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Blog Post Mar 20, 2024

How businesses should prepare for shorter SSL/TLS certificate validity periods

SSL/TLS certificates play a crucial role in securing web communications for organizations. It's imperative for businesses to adhere to industry standards and requirements, especially regarding certificate renewals. Recent trends indicate a shift towards shorter validity periods, driven by security enhancements. However, this change necessitates increased time and resources for renewal efforts. To mitigate risks and streamline the process, automated certificate lifecycle management (CLM) tools offer valuable assistance. In this article, we delve into the implications of shorter validity periods for SSL/TLS certificates and provide guidance for SMBs to enterprise-level organizations on preparation strategies.

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SSL/TLS certificates are necessary for organizations looking to secure their web communications, which makes it essential that businesses follow industry standards and requirements when it comes to renewing certificates.

While the current validity period for these certificates is around one year (specifics depend on the type), recent trends show that this validity period is likely to decrease significantly. Early in 2023, Google stated its intention to enforce 90-day validity periods in the future. While the date of this change is unknown, this announcement was a definitive sign of what’s to come.

While these shorter validity periods do offer important security benefits, they also mean that organizations will have to devote four times the amount of time and resources toward renewing certificates on a yearly basis. It similarly greatly increases the risk of an SSL outage from an expired certificate if the work is done manually. Thankfully, automated certificate lifecycle management (CLM) tools are available and can help make this process much more streamlined, efficient, and risk-free.

In this article, we'll explore everything you need to know about shorter SSL/TLS certificate validity periods, including the reason shorter validity periods are coming and what everyone from SMBs to enterprise organizations should do to prepare.

Understanding SSL certificate validity periods

An SSL certificate is a type of digital certificate that authenticates a website's identity and enables websites to use an encrypted connection when transmitting data between a user's browser and the website's server. A website with a valid SSL certificate will show the HTTPS string before the domain in the address bar.

The validity of an SSL certificate depends on two key factors: the issuance date and the expiration date. Once an SSL is issued, typically by a trusted Certificate Authority, the expiration date is currently set for 397 days from the issuance date. The validity period is the same for all SSL certificate validation types, Domain Validation (DV) or Organization Validation (OV), and Extended Validation (EV) certificates. However, the validity period changes for different types of digital certificates. For example, a Code Signing certificate is valid for three years. Businesses using SSL certificates likely receive notifications when their expiration dates are approaching as a reminder that they need to be renewed.

Reasons and benefits of shorter validity periods

There are several benefits of shifting towards shorter validity periods for SSL certificates, but the overarching reason is to improve cybersecurity.

Shortening the validity periods of SSL certificates reduces the window for the potential exploitation of new vulnerabilities. Renewing SSL certificates more frequently provides more opportunities for these vulnerabilities to be discovered and addressed, leaving hackers with a shorter window of time for exploitation.

The shorter time period also means certificates that have been mis-issued will be valid for a shorter period of time.

The change is meant to encourage the use of automation, as manual SSL certificate renewal processes are becoming outdated and risky (this was cited as an original reason in Google’s Moving Forward, Together policy). There’s a need for businesses to be agile and adopt more dynamic and responsive cybersecurity practices as cyberthreats continue to develop rapidly.

Google's previous representative on the CA/B Forum held the position that SSL certificates should only be valid for about six weeks to ensure optimum reliability. While most certificates will have a validity period longer than this for now, the trend toward shorter validity periods is now clear.

Challenges for businesses

Overall, shortening the validity period of SSL certificates offers some major security benefits, but it also presents several challenges for businesses and website owners— and these challenges can vary depending on the business size.

Enterprise organizations with an extensive network infrastructure are often required to manage a large number of SSL certificates. When these certificates have to be renewed every 90 days, the process of certificate lifecycle management suddenly becomes a full-time job. For these organizations, automating the process using a certificate lifecycle management system becomes critical.

There's a common misconception that shorter validity periods for SSL certificates don't really affect SMBs since they have fewer certificates to manage. However, staying on top of these certificates is just as important for small businesses as it is for large ones.

For SMBs, the risk of both outages and security breaches due to expired certificates is significant. Today, SMBs are commonly targets of cyberattacks, so maintaining valid SSL certificates is crucial to an SMB's security posture. Automated certificate lifecycle management tools can help SMBs keep their certificates valid while reducing the manual effort and knowledge required by employees.

4 ways for businesses to prepare

The best time for businesses to start preparing for the upcoming changes to SSL certificate validity periods is right now; scrambling to catch up after the change is fully implemented is not recommended.

With that in mind, here are four steps that businesses of all sizes can take to prepare for shorter SSL certificate validity periods:

1. Audit and inventory

You should conduct a thorough inventory of existing digital certificates, including their type, issuance details, and expiration dates. This promotes transparency and helps you take an organized approach to managing your certificates.

2. Implement an automated certificate lifecycle management solution

Using an automated certificate lifecycle management tool like the Sectigo Certificate Manager (SCM) platform will drastically reduce the effort that certificate management requires, freeing your IT team up to focus on other important tasks.

An automated certificate lifecycle management system works around the clock to ensure SSL certificates are valid. These tools can also assist with the certificate discovery process, reducing blind spots and helping you discover certificates you may not know about (which, in turn, reduces vulnerabilities).

Automating the process helps businesses avoid SSL outages because renewals happen on-time and certificates don’t expire. If you want to prevent a simple oversight from costing your company substantial downtime, an automated certificate management tool can help.

3. Educate and train staff

It's important to train your IT staff on the nuances of certificate lifecycle management and the upcoming validity period changes. The more they understand the process and their responsibilities, the less likely it is that you are going to encounter issues.

Keep in mind that, unless you leverage automation, shorter validity periods means more manual SSL certificate management. IT staff will need to be prepared for the change and how things like PTO or staff leaving may impact it.

Hosting training sessions to keep teams updated on the latest in SSL/TLS certificate management and cybersecurity best practices can help ensure that everyone stays informed on this important topic.

4. Choose reliable partners

Certificate lifecycle management isn't something your company has to implement on its own. Finding a reliable partner who will help make sure your company is prepared for the upcoming changes is important. Sectigo is a globally trusted Certificate Authority and leading CLM automation provider that offers robust support with our certificate management solutions. Our CLM platforms are simple, secure, and scalable.

How Sectigo can help

Shorter validity periods for SSL/TLS certificates do have their benefits, but they will also increase the administrative burden of IT teams for all organizations.

Sectigo offers two robust solutions for automated certificate lifecycle management: Sectigo Certificate Manager for enterprises and SCM Pro for SMBs. To learn more about how either of these industry-leading solutions can help your business prepare for shorter SSL/TLS certificate validity periods, contact us today.

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

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