Scale, frequency and causes of certificate-related outages

Certificate-related outages negatively impact the reliability and availability of vital systems and services, according to Venafi.

certificate-related outages

“Certificates and keys are identity and access management for machines, just like user names and passwords are for humans,” said Kevin Bocek, vice president of security strategy and threat intelligence at Venafi. “Certificates allow machines to communicate securely and that makes them an essential, but underappreciated, part of every organization’s digital ecosystem and our global digital economy. When certificates expire unexpectedly, critical services can be impacted. Unfortunately, most businesses do not have the visibility or tools necessary to manage this fundamental element of cyber security and operational availability effectively.”

The primary study findings include:

  • The majority (79 percent) of respondents suffered at least one certificate-related outage in 2016.
  • Over a third (38 percent) suffered more than six certificate-related outages in 2016.
  • Almost one in twenty (4 percent) suffered 100 or more certificate-related outages in 2016.
  • Almost two-thirds (64 percent) said their organizations could not respond to a certificate-related security event in six hours or less.

Surge in certificate usage

As the use of encryption explodes, the challenges connected with effective key and certificate management have proliferated. Recent research showed dramatic growth in the use of keys and certificates, especially among large organizations.

One of the primary drivers behind the surge in certificate usage is the explosion in the number of IP-enabled devices on business networks. Another challenge organizations face is the adoption of DevOps and Fast IT development processes that dramatically increase the number of certificates needed. This increase in certificates and their corresponding keys compounds the serious security vulnerabilities associated with cryptographic key and digital certificate mismanagement.

Security vulnerabilities

Many businesses are still unaware of the scale of this problem. Venafi customer data shows that the average organization found over 16,500 unknown keys and certificates using Venafi of which they were not previously aware.

Also, the new study shows that most companies do not have control over their key and certificate inventory, do not have an automated process for renewals and have no central record of when certificates are due to expire:

  • Almost two-thirds (65 percent) of organizations do not manage all their keys and certificates centrally.
  • Of those that do manage certificates centrally, 65 percent rely on security controls from their Certificate Authorities (CAs), which limit their visibility to certificates provided by the issuing CA.

“The good news is that certificate-related outages are completely preventable, but you need to understand the scale and the scope of the problem,” continued Bocek. “As we use more cloud services, IoT devices and DevOps automation, certificate usage is skyrocketing. To keep up with this expanding problem, organizations must automate the discovery, issuance, lifecycle, and remediation of all keys and certificates from the data center to the cloud to the IoT edge of their networks. Failure to do so puts the reliability and availability of critical services at risk and dramatically increases cyber security risks.”