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Blog Post Apr 09, 2024

The role of certificate lifecycle automation in enterprise environments

Explore the foundation of our digital landscape: PKI and digital certificates. Learn about PKI automation and its role in managing the growing complexity of digital identities and certificates.

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Digital certificates form a strong foundation for our modern digital landscape and at the root of these certificates: PKI. Public key infrastructure (PKI), in simplest terms, manages digital identity and security within internet communications to protect people, devices, and data. This is done through the use of public key cryptography technology, which involves using a pair of cryptographic keys, one public and one private, to encrypt and decrypt data and ensure that sensitive information can only be accessed by its intended recipient. Digital certificates, including SSL/TLS certificates, email signing certificates, code signing certificates, and document signing certificates, are all PKI-based certificates.

As the digital landscape evolves and the volume of encrypted communications grows, the management of these PKI related solutions becomes increasingly complex. Enter PKI automation.

This advanced solution is designed to bridge the management gap that the rapidly increasing number of digital identities and certificates is creating. This is achieved by delivering a reliable and efficient strategy for managing the lifecycles of an abundance of digital certificates. Learn more about how PKI automation works and how it can help facilitate growth in enterprise environments.

What is PKI automation?

Certificates and TLS are the backbone to secure online communications. They are also a critical component of Zero Trust architecture — in which implicit trust is removed and the new baseline perception is one of constant risk — PKI forms a powerful foundation to underscore growing authentication needs. There are many ways to develop and maintain a functioning PKI infrastructure, but some traditional manual solutions have become inefficient and unreliable.

PKI automation is designed to streamline and secure the entire lifecycle of digital certificates. Automating processes such as generation, validation, issuance, renewal, and revocation of certificates offers a far more effective approach to certificate lifecycle management (CLM). This can help organizations enhance their security posture, reduce human error, and ensure compliance with industry regulations, thereby facilitating a more efficient and secure digital environment.

Private PKI expands on this by establishing PKI solutions within closed environments, with strict policies and procedures implemented to ensure that certificates and cryptographic keys maintain maximum integrity and confidentiality. These private systems can benefit greatly from automation, which brings greater efficiency and trust to network environments.

Benefits of PKI automation for enterprises

These days, PKI automation is not merely helpful; it's an outright necessity. IT environments are becoming even more complex and with that, the number of digital certificates in use is rapidly expanding. More certificates means more management time, and this will only continue to increase when shorter certificate lifespans are soon introduced.

Meanwhile, the manual approaches that proved barely sufficient in years past now present significant security concerns ranging from potential downtime to devastating cybersecurity attacks. PKI automation promises to mitigate these risks by bringing a structured, reliable, and highly efficient approach to CLM. Compelling advantages include the following:

Improved operational efficiency

Automated strategies streamline everything from certificate issuance and enrollment to renewal and even revocation. Pursued manually, these processes can prompt significant delays, leaving IT teams scrambling to catch up.

This is especially problematic in light of the current IT skill gap, with many enterprises now struggling to hire and retain experienced IT professionals. With fewer experts on hand to oversee certificate concerns, enterprises desperately need automated solutions that can promote streamlined and secure certificate processes.

Also important: automation frees up IT teams to focus on other important matters. This should be a clear priority in light of the increased reliance on IoT devices and their accompanying security risks. IoT identity management is a growing concern and represents just one of many ways in which IT needs and challenges are expanding at a breakneck pace.

Enhances cybersecurity

Poor certificate management underscores several of today's most alarming cybersecurity concerns. Expired certificates, in particular, can leave enterprises vulnerable to a variety of attacks, including data breaches, phishing scams, and more.

While a robust cybersecurity strategy can help to prevent these issues, certificates form the crucial building blocks of information assurance — and when their coverage is inconsistent, even the seemingly best-protected enterprises can quickly become vulnerable.

Enables scalability and flexibility

Some SMBs have managed to get by with manual certificate management solutions at the outset but eventually fall behind as their certificate needs escalate. Manual approaches simply do not account for rapid growth. Automated solutions, however, are uniquely scalable and also flexible — so adjustments can be made in response to emerging threats or conditions. An automated solution that enables integration into your existing ecosystem offers even more flexibility by allowing CLM to function seamlessly alongside the current technology stack.

Ensures regulatory compliance

Numerous regulations and industry standards call for a reliable approach to certificate lifecycle management. For example: success in securing digital identities is increasingly regarded as a crucial step on the path to becoming compliant with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Meanwhile, businesses that process payments or otherwise handle cardholder data must successfully secure all encrypted transactions to remain fully compliant with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS).

Use cases

PKI automation is valuable across numerous industries and among several critical teams and departments. Its applications are too widespread to mention in their entirety, but the following are among the most noteworthy use cases:

Integration with Identity and Access Management (IAM) systems

As a top security framework encompassing numerous policies and technologies, IAM brings structure to the complex processes for managing access privileges.

When IAM frameworks incorporate PKI, digital certificates can verify user identities while also limiting unauthorized users' ability to breach vulnerable systems. With the upcoming shift to shorter certificate validity periods, automation will be a must to manage these identities.

DevOps container and code security

Seamless DevOps integrations bring enhanced security and compliance to software development teams. This is especially important in light of accelerated cloud adoption, which may call for PKI-as-a-Service (PKIaaS). In general, DevOps teams can count on PKI automation to form a solid framework to handle an ever-growing abundance of code signing certificates.

PKI automation offers a secure path to dynamic certificate issuance and management while also assisting DevOps teams with the difficult process of enforcing policies within the containerized landscape. As containerized workloads evolve, PKI automation allows for maximum scalability.

Real-time monitoring of certificate validity and usage

Certificate discovery and oversight are just as important as issuance. Full visibility will ensure that all digital certificates are known and that any changes in status are understood and addressed promptly. Automated PKI systems provide real-time monitoring to verify validity.

Through in-depth, comprehensive scanning, automated solutions can reliably uncover certificates spanning entire enterprise environments. Ideally, automated PKI systems will make real-time monitoring available regardless of the Certificate Authority (CA).

Risks of not automating enterprise PKI

Manual approaches to PKI are highly inefficient and could therefore prove costly. Without automation, it is far easier to succumb to certificate expiration, especially as a result of human error.

The risk of expiration has long been alarming, but this carries a new sense of urgency: with certificate lifespans expected to shrink, the likelihood of outages and downtime will increase exponentially. Moving forward, enterprises that continue to rely on manual processes will struggle to stay current as 90-day lifespans become the norm.

Even seemingly brief outages can be devastating, leading to significant financial losses and even reputational damages. What's more, these outages increase susceptibility to cybersecurity concerns that can prompt further losses and further reputational issues. Business continuity is a must in today's risk-filled environment, and automated PKI provides a strong pathway to delivering consistently secure communications.

Automate certificate lifecycle management with Sectigo

Ready to bring a more efficient and reliable approach to certificate lifecycle management? PKI automation presents an exciting opportunity to streamline operations and achieve valuable peace of mind. Look to Sectigo for guidance and support as you leverage the power of PKI.

Offering an easy-to-navigate platform and a highly scalable system, Sectigo Certificate Manager (SCM) delivers a trustworthy solution, capable of handling the full scope of certificate lifecycle management: discovery, provisioning, replacement, renewal, and more.

Designed to boost digital trust, our CA agnostic CLM offers a reliable approach to achieving streamlined end-to-end authentication. Get started today with a free trial or reach out to learn more about managed PKI services.

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

Related posts:

PKI & Identity and Access Management (IAM)

PKI for Enterprise Businesses: The Why and How

The importance of integrating Certificate Lifecycle Management into your ecosytem