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Blog Post Dec 20, 2023

2024 prediction: no organization will be immune to the challenges of shrinking digital certificate lifespans

Digital certificate lifespans will continue to shrink. As leading web browsers continue to reduce the lifespan of digital certificates, businesses will face a major headache in replacing foundational elements of security. Businesses must brace for a game-changing reassessment of security fundamentals that have long lingered in the shadows.

Prediction: Certificate lifespans continue to shrink

Businesses are gearing up for a seismic shift in 2024 that promises to disrupt the very foundations of their digital security protocols. The maximum allowable term for digital certificates of many forms is shrinking, and this trend will continue as industry bodies grow increasingly confident that shorter term certificates are fundamentally more secure. Over the coming year businesses will invest heavily in automated solutions so that they can be ready for the maximum term reductions to come. As the allowed lifespan for the certificates that enable all digital processes and environments continues to drop, businesses will face major challenges keeping up with the new cadence of replacement they will require.

One upcoming action is that major root store programs will drive the reduction of TLS certificates to a maximum of 90 days in term. Google Chrome specifies its intention to force this reduction in its Moving Forward, Together site. Organizations will face the challenge of upgrading their process and systems to accommodate these new, short-loved certificates. The impending shift to even shorter certificate lifespans demands a proactive, automated approach, compelling businesses to reassess and adapt their security fundamentals for a landscape that is poised for continued transformation.

This opening doesn't explain the basic fact that certificate lifespans are getting shorter.

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The evolution of digital certificates

Digital certificates have long served as foundation stones of online security, enabling secure communication and data transmission over the internet. Such certificates are issued by Certificate Authorities (CAs) to authenticate the identity of web servers and ensure that users are connecting to legitimate, secure platforms. However, the landscape is changing at speed, and businesses must confront the reality that the lifespans of all their crucial certificates will become reduced substantially as short-term certs become the new normal.

Traditional, manual certificate management can compromise the an organization's digital presence because manual processes are ill equipped to handle the management and renewal of short-term credentials. Shorter-lived certificates are more secure because the risk window for a bad certificate, stolen key, or other problem is simply less. They also create more crypto agile systems by more rapidly cycling the certificates in production.

But shorter-lived certificates also require much more frequent renewal, and if these renewals fail to occur on time and correctly, systems, applications, or functions can simply stop working—or stop working correctly. This can lead to service outages, loss of revenue, SLA violations, breaches, and reduced customer satisfaction.

Browsers leading the charge

The driving force behind this impending upheaval is the concerted effort by leading web browsers to enhance online security. Chrome’s proposal spearheads a collaborative effort within the industry to support tighter controls and faster responses to emerging threats, and other major web browsers are likely to adopt similar policies. While this move is undoubtedly aimed at bolstering cybersecurity, its ripple effects will cause businesses to revamp their entire, enterprise-wide, certificate strategies.

The need for timely and seamless certificate replacement is critical, as these foundational elements of security risk becoming notably challenging to replace once the new policy takes effect. The prospect of businesses having the rug pulled from underneath them is not hyperbole; it's a stark reality that necessitates immediate attention and strategic planning.

The push to be shorter

In addition to browsers pushing for more frequent renewals, there are other events that show shorter certificates have become a broad trend in cybersecurity. The 2023 adoption of Baseline Requirements for S/MIME (Secure/Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions) limited these certificates to two or three years in term, for the first time ever, and future work is expected to limit all S/MIME certificates to two years with no exceptions. Likewise, major root programs are limiting the duration of root certificates to fifteen years, with a deprecation plan for roots older than that, and these same root programs have telegraphed their desire eventually to reduce the maximum lifetime of a root certificate to seven years.

This reflects a general recognition of the value of shorter certificates lifespans and proactive action to bring them about.

These industry events align with the broader trend of shortening digital certificate lifecycles to address emerging threats and promote a more secure online environment, with the 90-day certificate lifecycle proposal pushing this conversation into every business’s boardroom.

Don’t panic, prepare!

Stop panicking and start preparing.

There is still uncertainty around when the move to 90-day certificates will happen. But it will happen, and the only question is when. Preparing for a shift of this magnitude should not be rushed, and businesses have been given an opportunity to thoroughly prepare.

The steps businesses should take are the exact same actions that are appropriate for 398-day certificates:

Discovery / Visibility: Develop an understanding of where all the certificates live across your network.

Automation: Automate the entire lifecycle with alerts, renewals, and provisioning.

Accountability: Define certificate ownership and delegate responsibility for the lifecycle of the certificate.

Policy and process: Simplify certificate requests and approvals with self-service tools.

The shift in digital certificate lifespans demands a proactive approach, requiring organizations to reevaluate their cybersecurity strategies and fortify their defenses against the impending challenges.

No uncertainty about if. Zero uncertainty.

Collaborative efforts for a secure future

In the face of this impending shift, collaboration between businesses, Certificate Authorities, and web browser developers becomes paramount. Open communication channels are essential to navigating the challenges posed by the reduced lifespan of digital certificates. Businesses are advised to actively engage with their public CAs to stay informed about policy changes, industry best practices, and potential solutions to ease the transition.

Strategic planning and futureproofing

Businesses that approach the proliferation of short-term certificates strategically will be better positioned to maintain cyber resilience across their organizations. Successful strategies involve not only developing a comprehensive plan for certificate replacement but also future-proofing security measures against further shifts in the cybersecurity landscape. Proactive measures, such as implementing automation for certificate renewal and staying abreast of emerging technologies, can help businesses stay ahead of the curve.

At Sectigo, we have a universal platform that is purpose-built to manage the lifecycles of digital certificates, giving businesses of all sizes full visibility across entire certificate operations from a single interface. Sectigo Certificate Manager integrates with leading technology providers and can discover any public or private certificates within any organization's network, insulating the business from the consequences of cyberattacks and outages.

Ultimately, you can’t manage what you can’t see, so with shorter certificate lifespans and post-Quantum encryption on the horizon, becoming crypto-agile and poised to adopt future-focused solutions has never been more important.

An opportunity for growth

The digital landscape is constantly evolving, and businesses must adapt to the changing tides of cybersecurity to safeguard their assets and maintain the trust of their customers. By taking a proactive and collaborative approach, businesses can navigate these challenges and emerge stronger, ensuring that the rug being pulled from underneath them becomes not a threat but an opportunity for growth and resilience in the digital age.

Throughout December we're looking into the trends and predictions for 2024. Read up about our previous prediction for 2024.

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