Top 12 PKI Risks That Keep Security Professionals Up At Night

A ransomware attack in November 2022 on Denmark’s Supeo, an IT subcontractor firm for Denmark State Railways (DSB), paralyzed the vast railway network of the nation. Supeo’s software testing environment having been infiltrated, DSB was compelled to halt operations for several hours in order to ensure the security of passengers. The California Department of Justice also made the headlines when it suffered a data breach that exposed the personal information of all concealed and carry weapon permits granted or denied between 2011 and 2021.

While these security incidents did not target public key infrastructure (PKI) weaknesses, these attacks have continued to highlight that traditional perimeter defenses are not enough to protect against these sophisticated hacking mechanisms. To keep the enterprise secure in the era of perimeter-less networks and cloud-driven environments, organizations must focus on an identity-first approach to security by implementing PKI for robust authentication and encryption – the foundation for Zero Trust.

PKI allows users, applications, and networked devices and services to exchange data securely over the internet and corporate networks while being able to verify and identify each communicating party effectively and efficiently. In addition, effective PKI encrypts corporate data and communications to prevent it from being intercepted by adversaries.

The trustworthiness that effective PKI brings to any organization depends on its ability to manage and maintain the security and integrity of cryptographic keys and associated certificates across their entire lifecycle.

Like any critical security protocol, failure to manage PKI efficiently can have devastating consequences and create a range of cybersecurity risks. Let’s take a closer look.

Certificate-related risks

1. Outdated protocols: Outdated cryptographic protocol and hashing algorithm, SHA-1 was deprecated by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in 2011 as its weakness would lead to increased risks of man-in-the-middle attacks and other malicious attempts to access critical resources. Similarly, TLS 1.1 has been deprecated, giving way to a more secure version, TLS 1.3. By using these outdated and deprecated protocols, organizations become more prone to unfortunate security incidents and data breaches.

2. Weak keys and infrequent key rotation: Weak key lengths smaller than 2048 bits are considered vulnerable and no longer secure. A large number of weak keys is a severe flaw in any cipher design as there will be a high probability that the randomly generated key is weak in nature, thereby compromising the privacy and confidentiality of the data, communications, and transactions encrypted under it. As keys do not expire, the rotation of keys frequently is not a common security practice, even though it should be. By rotating keys frequently, enterprises can prevent cybercriminals from exploiting compromised keys to impersonate legitimate websites, manipulating users into trusting their sensitive information and credentials with a rogue entity.

3. Mismanaged Certificates: Failure to properly manage, issue, renew or revoke digital certificates has a spiraling impact on organizational security. Expired certificates can lead to unexpected outages and can be gateways for bad actors to move laterally within an organizational network, leading to data breaches–impacting an enterprise’s security and compliance posture.

Automate and scale your private PKI to protect the entire modern infrastructure

Deployment risks

4. Lack of automation: Relying on homegrown tools and manual processes like maintaining spreadsheets can lead to missed certificate renewals and catastrophic service interruptions. Managing large volumes of digital certificates and private keys taxes an organization’s time and resources. Manually monitoring the multitude of certificates, their locations, owners, and expiry dates creates additional complexities and is also prone to errors.

5. Insufficient skills and resources: The cybersecurity domain is in a state of continuous flux, and so is the growing threat landscape. Amid such a scenario, the talent gap and lack of resources have been recognized as major problems as companies face the stark reality of cyberattacks and the catastrophic outcomes for the victims. According to the Cybersecurity Workforce Study of 2022, the global cybersecurity workforce gap grows by 26.2 percent as compared to 2021, with 3.4 million more professionals needed to defend enterprise-critical assets effectively, thus hinting at a persistent significant void.

6. Lack of PKI awareness: Despite the critical role of PKI in cybersecurity, many organizations lack awareness regarding PKI solutions. A study conducted by Ponemon Institute and commissioned by AppViewX reveals that only 46% of respondents say their organizations have secured all the keys and digital certificates. It is estimated that the global PKI market will reach $4 Billion by 2027.

While the proliferation of cloud-native applications, IoT devices, and increased adoption of BYOD fuel the PKI market growth, the lack of awareness for modern PKI solutions is challenging enterprises to properly and more efficiently manage PKI in their environments. Finding and implementing the right PKI solutions is now more essential than ever as PKI has proven to be effective for securing new use cases such as IoT and DevOps, facilitating secure digital transformation.

Governance and visibility-related risks

7. No clear certificate ownership: The primary aim of assigning certificate owners and approvers is to manage and organize the certificate lifecycle processes and ensure that only authorized security professionals are permitted to make necessary changes to the certificate infrastructure. However, many organizations continue to let ownership fall between the cracks, and, as a result, expired certificates and crypto policy violations lead to application outages and security breaches that could have otherwise been prevented.

8. Lack of policies and consistency: It is crucial for organizations to enforce well-defined rules and certificate policies to minimize the chances of errors, and ensure that the policies are adhered to strictly. A lack of enterprise-wide crypto policies and consistency paves the way toward non-compliance with security standards and regulations. Besides the potential for hefty penalty charges, organizations also have to endure the burden of certificate mismanagement.

9. Lack of centralized inventory and visibility: Limited visibility into the total number of certificates across the enterprise environment and lack of centralized certificate inventory contribute to weakening the overall PKI architecture. Rogue and temporary certificates exist amid a multitude of certificates and keys and operate in stealth mode, practically impossible to detect, track, and manage through manual processes. They remain invisible until an outage or a security incident occurs, leaving security teams scrambling to identify the main culprit.

Security-related risks

10. Improper protection and management of private keys: A private key is a separate file that is used in the encryption (or) decryption of data. . Private keys must remain private since they are a gateway to critical information in your infrastructure. Improper certificate and key management can lead to a key compromise, where an attacker manages to obtain the private key, which can then be used to decrypt critical and sensitive information.

11. Compromised Root CA: The root certificate authority (CA) lays the foundation of trust in the PKI architecture. If you cannot trust your root CA, you cannot trust your PKI as well. The root CA serves as the trust anchor and is the highest level of the hierarchy, followed by subordinate or intermediate CAs and then end-entity certificates.
So, it is pivotal to store the root CA offline, in a well-protected vault. A compromised root CA can break the entire chain of trust and crumble the PKI architecture.

12. Failure to apply patches and respond to security vulnerabilities: For organizations depending on their own private certificate authorities, having sufficient bandwidth, required IT resources, and knowledge about applying system patches is paramount. Efficient patch management enables organizations to detect vulnerabilities and reduce response time.

Manage your PKI efficiently with AppViewX CERT+ and PKI+ to avoid security lapses

Digital certificates are essential for establishing identity-first security and promoting secure digital business transactions. Given the high level of security associated with PKI technology, the need for digital certificates is on the rise. This will consequently leave enterprises with a multitude of certificates and private keys to manage and protect. Without an efficient automated solution in place, managing and securing them is a herculean task.

There’s so much more to the certificate lifecycle than requesting and pushing them to end-users, applications, and devices. AppViewX offers a comprehensive certificate lifecycle management solution, CERT+, which provides end-to-end automation of key and certificate lifecycles across hybrid, multi-cloud environments. AppViewX makes the certificate management process more streamlined and efficient, ensuring scalability and cryptographic agility.

AppViewX PKI+ is a turnkey PKI-as-a-Service that allows you to quickly and easily set up a private PKI in the cloud while meeting the highest standards of security and compliance. Enterprises can now set up an enterprise-grade private CA hierarchy in minutes and start issuing private trust certificates right away.

The biggest benefit of AppViewX PKI+ is that enterprises do not need to invest upfront in expensive hardware and security experts. Instead, the management and security of your enterprise PKI is handled as a cloud service by AppViewX, allowing your team to concentrate on more critical aspects of your business.

PKI+ with AppViewX CERT+ combines modern private PKI with end-to-end certificate lifecycle automation for provisioning private certificates as well as public certificates from external CAs, all from a centralized control console.

Talk to our experts to learn more about mitigating PKI risks and strengthening the security posture of your organization.

Tags

  • Certificate authority
  • Certificate Management
  • DevOps
  • IoT
  • PKI
  • PKI Risks
  • Private keys
  • public keys
  • root CA

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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