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Blog Post Sep 12, 2023

The Evolution of Certificate Management: Augmenting AD CS

Data security is paramount, and we all know the management of digital certificates plays a crucial role in ensuring secure communication and data integrity. While many organizations have been relying on Microsoft Certificate Authority (MSCA), also known as Active Directory Certificate Services (AD CS) for their internal Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) needs, there is a growing need to explore more modern alternatives that offer enhanced features, flexibility, and ease of use.

Table of Contents

Understanding the landscape

Most customers often refer to an "internal CA" or an "in-house CA," with Microsoft AD CS (or ADCS) being the common choice, although the name itself might not be explicitly mentioned. The shift towards using more business-centric language in discussing PKI solutions is important, given the scarcity of PKI experts worldwide.

Several factors have led organizations to continue using MSCA:

  • Budget constraints: AD CS is perceived to be a free product, making it a go-to choice for organizations with tight budgets. It is included in the Windows Server, although server maintenance has an overhead cost.
  • Change complexity: Transitioning away from AD CS is seen as complex and time-intensive, deterring many from making a switch.
  • Job security concerns: Those managing digital certificates using AD CS might worry about job security if the system changes.
  • Limited resources: Certificate management often takes a back seat in IT teams with many tasks at hand.
  • Integration with Microsoft ecosystem: AD CS's tight integration with the Microsoft ecosystem is a boon for many users.

However, recent trends show that companies are increasingly moving their systems to the cloud, creating an opportunity for modern certificate management solutions to step in.

Challenges with using AD CS

While AD CS has, and continues to serve its purpose, it has several limitations, including:

  • Manual processes: Certificate management in non-Windows environment via AD CS are often manual, lacking reporting, notifications, and automation. In fact, AD CS doesn't natively support non-Windows without third-party solutions.
  • Bring-your-own-device and remote work challenges: The rise of remote work has exposed AD CS's limitations in managing non-corporate devices.
  • Limited features: Automation, visibility, flexibility, and support for non-Windows certificates are limited or missing.
  • Scalability issues: AD CS struggles with scalability and monitoring, especially in heterogeneous environments.
  • Compliance concerns: Regulatory compliance can be challenging with AD CS, especially as businesses expand.
  • Cost implications: Managing and maintaining a CA in-house is often costly. In addition, PKI experts are difficult to find and retain.
Unlocking the value of modern solutions

Unlocking the value of modern solutions

Modern certificate management platforms, such as Sectigo Certificate Manager (SCM), offer a range of benefits that overcome the limitations of AD CS:

  • Automation and visibility: Automation, along with comprehensive visibility into all certificates, is a game-changer. Leveraging industry standards-based protocols, such as ACME, helps increase interoperability with 3rd party systems.
  • Consolidation of tools: SCM allows consolidation of tasks and supports various use cases in a single platform.
  • Cloud readiness: Transitioning from on-premises to cloud-based solutions provides better support, especially remotely.
  • User experience and integration: SCM offers an intuitive user interface and seamless integration with the Microsoft ecosystem and many other leading technology providers.
  • Reliability and security: SCM ensures higher reliability, eliminates expired certificate risks, and supports non-Windows use cases.
  • Cost savings: While MSCA's costs go beyond hardware and software, SCM's total cost of ownership is often lower.

Advantages in augmenting

Augmenting AD CS to support modern use-cases offers compelling advantages:

  • Enhancement over replacement: Upgrading AD CS offers an easier transition, whereas replacing it is a more substantial decision.
  • Integration convenience: Modern solutions offer wider integration with other systems that simplify management and tracking.
  • Visibility and admin rights: Unlimited admin rights and internal-external certificate segmentation providing a single pane of glass view are vital for diverse teams.
  • Continuity and seamless takeover: Transitioning to modern solutions ensures continuity, even in case of internal turnover.

Identifying the right audience

The appeal of modern solutions resonates with a wide range of professionals, from System Administrators and Network Engineers to CISOs and CTOs. Various sectors, such as healthcare, manufacturing, transportation, and education, are adopting these solutions due to their device and application diversity.

As organizations increasingly embrace cloud environments, the need for flexible, automated, and reliable certificate lifecycle management solutions becomes paramount. Adding to this need is the fact that use-cases for digital certificates continue to grow, which further embeds their important role in an organization’s digital trust framework. Modern platforms like SCM not only address the limitations of AD CS but also pave the way for a more secure and efficient future, especially given the trend of shortening certificate lifespans, making the transition well worth considering.

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

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