PKI Pitfalls in Finance to Avoid

Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) is a framework that enables the encryption of public keys and includes their affiliated crypto-mechanisms. The purpose of any PKI setup is to manage keys and certificates associated with it, thereby creating a highly secure network environment for use by applications and hardware. 

X.509 certificates and public keys form the cornerstone of PKI, acting as the mechanism through which cryptography can be established for an endpoint. PKI may refer to any software, policy, process, or procedure employed while configuring and managing those certificates and keys.  

According to MarketsandMarkets,  the global PKI market size is projected to grow from USD 3.9 billion in 2021 to USD 9.8 billion by 2026, at a CAGR of 20.2%. The banking, financial services, and insurance (BFSI) industry vertical is expected to hold the highest market share in the PKI market.

The importance of PKI in the banking and financial services sector cannot be overlooked. PKI is used in several areas, such as their websites, which serve as portals for customers to make financial transactions, and their internal servers, access to which is usually protected with access cards or other PKI-backed services. Firms and functions, which facilitate card-based payments, also comply with another mandated standard – the payment card industry data security standard (PCI-DSS) – and require crypto-services, such as hardware security modules (HSM), to adhere to these standards.

Do you rely on SSL and certificates to protect your business?

Some of the key drivers for PKI management in banking and financial services include:

  • Colossal increase in data: Large volumes of sensitive and private financial data
  • Need for seamless integration: Integration with the existing banking system helps simplify complex business processes
  • Demand for enhanced security: Twin benefits of authentication, as well as encryption, secure potentially sensitive documents from unauthorized access and identity thefts
  • Compliance: Various government mandates and standards require financial institutions to ensure protection from phishing, malware, and other advanced attacks

PKI pitfalls

Digital Identity in Banking and Financial Services

Identity authentication is critical in the financial services industry. Verifying digital identities is crucial for establishing customer trust and securing transactions. However, the rapid growth of digitization, new technologies, and user behaviors are rapidly changing the ways banks interact with their customers and employees. This is fueling changes in identity management obligations forever. As a result, the role of banks and financial services in the identity supply chain is re-evaluated continuously.

Identity can be much more than security alone. Hence, many organizations in the financial sector are looking at broader business benefits by investing in new identity sources, biometrics, and advanced analytics to ward off potential cybersecurity threats.  

Top Five PKI Pitfalls in Finance to Avoid

The significance of PKI implementation in banking and financial services for securing organizations is paramount. However, PKI must be implemented correctly to avoid data breaches, outages, and compliance violations. Below are the top five PKI pitfalls in finance, the issues that arise, and how organizations can overcome them.

  • Challenges with legacy certificate lifecycle management systems

PKI requires efficient management, and administrators cannot spend their time manually renewing thousands of certificates, installing them, and ensuring that each one is always online. This is a recipe for disaster caused by manual errors. 

It has become apparent that even the best-designed PKIs require supporting systems to help manage them by streamlining certificate tasks, key rotations, and the entire gamut of PKI operations. 

An efficient certificate lifecycle management solution will not only enable administrators to renew, revoke, or install certificates from a single interface but also weave together multiple vendors (CAs, hardware security modules – HSMs, identity, and access management – IAM tools et al.) and allow them to work in smooth synergy with your PKI.

PKI certificates are increasingly becoming more short-lived by the day. However, organizations need not restrict themselves to the limits set by browsers. Certificates with shorter validities are always more secure (new technology like DevOps, IoT, and cloud applications are already on board the short-lived certificate train). Naturally, the keys have to be rotated when the certificates are renewed, too. 

Automation of certificate management based on policies laid down by the enterprise, the CA, and industry regulations, such as PCI DSS, General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and The Sarbanes Oxley Act (SOX), among others, is highly crucial. PKI administrators should group certificates based on their type, use-case, and criticality and apply a different policy for each certificate group. Policy-based automation takes care of certificate lifecycle tasks such as time-bound certificate renewals, key rotation, access privileges, and compliance audits.

  • Lack of automation

Manually managing certificate lifecycles is slow, error-prone, and highly inefficient. With hundreds of thousands of certificates in circulation, administrators cannot rely on manual management techniques to ensure that PKI is constantly secure and up-to-date. 

Automating certificate and key lifecycle management – enrollment, provisioning, renewal, and revocation – helps keep digital identities up-to-date and effectively eliminates outages. Processes such as policy management and SSH key rotation can be automated for better security. Automation helps enable cryptographic agility – digital identities can stay on top of protocol and algorithm upgrades to offer the best possible protection under all circumstances.

Control Your Certificates Before They Go Rogue!

  • Lack of visibility

Visibility is the cornerstone of any protection mechanism. Yet, most enterprises still have little to no visibility into their certificate infrastructure. Most of the information that ensures complete visibility (such as the number of certificates in use, their locations, their expiration dates, and their ownership details) are either improperly documented or not documented at all when managed manually in spreadsheets. Even when they are documented, the high risk of human error impacts the accuracy of the inventory. 

Organizations need to invest in a smart discovery solution to help run a discovery of all certificates with weak keys. This would help identify all SSL certificates with vulnerable digital signatures across the infrastructure. Every certificate with this weak signature (all certificates in the chain of trust, including intermediate) must be tracked down regardless of the nature of the server (internal or public-facing).

The other crucial task is to perform an inventory assessment of existing certificates. Certificates should be assessed within the discovered inventory and grouped/prioritized according to the organization’s requirements. 

  • Lack of crypto agility

Crypto-agility is the ability of a system to rapidly switch between cryptographic assets (algorithms, hashes, certificates, keys, etc.) in bulk without disrupting the rest of the system. This is critical because PKI is continually evolving, and so are threats. 

Organizations need to infuse PKI with a system of control that allows for accelerated manipulation of its constituent systems. This includes the ability to quickly rotate certificates, expedite the enrollment/renewal/revocation process with CAs, and rapidly switch out outdated algorithms and protocols with new ones. The logic behind crypto-agility is that an administrator should quickly remediate vulnerabilities in a cryptosystem without disrupting the network environment as a whole. This ability comes in handy when existing methods are phased out in favor of new ones.

  • Lack of effective integration with other enterprise solutions

PKI does not work as a standalone system. It works in conjunction with several other pieces of software and hardware – browsers, servers, hardware security modules (HSM)s, ITSM systems, ticketing systems, password vaults, etc. PKI is also widely deployed across technology like cloud software, DevOps tools, CI/CD tools, containers, and IoT devices.  There must be a solid three-way synergy between the PKI, the PKI management interface, and the third-party software/hardware for operations to remain smooth. 

Organizations should invest in a certificate lifecycle automation solution that has pre-built integrations with third-party systems. This integration allows IT operations teams to access simple automation workflows from third-party systems for self-servicing certificate requests, therefore standardizing certificate management. 

Equally important is integration with mobile device management (MDM)s and enterprise mobility management (EMM) systems for simplified and secure certificate management. This helps discover certificates from each device group within the MDM, monitor them for expiry, leverage internal and external CA for issuing new certificates, and efficiently push these certificates back to the device group.

How AppViewX can help?

Organizations in the banking and financial services vertical should invest in an enterprise PKI solution ready to take on new opportunities offered by emerging technologies. Automation done right is not just the way forward but also the only way to a future-ready PKI. Your current certificate lifecycle management solution may have many merits, but if it lacks automation or doesn’t have it built-in, it’s forever going to have you running for cover. Using a next-gen certificate lifecycle management solution like AppViewX CERT+ keeps your enterprise safe from certificate outages and helps you stay cryptographically agile.

Do you want to manage your machine identities better?

Tags

  • certificate lifecycle managam
  • Certificate Management
  • PKI management

About the Author

Sanchita Chakraborti

Director, Product Marketing – AppViewX CERT+

Sanchita is a Product Marketer responsible for understanding the industry landscape, buyer personas, their pain points and translating them into compelling value propositions and messaging.

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