Every organization with an online presence is familiar with digital certificates, and for good reason. These electronic documents make up the PKI of a network – a system that facilitates secure, trusted communication between applications, devices and servers on the internet.
When a network’s PKI is compromised, it instantly renders affected entities on the network invalid in the watchful eyes of the rest of the internet. They are assumed to be (and often are) unsafe to interact with, and effectively boycotted until the vulnerability is resolved. This seemingly insignificant occurrence has potentially huge ramifications.
Certificate-related issues are almost synonymous with PKI infractions. A certificate that has expired, is compromised, or has gone rogue is the definition of a security lapse, and accompanies the possibility of application downtime, outages, or even data breaches, which could set victims back by multiple million dollars in damages. The single leading cause for all this? Improper management of a certificate infrastructure.
Now, what constitutes improper certificate management? We’ve compiled a checklist that will
help you evaluate if your certificate management strategy has room for improvement, color coded in
increasing order of severity:
- Does your certificate management practice have an audit trail? – Yes or No
- Can any individual in your organization request for new certificates? – Yes or No
- Does your PKI team have RBAC for certificate handling processes? – Yes or No
- Do you have documented visibility into the certificate chain across environments? – Yes or No
- Are your private keys stored on encrypted HSMs? – Yes or No
- Are your systems up-to-date on the latest cryptographic standards? – Yes or No
- Do you have an automated tool to discover, monitor, renew, and revoke certificates? – Yes or No
If you answered ‘no’ to any of these questions, then you’re at risk of becoming a potential victim of an
How are certificate outages affecting businesses?
In 2019, businesses are spending upwards of $10 Billion on bolstering their cyber security setups. However, a single failed certificate could render all that groundwork useless, and ironically, result in losses that are equally astronomical in proportion. Below, we’ll list the top 5 ways in which certificate outages impact the revenue and operations of a business – and expert techniques on how every single one of them can be avoided!
#1 Customer Disconnect and Opportunity Losses
Browsers and other secure applications actively red-flag endpoints with invalid certificates, deliberately making it difficult for users to access them (the infamous Google Chrome error message is a shining example of this phenomenon). When sustained contact between a customer base (or a prospect) and a service provider is broken, revenue is impacted in two ways:
- Online services facilitated by the endpoint(s) cannot be accessed for the duration of the certificate crisis, with a large possibility that users will be tempted to consider competing offerings. This fact is emboldened in the case of critical operations like banking or enterprise SaaS, where entire revenues are dependent on the health of that particular website.
- The inaccessibility of a website or service, even for the purpose of gleaning information from it, drives over 30% of regular users and 85% of first-time users to competitors whose services are active at the time.
#2 Brand Damage
While not strictly monetary, damage to a brand is irreparable to a fairly high degree. Even loyal customers find themselves put off by repeated outages and website downtime. This effect is exponentially magnified when enterprise-grade customers are involved, drastically increasing the risk of losing a large chunk of customers in one fell swoop.
The business impact of brand damage becomes obvious in the light of equity-related concerns. A loss of public trust can be extrapolated to a lack of faith in the service as a whole, which brings with it a host of potential ramifications, including but not limited to:
- Stock prices being slashed overnight
- Loss of shareholder backing
- Difficulty in securing funding
#3 Legal fines and Compliance Restructuring
Multiple high-profile certificate-related data breaches have occurred in the past decade, each bringing with them a flurry of long-drawn lawsuits and legal struggles. With 2019, the bar for legal fines has been set at $700 MM for a well-documented data breach in which the personal data of over 150 million people was stolen – whence the prime culprit was an expired certificate. This involves payments to federal and state governments, legal fees, and of course, compliance fines.
More often than not, data breaches violate several compliance guidelines. The accompanying penalties notwithstanding, regulating bodies also urge victims of data breaches to rethink their security strategies. Policy restructuring involves large investments sunk into consulting, auditing, and strategizing, as well as a significant commitment of time and manpower to effect, test, and implement.
#4 Customer Reconciliation
Outages and breaches often involve either a disruption of customer business or a situation in which their data is stolen, clumsily managed, or both. Organizations have both legal and moral obligations to fulfil when they’re responsible for such mishaps. They’re usually pressured by regulating bodies into providing monetary compensation to users (which, given the size of the customer base, could climb to the high millions). Most large organizations also promise free services to their clients in an attempt to clear their names and win back lost trust. Both these reconciliatory efforts are prime examples of expenditure with no direct return, in other words, losses.
#5 Productivity Drop
This factor applies to both customers and internal teams.
For customers: Naturally, the inability to use productivity services offered by the vendor who has
suffered from an outage is followed by a sustained loss of business and productivity.
For internal teams: IT and security departments tasked with remediating such outages are hit the hardest, with their resources being siphoned into resolution tasks. With them being unable to perform their duties, or assist personnel from other departments with IT-related engagements, post-outage productivity drops are prone to impact workers at all levels and across every department.
Prevention and deterrence
It’s a hard-to-digest fact that something as simple as a less-than-stellar certificate management routine can wreak such havoc on a business. Every organization should ideally aim to completely avoid such occurrences, and that’s an attainable goal. We’ve compiled a few hacks and tips on how your certificate team can revise their routine and effectively steer clear of downtime, outages, or data breaches.
Maintain complete visibility
PKI teams must possess comprehensive knowledge on where each certificate is located on a network,
when it expires, the Certificate Authority that issued it, and the endpoint(s) it is tethered to. Manually
documenting these intricacies for thousands of interlinked certificates can be frustrating, which is
why experts recommend the use of a discovery tool to do the job for you. The best tools
automatically run scans across all your environments and map out well-classified, searchable
inventories for you. That way, you can conveniently keep tabs on the status and health of your
certificate infrastructure, so you can preemptively renew or remediate certificates as required.
Ensure real-time reporting
Continuous monitoring enables security professionals to keep tabs on certificate infrastructures, and instantly locate renewals due or PKI misuse. Dynamic reporting tools and dashboard generators tie every dependency into one aerial view, from where administrators can not only monitor, but also provision or revoke certificates without having to engage with individual Certificate Authorities and vendors to do so.
Set up role-based access and audit trails
Access prevention and granular control of who gets to access the workings of your PKI is a great way of administering policy and maintaining compliance. There’s a reason for this: when there’s no cap on the number of personnel allowed to add to the certificate count, there’s a higher probability of certificates being provisioned and then going undocumented. This translates to the risk of it not getting renewed on time. As we’ve mentioned before, all it takes for an outage to kick in is one faulty certificate, and a thorough audit trail is the best way to avoid it.
Secure private keys
Private keys are the most valuable component of a security setup, and hence, are high-value targets for hackers. When left unprotected (read: in a word document or spreadsheet), malicious actors can use them to impersonate legitimate systems and exfiltrate data undetected. One way to ensure the safety of your private keys is to encrypt them and store them in highly secure databases. Of course, you can also leverage hardware security modules to do so – brownie points if the hardware is integrated with your certificate management system!
Automate the certificate lifecycle
The certificate lifecycle is a long and complex process – starting with discovering certificates in your network to provisioning them on endpoints, and revoking or renewing them when their validity ends. With many thousands of certificates spread across multiple endpoints, environments, certificate authorities, and geographies, optimally managing all of them manually is neither secure nor efficient. Certificate lifecycle automation tools are the key to solving this problem, and provide for end-to-end automation of the process. Once the tool is integrated with an environment, it allows for zero-touch execution of certificate renewals, monitoring, discovery, revocation, and more. In short, a surefire way to ensure that human contact with the system is minimized, thereby diminishing the inherent risk associated with human error. In the long run, this translates to your network becoming free of certificate-related mishaps and outages.
AppViewX CERT+ is a certificate lifecycle management platform that not only helps you comply with every guideline on the preceding list, but also packs a host of other features that will optimize your certificate infrastructure for speed and security. Featuring a futuristic low-code interface to simplify automation workflows, and support for integrating with cutting-edge technology like IoT, CERT+ finds itself on several recognized listings of PKI management tools, including those by CIOReview and Gartner.
Don’t take our word for it. Register for a live demo today, to experience its capabilities and functionality for yourself.