Six Steps SSL Certificate Lifecycle Management

  • Why you need an SSL certificate management solution — and how to get started
  • Consequences of Poor Management
  • It’s Time to Implement Lifecycle Management

Upon issuance, all SSL certificates have a finite lifespan and are no longer recognized as valid upon expiration. Certificates may have varying periods of validity and are often set to expire anywhere between one and three years based on company policy and/or cost considerations.

Given the finite lifespan of SSL certificates and their widespread use throughout an organization, there are numerous reasons to take a lifecycle management approach.

Minimally, certificates need to be replaced at the end of their life to avoid service disruption and decreased security. However, there may be a number of scenarios where a certificate needs to be replaced earlier (e.g., Heartbleed bug, SHA-1 end-of-life migration, company mergers, change in company policy).

Given the finite lifespan of SSL certificates and their widespread use throughout an organization, there are numerous reasons to take a lifecycle management approach. It’s critical to maintain an accurate accounting of SSL certificates that doesn’t rely on manual processes and tools.

This guide — intended for IT and security professionals — outlines the key elements of a certificate lifecycle management process and how to provide adequate tools and training to implement this process. Take the guesswork out of certificate management and automate certificate lifecycle processes to achieve better oversight and control, lower costs, improve efficiency and reduce security risks.

Consequences of Poor Management

While the most recognizable use of SSL certificates is the “browser lock” icon displayed on transactional-based websites to protect user and payment information, it extends well beyond this to secure mission-critical enterprise infrastructure components.

For example, employees and partners use VPNs to access sensitive information, and back-end systems rely on SSL certificates to secure remote access. Virtually all browser-based cloud services require SSL certificates to transmit customer account information, business partner transactions, inventory status, time-tracking and a host of other uses.

Most internally deployed employee productivity tools and applications — such as sales quoting and document repositories — rely on SSL security as well. And use is not limited to browser-based security. SSL certificates also are used to secure server-to-server communication for applications and data exchange.

With such widespread use of SSL certificates, the consequences of an improperly configured or expired certificate can be disastrous. If an SSL certificate fails to work properly, an organization not only loses sales and places customer confidence at risk, but employees and business partners may not be able to do their jobs.

The risk of exposing confidential information rises dramatically and could result in financial losses or fines for non-compliance. Consequently, managing SSL certificates across complex networks to ensure protection and prevent unanticipated failures is a requirement for all businesses.

It’s Time to Implement Lifecycle Management

While the need for ensuring SSL certificates are implemented properly is critical, it’s not easy to manage individual certificates across a large organization.

While the need for ensuring SSL certificates are implemented properly is critical, it’s not easy to manage individual certificates across a large organization. This quickly becomes complicated with multiple locations, divisions and the rapidly growing use of external cloud-based services.

It’s not only complicated, but costly as well. Cisco estimated that prior to introducing lifecycle management, it required four hours of management per certificate — an average of $288/ certificate. Applying the math in this case means that it was costing more to manage the certificate than to purchase it initially.

With many organizations employing multiple management approaches — usually varying by department and function, and are often ad hoc and manual — it becomes even more challenging to ensure against disruptions. Employing a lifecycle management system ensures a consistent approach and allows for the use of automation, which increases the efficiency and effectiveness of SSL certificate management.

While significant management is required for “routine” operations to either deploy new or maintain existing applications to prevent failures related to improper certificate configuration and expiration, major shifts in business and unplanned events can significantly increase time, costs and security risks.

Typical operational changes — such as migrations across data centers, introduction of private and public clouds, or the integration of mergers and acquisitions — place strain on decentralized manual management processes.

Likewise, unanticipated events (e.g., Heartbleed bug, accelerated end-of-life of SHA-1 hashing) requiring rapid certificate replacement are almost impossible to respond to using decentralized and manual management systems.

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