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Blog Post May 08, 2024

Certificate Lifecycle Management Best Practices

Certificate Lifecycle Management (CLM) is a comprehensive strategy for handling digital certificates throughout their entire lifespan.

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From discovering certificates to issuing, renewing, or even revoking, businesses must properly manage each SSL/TLS certificate from beginning to end to ensure their internet communications are authenticated and remain secure. The way in which organizations approach certificate management requires a nuanced understanding of each of the digital certificate lifecycle stages as well as the best practices that ensure a streamlined process for managing each stage. This allows enterprises to determine what solution works best for their business needs as the risks of an expired certificate or outage can be extremely costly. This becomes all the more important as the number of digital certificates a modern-day enterprise has continues to rise, and the validity period of SSL certificates will soon shorten to 90 days.

Understanding the certificate lifecycle and what management entails

CLM is most effective when leaders understand the full scope of the certificate lifespan and recognize where key challenges come into play.

  • Discovery and cataloging: Not specifically a lifecycle stage, but this step offers IT teams much-needed visibility to ensure that all certificates are accounted for and the statuses are known.

  • Request and enrollment: Users or entities submit Certificate Signing Requests (CSRs) to Certificate Authorities, which are then required to confirm the identities of those making the requests. Only upon verifying that identity can the CA create the requested digital certificate.

  • Issuance and provisioning: Certificate issuance occurs as soon as requests meet CA criteria. The provisioning process also includes the installation of the certificate.

  • Usage and monitoring: After digital certificates are issued, they should be continuously monitored to ensure that they function properly and remain secure. Alerts should be sent so the requester is always aware of upcoming expiration dates and other concerns.

  • Expiration and renewal: Digital certificates do not last forever and they will all eventually expire. Expired certificates run the risk of harmful outages. For this reason, timely renewals serve an important purpose: they ensure that encryption remains up to date. An automated CLM process brings a streamlined approach to certificate renewal processes.

  • Revocation and reissuance: Not a lifecycle stage specifically, but if necessary, certificates can be invalidated via revocation before they reach expiration. This may occur if the certificate has been compromised.

6 Certificate management best practices

Certificate lifecycle management best practices should be considered to help optimize the entire process and avoid security vulnerabilities.

1. Create an operations policy

An operations policy brings structure to the implementation and ongoing maintenance of certificate management. At a minimum, this policy should include these key elements:

  • Details on Certificate Authorities — who they are and how they function.

  • Insights into the enterprise’s usage of digital certificates: where are they used and what are the specific steps or procedures that will be followed?

  • Roles, responsibilities, and permissions that play into the CLM process.

Auditing is also important, as this confirms compliance with relevant standards and regulations while also revealing potential risks associated with current CLM practices.

2. Ensure thorough certificate discovery

Certificate discovery plays a critical, albeit often underrated role in the certificate lifecycle: it ensures that all digital certificates are known. This encompasses a thorough search for every certificate, regardless of whether it is deemed missing, compromised, unused, or ideally, relevant and up to date. When certificates are known, they can be properly managed.

Because the certificate discovery process can be complex and time-consuming, it helps to offload this to a trusted CLM solution. The right CLM process will provide continuous certificate discovery, regardless of the complexity of the current IT environment.

3. Adhere to proper monitoring

Monitoring and discovery are closely aligned and equally important. Whether achieved manually or with the help of a CLM tool, all certificates must be monitored throughout their lifecycle and renewed or revoked in a timely manner when the situation arises. Proper tracking, notifications and alerts help with this.

It’s imperative that all digital certificates are monitored and dealt with when necessary to avoid outages and certificate expiration. A manual approach to this part of the management process can create great risk that can lead to costly outages and downtime.

4. Leverage certificate automation

As mentioned, expired certificates are a huge risk in today's fast-paced digital landscape, especially as certificate lifespans shrink. With certificates soon lasting a mere 90 days, automation is more important than ever; without it, expirations become much more likely.

Manual CLM is technically possible, but it is also incredibly time-consuming. Fail to get it right, and the risks could be considerable including a strong potential for outages and accompanying cybersecurity risks. Automated CLM solutions remove this burden from already overextended IT teams, allowing them to focus on other important matters without worrying about certificate status.

Sectigo Certificate Manager (SCM) is an automated CLM solution that handles each stage in the digital certificate lifecycle, from issuance to renewal. By automating the end-to-end certificate lifecycle, SCM makes it easy to manage complex workflows that may include both public and private certificates, all from a single location. Numerous integrations are provided to enhance deployment flexibility.

5. Opt for an easily scalable solution

While on-premises strategies may be available, cloud-first models are nearly always preferable. This approach is far more scalable and cost-effective, as it limits reliance on internal IT specialists and the rapidly escalating costs of on-premise hardware. Maintenance costs and other operational expenses become far more manageable upon adopting a cloud-first strategy.

Advocates argue that cloud solutions are also more secure than on-premises counterparts. Because Sectigo's CLM solution operates in a cloud-based environment, it represents a great alternative to the on-premises solutions of the past. SCM promises exceptional network security and the unique advantages of a single pane of glass environment.

6. Ensure interoperability

A CA-agnostic CLM solution is a must; this term references the ability to provision certificates from private and public CAs. This can consolidate tech silos and limit the complexity of the modern security stack.

Also important are versatile integrations, encompassing cloud providers, web servers, DevOps tools, and more. These integrations with certificate management tools help drive crypto agility — the ability of organizations to seamlessly adapt to changing cryptographic algorithms. Other integration concerns include compliance and vendor consolidation, both of which are top of mind when it comes to streamlining and consolidating processes.

Given the importance of seamless integrations, it is crucial that these options are verified prior to selecting a CLM solution. Be sure to examine specific types of integrations and platforms, along with the solution’s ability to guide this process and provide support and insight along the way.

Discover reliable certificate lifecycle management with Sectigo

The recent proliferation of digital identities and upcoming updates to certificate validity periods reveal that the status quo of certificate lifecycle management will no longer be sufficient. Automation is essential, especially as IT environments become more complex.

As you commit to leveraging a certificate lifecycle management solution, look to Sectigo for support. Sectigo Certificate Manager (SCM) provides extra peace of mind — the confidence that comes with knowing that stringent CLM best practices are being followed.

Drawing on the power of automation, SCM offers an easily attainable solution to overcoming the challenges of certificate lifecycle management. Learn more about this solution today or take the next step with a free trial.

Want to learn more? Get in touch to book a demo of Sectigo Certificate Manager!

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