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Blog Post Apr 12, 2024

What is a certificate management system and when is an automated system needed?

Safeguard internet communications with SSL/TLS certificates. Learn about challenges and solutions in certificate management for enhanced cybersecurity.

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Digital certificates, such as SSL/TLS encryption for websites, are essential for safeguarding communications over the internet because they enable parties to communicate information securely by confirming the identities of those involved. Managing these certificates can often be a complex and time-consuming task, especially for organizations with an extensive network infrastructure.

These challenges are compounded by the likely shift to significantly shorter validity periods for SSL certificates in the future, which means businesses will have to manage certificate renewals much more frequently.

Fortunately, there are tools available that can make the process of certificate management much more efficient, automating all the lifecycle tasks required in a way that both saves time and prevents errors. We go over what digital certificate management is, when an automated system is needed and why the use of automation in cybersecurity is becoming more of a necessity versus a nice-to-have.

What is a digital certificate?

Any X.509 certificate, which is the format used to define PKI-based certificates, is referred to as a digital certificate. There are many different types of these certificates, including email signing certificates, which authenticate the sender's identity, code signing certificates, which verify the authenticity of software, and document signing certificates, which validate the origin and integrity of electronic documents.

Typically issued by a trusted Certificate Authority (CA), these certificates are a form of “online credentials” that validate the identity of the owner who requested the certificate. They let visitors to a website or recipients of an email know that the authentication status has been confirmed and they can trust it.

Every organization from small businesses to large enterprises must carefully manage all of their digital certificates in order to avoid disruptions and security vulnerabilities.

What is certificate management?

Certificate management is the process of monitoring and executing all operations in a digital certificate’s lifespan, from their creation to renewal. Five pillars that are critical to effective certificate management include:

  • Deployment - Which involves ordering certificates from a trusted Certificate Authority and ensuring they are correctly installed to avoid any outages caused by configuration issues.

  • Certificate discovery - Tracking and managing all certificates' locations and statuses, identifying non-compliant certificates and any related security risks. When IT teams don’t know of all certificates within their environment, it can lead to unexpected certificate expirations.

  • Revocation and replacement - Quickly revoking and replacing certificates mitigates vulnerabilities and ensures uninterrupted operations. This involves revoking those that have been compromised and replacing them when needed.

  • Renewal - Avoiding outages by renewing certificates before they expire.

  • Integration and workflows - Simplify management by integrating certificate management into your existing IT workflow. This is done through advanced integrations with the goal of streamlining operations through interoperability.

Another extremely important piece of certificate management that these pillars support is visibility, which helps improve oversight and control over the entire certificate lifecycle.

For companies that own multiple websites and manage long lists of digital certificates, certificate lifecycle management (CLM) can quickly become overwhelming. But certificate management will also become more of a challenge for SMBs when shorter validity periods are released as businesses may struggle to keep their certificates valid and up to date.

This is where an automated certificate management system can help. These systems automate each phase of CLM to reduce the administrative burden all while preventing disruptions and avoiding outages.

What is an automated certificate management system?

Automated CLM systems streamline the process of certificate lifecycle management through a variety of automated workflows all done within a single platform. This avoids the need for manual management, which can be inefficient and error-prone. These systems streamline the following steps through automation:

  1. Certificate discovery: The tool scans the organization's network infrastructure to identify and inventory all digital certificates, including those issued by internal and external Certificate Authorities.

  2. Certificate provisioning: The process of requesting, generating, and provisioning new certificates is automated and based on predefined policies/requirements.

  3. Certificate monitoring: Automated CLM systems continuously monitor certificates, alerting administrators in real-time about upcoming certificate expiration dates or potential security vulnerabilities.

  4. Certificate renewals: Before certificates expire, the system automatically initiates renewal processes and reuses previous validation to ensure seamless continuity without service interruptions.

  5. Certificate revocations and replacements: In the event of compromised or rogue certificates, the system facilitates the revocation and replacement of certificates to mitigate security risks.

By automating all of these key processes, a CLM system ensures that these repetitive management tasks are completed on time, without error and in a way that reduces complexity. Other benefits of using automation for certificate management include reducing the burden on your IT team, eliminating blind spots of old certificates, eliminating errors associated with manual management, avoiding potential outages, and avoiding downtime that can lead to costly issues.

Pillars of Sectigo Certificate Management

Automation vs manual certificate management

Each digital certificate is unique with its own expiration date requiring it to be separately renewed or replaced before it causes downtime. All organizations must keep track of certificates in an organized way to ensure they are all discovered, renewed, and replaced on-time. The more certificates an organization has, the harder this process becomes.

This time-consuming and inefficient manual process also presents some considerable risks. Manual certificate management creates room for human error. Admins have to repeatedly do an extremely technical task that presents the chance for a simple copy and paste error which can lead to improperly provisioning certificates. This simple mistake can cause big issues like expired certificates, security vulnerabilities, and website outages.

CLM systems solve these challenges by handling each step of the certificate lifecycle management process automatically. This makes certificate management much less difficult for both SMBs and large organizations alike, freeing up IT teams to focus more on other important initiatives.

Efficiency, security, and reliability are three important advantages that you get with automated certificate management versus manual methods.

Sectigo’s automated certificate lifecycle management solutions

When you consider the evolving landscape of cybersecurity (including the shortened validity periods of digital certificates), the benefits of automated certificate lifecycle management are substantial. However, it is essential to choose the right CLM solution for your organization's needs. At Sectigo, we offer two industry-leading solutions designed to meet the needs of both enterprise organizations and SMBs: Sectigo Certificate Manager (SCM) Enterprise and Sectigo Certificate Manager (SCM) Pro.

SCM Enterprise offers all the robust functionalities and capabilities an organization managing both private and public certificates would need.

SCM Pro extends automated capabilities to wider audiences and smaller organizations by offering customers a purpose built CLM solution with only the key functionalities they need improving the return on their investment.

Both of our CLM platforms provide secure, simple, and scalable certificate management solutions along with integrations with many other tools and technologies (such as cloud platforms, network security solutions, and identity and access management systems), which can streamline workflows and bolster security even further.

At Sectigo, we are committed to helping companies of all sizes reduce the complexity of certificate lifecycle management while at the same time enhancing their security posture. If you would like to learn more about the many benefits of Sectigo's automated certificate lifecycle management solutions, get in touch with our team of experts.

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

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