Fitting Certificate Management into DevOps Pipelines


As organizations continue to transition from conventional development to DevOps and Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery (CI/CD) practices, DevOps teams often struggle with consistently managing PKI. This is especially true when it comes to managing a digital certificate infrastructure. Why? Since the process of requesting a certificate from a Certificate Authority (CA), receiving it, binding it to an endpoint, and managing it is often slow and lacks visibility, DevOps teams tend to sidestep established practices by using less secure means of cryptography or issuing their own certificates – putting their organizations at risk. In this blog, we’ll look at the common challenges DevOps teams face as they try to balance rapid development timelines with efficient, accurate, and secure certificate management practices, and discuss solutions that can help them automate the entire Certificate Lifecycle Management (CLM) process.

Where certificate management fits into CI/CD

The typical (albeit simplified) DevOps lifecycle looks something like this: Commit to Change, Trigger Build, Build, Test, Deliver, and Deploy. Somewhere between when the build is delivered to the environment and its deployment, there’s the need to secure it with PKI, which involves requesting of either code signing or a creation of a certificate. This is typically where the disconnect begins: oftentimes, there’s no visibility into the certificate infrastructure, expiration timelines are not tracked, and communication with the Certificate Authority is inconsistent. So, even though PKI administration is technically a part of the CI/CD lifecycle, its practices and methods are usually completely detached from the CI/CD workflows and are not governed by the same standards as the rest of the application delivery processes.

Within conventional DevOps pipelines, obtaining trusted certificates can take days. The ticketing systems that support certificate requests are scattered across functions and are usually slow to get the issue moved through the right gates and resolved. And with thousands of certificates required to support today’s complex enterprise infrastructures, DevOps has neither the time, nor the required expertise to correctly provision, deploy, monitor and maintain PKIs throughout the organization.

The risks of using traditional manual methods

The potential risks of using manually driven processes can include the DevOps team resorting to accelerated means of obtaining certificates – using either self-signed certificates or purchasing their own certificates from CAs — violating the company’s PKI management and governance practices.

Ad-hoc processes that are used by many organizations are inconsistent and lack scalability. If one group creates scripts for provisioning PKIs, they are not commonly shared across the organization, creating a variation in output and adding to the challenge of maintaining a cohesive and compliant certificate management cycle.

With PKI management not being a part of regular DevOps infrastructure, organizations face the risk of dangerous variations in cryptographic standards, with some certificates being fulfilled using deprecated cipher instances.

Manual PKI administration can be error prone, especially when applying certificates to load-balanced application environments. Binding a certificate to the wrong application instance can put the whole system in danger of a data breach.

Finally, the very task of monitoring the allocation, expiration, and binding of thousands of certificates across the organization can become an insurmountable burden to DevOps teams, already strapped for resources. Especially in the absence of tools that provide top-down visibility into the entire certificate infrastructure, where each investigation into a certificate failure or expiration becomes a game of hide-and-seek.

Solution: Automate and Integrate

A Certificate Lifecycle Automation solution can help DevOps teams completely eliminate reliance on manual processes and integrate certificate management into the DevOps pipeline. By abstracting complex processes that require specialized PKI knowledge and replacing them with configurable visual workflows that integrate into their existing tools and utilities, a CLM solution can help DevOps teams establish self-service capabilities, enabling them to accelerate delivery timelines, while fortifying application security. Adopting an automated CLM solution could help DevOps teams establish complete visibility and build holistic views of their certificate infrastructure – giving them the ability to identify the entire chain of trust, including the issuing CA, and the endpoint where the certificate resides.

Automation also helps eliminate unnecessary exposure: under today’s commonly used manual processes, a person typically sends a request for a certificate via email or places it into a shared repository. The PKI manager retrieves it, submits it to CA for signing, then places it back into the repository or forwards it to a third party with a request to bind the new certificate to a specific endpoint. This process of passing PKIs between multiple organizational units and users results in the birth of a PKI-version of shadow IT, with multiple undocumented certificates and keys lying around with less-than-stellar security. This only increases the probability of these orphan certificates becoming weak links, and exposing the entire network to an expiry-related outage, or a breach. Automation tools, especially solutions that fully utilize self-service capabilities, make PKIs only available to the DevOps team members who need to perform the required lifecycle functions.

AppViewX CERT+ automates CLM end-to-end

The AppViewX CERT+ platform helps enterprise IT manage and automate the entire lifecycle of their internal and external PKI. AppViewX CERT+ provides extensive visibility into the certificate and encryption key infrastructure. Application, network, and security engineers can use AppViewX’s to initiate automation workflows that deliver compliance and allow PKI management processes to seamlessly become a functioning part of the DevOps CI/CD pipeline.

AppViewX CERT+ key capabilities

  • Automation for the entire certificate lifecycle: discovery, creation, renewal, provisioning, and revocation in multi-cloud, multi-vendor environments.
  • Automation of certificate and key lifecycles on application servers, firewalls, ADCs, and endpoint devices.
  • Support for internal and external certificate authorities in the chain of trust.
  • Ability to design workflows using a library of tasks supporting a multi-vendor ecosystem of AppViewX technology partners.
  • User-friendly forms for easy self-service, plus REST APIs for more advanced workflows.
  • Ability to define roles and control how different roles can use automation workflows.
  • Full visibility into the configuration, state, and performance of the entire certificate infrastructure.
  • Ability to trigger automated workflows based on changes in the network infrastructure.
  • Support for public cloud, private cloud, software-defined, and hardware environments.
  • Scalable, distributed and modular platform that supports thousands of users

Control Your Certificates Before They Go Rogue!

Given how much the organizations have come to rely on DevOps and Continuous Delivery, automated end-to-end certificate lifecycle management is quickly replacing inefficient error-prone manual processes. Automation has proven to not only enhance application security, but also help accelerate delivery timelines and free up DevOps and DevSecOps resources to focus on more strategic issues.

If you don’t have a certificate management tool yet, take a look at AppViewX CERT+, a market-leading certificate and PKI management platform.

Not sure where to start? Our team can evaluate your certificate strategy and help you implement a certificate management tool to optimize your network operations. Contact us or schedule a demo today.

About the Author

Muralidharan Palanisamy

Muralidharan Palanisamy

Chief Solutions Officer

As Chief Solutions Officer, Murali is responsible for the overall product vision, development, and technical direction of AppViewX.

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