validate and eliminate non-compliant certificates.
- Allows implementing role-based access control (RBAC) to avoid unwarranted access and enable secure provisioning. RBAC helps you create role-based hierarchies and approval processes that will run every certificate signing request (CSR) or issuance call through the designated authorities. Specifying who can create and request changes, approve them, and implement them helps significantly improve auditing and compliance.
- Simplifies the process of adding new certificate owners by allowing existing owners to transfer the ownership before changing positions or moving out of the company or by assigning ownership for the entire certificate group.
- Allows creating an audit trail system that logs every action taken by stakeholders in the hierarchy, along with a timestamp. Makes sure critical events are automatically reported back to the respective certificate teams. Audit logs are useful for determining the cause of certificate-related issues and detecting policy violations.
- Allows setting up an automated alerting and reporting mechanism that sends periodic reports and notifications on expiry, validity, and compliance status of certificates to the corresponding owners. This helps with in-time renewals and proactive resolution of certificate issues.
Invest in a Mature, End-to-End Automation Solution
As the number of digital certificates increases, having complete visibility and control of certificates becomes critical for data security. You must ensure all certificate tasks are carried out the right way with efficiency. To that end, exercising clear ownership of certificates is pivotal.
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