Enterprise PKI automation: The modern approach to certificate lifecycle management

Today’s modern enterprises face massive surges in the use of digital identities, both for machines, (servers, laptops and network devices) and for the humans who use them. In the wake of this identity explosion, it has never been more important for IT teams to govern, authenticate and secure every single digital identity in the organization – without exception.

PKI management

The challenge faced by already strained IT teams is how to deliver strong certificate management across increasingly complex IT environments, at a time when workforces are massively distributed and entering the corporate network via the consumer-grade technologies in their homes.

As enterprises rush to combat these issues, digital certificates based on public key infrastructure (PKI) are an increasingly trusted way for enterprises to authenticate identity. The digital identities provided by PKI collectively yield one of the strongest, easiest-to-use authentication and encryption solutions available.

Enterprises have different options for obtaining and managing digital certificates. While third-party certificate authorities (CAs) are a trusted option for many enterprises across the globe, many choose instead to issue them in-house, operating their own “private CAs” to fulfill at least a portion of their PKI needs. The general idea in doing so is to maximize control over the authentication process.

To fully realize the benefits of a private CA, IT leaders require a solution that:

  • Covers all types of certificates deployed across the enterprise.
  • Supports an architecture with any combination of root CA and issuing CA, from private and third-party authorities.
  • Supports the entire certificate lifecycle management (CLM) process, enabling issuance, deployment, renewal, and replacement of certificates quickly, reliably, and at scale.

Manual PKI management is risky and costly

Meeting all these requirements is not always straightforward, as private CAs involve additional drawbacks such as higher risks and higher costs and require hands-on complex management. Many organizations still manually manage their certificates using tools like spreadsheets to track the lifecycle of each individual certificate. Perhaps the most significant risk of manual certificate management is the inevitability of human error. Given time, humans will make mistakes; in the case of certificate management, a single mistake can result in serious consequences.

An expired certificate, which is very common with manual PKI management, will certainly cause problems. The best-case scenario is a service outage emerging from legitimate transactions that simply fail. The worst-case scenario involves staggering damage to the organization’s global public reputation and brand, resulting in millions of disgruntled end-users. That’s what happened to Ericsson in 2018 when a single expired certificate left tens of millions without cellular service across Europe and Asia. According to estimates at the time, Ericsson may have faced SLA penalties equal to 100 million Euros.

The hidden cost of manual PKI management

Not all the negatives of manual PKI management are so obvious. Consider the labor costs of supporting a manual PKI process, for example.

Manually discovering, installing, monitoring, and renewing all digital certificates in an organization requires a tremendous amount of labor. The labor cost of installing just one manual SSL certificate is a multi-step process that can easily add up to more than $50 per web server. For an enterprise, this cost is multiplied by far greater numbers of servers, devices, and applications, quickly reaching astounding levels. If one employee makes a single mistake during those repetitions, widespread outages or breaches could result.

Enterprises choosing still to manually manage PKI already have costs and exposure to risk that are too high. Given the exponential growth of remote workers, cloud infrastructures, and mobile devices, the risk for organizations that continue to rely on manual PKI management will only increase in the immediate future.

Certificate lifecycle management cuts risk and cost

Fortunately, every organization can choose to automate the management of its certificates using advanced CLM technology. Modern CLM solutions can simplify and accelerate this transition for almost any organization and address obstacles standing in the way.

Enterprises that move to automated CLM solutions:

  • Can allocate and manage certificates of all types on demand.
  • Reduce certificate management costs.
  • Can automatically detect and replace certificates coming up for expiration, eliminating costly outages.
  • Swiftly and consistently authenticate new devices added to the infrastructure, eliminating the human error and increasing scalability.
  • Significantly bolster overall security will be against malicious actors and malware, both known and unknown.

For these reasons, automated CLM of private and public PKI-based certificate authentication is a game-changing opportunity for most enterprises. The result? A far more secure, affordable, and easily managed identity security solution.

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