Machine Identity Management Risks And Challenges Facing Your Security Teams

Managing the sheer volume of machine identities accessing enterprise-critical resources is a herculean task. And, the increasing challenge is being fueled by the fast pace of digital transformation, cloud adoption, and IoT. Besides the upsurge in the number and types of machine identities, growing security threats posed by advanced cybersecurity attacks, like phishing, ransomware, malware, and others are creating more nightmares for your security teams.

According to the 2022 report presented by the World Economic Forum, there were 270 attacks on average per enterprise in 2021, which is a whopping 31% increase from 2020. Organizations must start adopting an identity-first security approach that converges human and machine identity into their foundation for zero trust.

Exponential Growth of Machine Identities

In contrast to the exponential rise in machine identities, the number of human identities has remained relatively flat in recent years. Today, the number of machine identities outweighs the number of human identities by as much as 45 times on average, according to the 2022 CyberArk Report on Massive Growth of Digital Identities. Gartner states machine identities are distinct from human identities (such as those of workers, partners, customers, vendors, consultants, etc.). Machine identities are further divided into two subgroups:

  • Devices: desktop PCs, mobile devices, network hardware, IoT/OT devices
  • Workloads: virtual machines, applications, containers, cloud services

Machine identity management (MIM) is the process of efficiently managing the trusted identity credentials used by the machines, such as devices and workloads. For businesses, the proliferation of machines brings forth exciting potential as well as peril. As part of an appropriate machine identity management strategy, these machines must be trusted and secured using keys, secrets, and certificates.

PKI and certificate management best practices that every CISO needs to know

Security Risks of Machine Identities

A recent Vanson Bourne Study on machine identity management reported that 61% of organizations are not well equipped to secure their machine identities due to their limited knowledge about keys and digital certificates. The impact of such a security gap is massive, with 55% of these enterprises encountering security breaches and 35% stating they faced organization-wide network outages. Cyber attackers look for such security breaches and vulnerabilities to exploit and gain entry into the corporate network.

Business organizations are both providers and consumers of machine identities, and they must be proactive in ensuring the proper issuance and security of the machine identities, especially with the acceleration in the number of virtual machines, cloud workloads, and containers. Most organizations are still struggling with managing and monitoring the multitude of machine identities, thus making certificates and keys high-value targets for cybercriminals.

If keys are compromised, malicious actors can initiate eves-dropping attacks, like MITM attacks, interfering with and intercepting data transfer or injecting ‘seemingly legitimate’ links to browsers and servers. Misused credentials, like passwords and PINs, allow attackers to successfully exploit the identity of digital assets for their own malicious interests.

Gartner has identified machine identity management as a crucial part of identity-first security operations and zero trust, an enterprise-critical measure to secure certificates and keys for strengthening cyber defense. To safeguard machine-to-machine communication, and establish trust among connected devices, it is imperative to invest in efficient machine identity management solutions to keep a tab on all the existing keys and certificates and manage the ever-expanding volume, velocity, and scale of machine identities.

Challenges in Managing Machine Identities

Lack of certificate ownership and access control: How your organization delegates the responsibility of managing digital certificates spread across the network and cloud environments is one of the primary challenges of an efficient machine identity management program. The central objective of assigning certificate owners is to structure and organize the certificate enrollment procedures and ensure that access to critical certificate infrastructure is restricted to authorized security personnel.

Even though ideally, dedicated security teams are responsible for delivering policy-enforced and secure certificates and key management programs, managing certificates in silos wreaks havoc in reality. Unfortunately, one common phenomenon is that each group or department that generates and uses machine identities is left to manage them without any uniform enterprise-wide certificate policies. With no proper strategy in place about how machine identities must be handled, costly mishaps like application and service outages or security breaches are bound to occur.

Decentralized inventory of certificates and limited visibility: Digital certificates and keys can be created easily by anyone within the system using simple commands. Each key pair is independent. Therefore, a centralized inventory is crucial for keeping a tab on all machine identities. The system should be capable enough to detect and identify new machine identities if and when they have been created anywhere across the network. In some cases, users are guilty of creating weaker keys with lower bit-length or using outdated algorithms for convenience of use, which leads to more vulnerable infrastructure.

Most organizations lack holistic visibility into their certificates and are still trying to manually manage certificate lifecycles. They have limited knowledge about the number of certificates, purpose, and date of issuance. A decentralized inventory of certificates distributed across multi-cloud and hybrid environments makes it even more challenging to capture information, such as locations, owners, associated applications, expiry dates, and more. Frequent monitoring and real-time reporting allow security professionals to keep certificate infrastructures on surveillance and instantly identify any PKI misuse or certificate expiry and renewal. With end-to-end certificate lifecycle automation capabilities and dynamic reporting tools, administrators can get 360° visibility into the certificate infrastructure and provision/renew/revoke certificates seamlessly through a central console.

Management of certificates manually: The dire need for automation becomes all the more prominent in the context of the accelerated use of digital keys and certificates. Many organizations are still struggling with manually tracking digital keys and certificates, which may invariably lead to improper certificate management, certificate-related outages, and security incidents. It can affect your business in a multitude of ways, like data breaches, opportunity losses, and reputation damages. According to a recent Ponemon Report on the State of Certificate Lifecycle Management in Global Organizations, 64% of respondents mentioned that their organizations are unaware of the exact number of certificates due to a lack of a centralized inventory, and 41% of respondents noted that their organizations track certificates manually.

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

Even a small-scale enterprise, let alone a large organization, uses thousands of certificates to function securely. For an administrator managing PKI for a business organization, it is nothing less than a nightmare to track every individual certificate with innumerable variables, like varying expiration dates, multiple certificate authorities, and unique system vulnerabilities.

Replacing manual tracking methods, like maintaining spreadsheets, with specialized and automated certificate management processes is now becoming an essential need. Organizations must streamline critical certificate lifecycle operations like creating audit trails for each user and certificate, defining granular role-based access control (RBAC), and automating discovery, enrollment, renewal, and orchestration of certificates with self-service workflows.

Lack of skills and PKI expertise: According to an AppViewX Next-Gen Machine Identity Management Report, 66% of respondents claim to observe a lack of skills and expertise in their IT/security teams. While PKI administrators are responsible for managing the certificate lifecycle, many organizations do not have dedicated security teams for managing the certificates and keys. And, all these responsibilities are consequently delegated to the IT teams, thus adding to the existing burden on IT administrators, thereby resulting in a disorganized machine identity management process. An automated certificate management solution via a centralized solution ensures clear visibility as well as efficient, accurate, and scalable certificate lifecycle operations.

Failed audits: Machine identities are increasingly subject to government and industry regulatory standards, including the security mandates pertaining to certificate and key management and strong cryptography. As several organizations still lack an effective machine identity management system, it is not difficult for auditors to find that an organization is not capable enough to enforce strict certificate policies and ensure that they are adhered to, or monitor machine identities, all of which could lead to security vulnerabilities and reliability risks. Failed audits can take a toll on your business processes. It is paramount to generate audit trails for each user and certificate or key-related activity and share periodic reports on the certificate and key compliance to keep up with industry compliance standards.

How AppViewX Can Help

With AppViewX, you can overcome these machine identity management risks and challenges. Talk to an expert to learn how AppViewX CERT+ enables you to automate certificate lifecycle management seamlessly, thus saving time, resources, and effort. Powered by enterprise-grade automation workflows, AppViewX CERT+ helps with smart discovery, visibility, control, and governance for centralizing the management of keys and certificates across hybrid and multi-cloud environments.


  • certificate lifecycle management
  • Cybersecurity
  • Digital Certificates
  • machine identity management
  • machine identity management solutions

About the Author

Debarati Biswas

Senior Specialist- Product Marketing

A content creator and a lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity. She pens insightful resources to address the pain points of the readers and prospective buyers and help them make well-informed decisions.

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