Certificates encrypt data during transmission. They also protect the identity of users and devices. Like an identity card, they ensure that communication partners can clearly recognise each other. They ensure that anonymous counterparts become trustworthy identities. However, certificates only have a limited validity. If a certificate expires, it must be replaced by a new one in order to continue to guarantee a smooth process. Otherwise, an expired certificate can lead to failures in the application or even to a standstill of processes in production. Both can result not only in financial losses, but also in a loss of trust and damage to the company's reputation. It is therefore important to have certificates under control throughout the company. We have therefore compiled four important questions about the entire life cycle of digital certificates.
What are the stages in the life cycle of a certificate?
Certificates are usually applied for via a Public Key Infrastructure (PKI). PKI Certificate Lifecycle Management covers all processes related to cryptographic keys and digital certificates.
- generate cryptographic key pair (public/private key) and CSR (Certificate Signing Request)
- register with the validation service (VA)
- apply for certificates with the certification authority (CA)
- retrieve issued certificates
- install and use certificates
- renew certificates
- revoke or block certificates
What happens if an SSL / TLS certificate becomes invalid?
SSL / TLS certificates encrypt the information that is transmitted via a website. They protect, for example, address and account data that visitors to online shops enter as a matter of course. If a closed lock is displayed at the beginning of the browser line, the data is protected from access by third parties.
If, on the other hand, the certificate has expired, the symbol of an open lock appears in the browser line. A warning is also displayed on the website.
In such a case, users are unlikely to make purchases via the obviously insecure website. This results in lost sales for the online shops.
Certain browsers even block unprotected websites altogether. In our example, users can no longer access the pages. This means they can no longer make purchases.
It is different if the certificate has secured the communication between different machines. Then the machines can no longer recognise and coordinate with each other. This will lead to breakdowns in production. Resulting delivery problems may mean high losses and cause lasting damage to the company’s reputation.
Suitable certificate lifecycle management for SSL certificates (SSL Certificate Lifecycle Management) is therefore essential.
Why is lifecycle management so important?
Expired certificates can lead to system failures. This can be avoided by keeping an eye on the lifecycle of the certificates at all times throughout the company. Unfortunately, it is becoming more and more difficult to ensure this, as the lifetimes of certificates are becoming shorter and shorter. At the same time, however, their number is increasing.
In small companies with few devices in the network, the simplest form of CLM is often sufficient. A table in which the framework data of the certificates used (expiry date, issuing CA, place of use,…) are recorded.
Above a certain company size, a table becomes confusing and is no longer sufficient. In these cases, a tool that monitors the certificates is recommended. Such a tool warns in good time before certificates expire.
At the same time, it actively monitors the status of the digital certificates in the company. This way, it is also noticed if one has been revoked by the CA and is therefore no longer valid.
This is particularly important because hackers exploit any vulnerabilities that present themselves. If they discover a certificate that is no longer valid, this can become a real security problem. For this reason, it is advisable to keep an active eye on the life cycle of the certificates. This way, one can intervene in time and guarantee the security of the systems.
What are the benefits of automating Certificate Lifecycle Management (CLM)?
Digital certificates are used in many places in the company. Since they have a fixed expiry date, they must be managed efficiently. It is often not enough to just monitor the expiry date and renew the certificates in time.
To ensure complete documentation, certificates must be archived. In some cases, they must also be revoked at the CA. This complex task can be automated with a CLM system.
The system takes over the management of the entire certificate lifecycle. From application to installation in the target systems. It provides timely reminders for the renewal of expiring certificates. If required, you can revoke corrupted certificates by simply pushing a button.
How can essendi xc support CLM?
essendi xc is a fully comprehensive tool for managing certificates. In the comfortable, central dashboard, you have an overview of all certificates used in the company. From here, they are managed simply and smartly.
essendi xc takes care of monitoring, alerting and requesting, right through to issuing them in the systems. As a compliance-compliant tool, it also includes reporting and archiving.
The xc can be individually adapted to compliance requirements. Authorisations, user groups and requirements can be defined. This makes it possible for users who are not experts to request and use certificates.
This optimised request process relieves the IT team. At the same time, security risks are minimised.
However, some digital certificates enter the network unnoticed, e.g. with a new device. If these certificates remain undetected, a failure is inevitable. The essendi xcs (extended certificate scanning) tool scans the network environment for certificates of all kinds. It stores the results in the central certificate repository. For this purpose, it notes all information necessary for administration.
xc is also a great facilitator in the creation and installation of certificates in the target environment. It generates the key material locally and automatically distributes the certificates to the desired systems. Connectors create the connection up to the last mile and bring it directly into the servers and target devices. Once set up, most processes run automatically.