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Blog Post Jan 30, 2024

Navigating the complexities: challenges in Microsoft AD CS and the role of automation

Gone are the days when companies could rely on a homogeneous Microsoft technology stack. Automation plays a pivotal role in overcoming these challenges and optimizing the certificate lifecycle management process.

Microsoft Active Directory Certificate Services (AD CS) stands as a strong option for enterprises seeking to manage Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) certificates. However, beneath the surface of its seemingly convenient features lie challenges that organizations must grapple with. Gone are the days when companies could rely on a homogeneous Microsoft technology stack. Automation plays a pivotal role in overcoming these challenges and optimizing the certificate lifecycle management process.

Table of Contents

Manual Management Overhead: A Growing Burden

AD CS offers a built-in solution for issuing and managing PKI certificates, but reliance on manual processes still stands as a challenge. The certificate lifecycle, including issuance, renewal, and revocation, demands constant attention from IT staff. Although Microsoft provides auto-enrollment for Group Policy-joined Windows devices, the manual workload escalates in diverse environments with varying device types and operating systems. Tracking expiration dates, coordinating renewals, and ensuring policy adherence across servers, clients, and mobile devices become time-consuming tasks, diverting valuable resources from more strategic initiatives.

Limited Integrations: Breaking the Ecosystem Barrier

A glaring weakness of AD CS is its limited integration capabilities, particularly beyond the Microsoft ecosystem. The dependence on Group Policy Objects (GPOs) for certificate deployment creates complications for non-Windows clients. Certificates for platforms outside the Microsoft domain, including mobile devices, necessitate workarounds such as AD CS connectors for mobile device management (MDM). However, these solutions only offer partial automation, leaving extensive manual efforts for use cases that AD CS cannot inherently handle. The resulting complexity hampers seamless certificate management and security across diverse platforms.

On-Premises Restrictions: Cloud Limitations and Remote Work Challenges

AD CS, being an on-premises solution, lacks the flexibility to deploy in the cloud. This limitation restricts organizational agility, preventing IT teams from harnessing the benefits of cloud elasticity. Regular maintenance tasks, such as backups and restores, remain predominantly manual, hindering operational efficiency. The on-premises nature of AD CS also posed challenges during the pandemic when remote work became prevalent. The lack of AD CS access outside corporate networks created availability issues, disrupting operations and highlighting the need for a more adaptable solution.

Security and Compliance Risks: Balancing Complexity and Risk Mitigation

While not inherently insecure, AD CS is susceptible to misconfiguration due to its complexity. Enterprises using AD CS must adhere to strict security practices to mitigate the risk of compromised or forged certificates, which could lead to severe security breaches. Furthermore, the lack of comprehensive visibility into the entire certificate inventory poses compliance challenges. Without lifecycle tracking, expired or non-compliant certificates may go undetected, making it challenging to demonstrate adherence to regulatory requirements.

CLM: Bridging the Gaps in Visibility and Automation

For organizations relying on Active Directory Certificate Services, Certificate Lifecycle Management (CLM) can fill critical gaps in visibility and lifecycle automation. A unified platform manages certificates across the entire environment, not just the Microsoft ecosystem. While AD CS works smoothly within the Microsoft ecosystem, it lacks key capabilities needed for diverse platforms and certificate sources. CLM complements AD CS by tackling these limitations.

  • Achieve Unified Visibility: Automated discovery of all certificates from any CA, including AD CS, provides a unified view of your organization's entire certificate inventory. This eliminates blind spots and gives admins the visibility needed to manage certificates beyond the Microsoft ecosystem.
  • Reduce Manual Workload: With policy-based automation for provisioning, renewal, and revocation, CLM handles the ongoing workload across diverse platforms. This reduces the manual burden on IT teams while ensuring certificates remain valid and compliant.
  • Enable Scalable Automation: Support for protocols like ACME, SCEP, and EST enables scalable, automated issuance and renewal for certificates from third-party CAs. Admins can offload repetitive tasks to reduce labor.
  • Streamline Heterogeneous Environments: CLM's out-of-the-box integrations with commonly used apps like F5, AWS, and more streamline certificate management across heterogeneous environments. Workarounds are avoided.
  • Simplify Compliance Reporting: Centralized reporting and dashboards provide operational insights and audit readiness that AD CS lacks. This simplifies compliance and audits for internal and external requirements.
  • Improve User Experience: Secure and convenient access to CLM console via AD credentials improves user experience and reduces credential sprawl.
  • Support Appropriate Delegation: Precise access controls through organizational units and admin roles enable appropriate delegation aligned with team responsibilities.
  • Extend Automation: CLM's REST APIs allow building custom integrations and workflows to extend automation capabilities. Certificate management can enhance complementary systems.

With CLM augmenting AD CS in these key areas, organizations finally get complete visibility, automation, and control to simplify certificate management in today's modern diverse environments. By seamlessly integrating CLM into their existing infrastructure, enterprises can bridge the gaps in security, compliance, and efficiency, ensuring a more resilient and adaptable approach to certificate lifecycle management.

To learn more about Sectigo Certificate Manager, our universal platform purpose built to manage the lifecycles of digital certificates to secure every human and machine identity across your enterprise, all from a single interface Sectigo Certificate Manager, click here.

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