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Blog Post Apr 18, 2024

What is certificate discovery and why is it important?

Digital certificates ensure cybersecurity, but visibility into inventory is crucial. Explore certificate discovery's role in effective CLM.

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Understanding the importance of certificate discovery

Digital certificates are essential for cybersecurity. They support robust encryption and authentication mechanisms to ensure secure data exchange, verify online entities, and support machine identity management.

However, you can't effectively manage your certificates if you don't have complete visibility into your inventory. Do you know where all your certificates are? Certificate discovery is a critical first step in effective Certificate Lifecycle Management (CLM), helping organizations avoid outages, service disruptions, downtimes, breaches, and other cybersecurity issues. 

Let's explore what certificate discovery entails, how it supports effective CLM, and why it's essential for adapting to shortening certificate validity periods.

What is certificate discovery?

Certificate discovery serves as the foundation for identifying, managing, and securing public and private digital certificates and keys across an organization's heterogeneous, multi-cloud infrastructure. The process discovers and catalogs certificates, creates an inventory of cryptosecurity standards and expiration dates, and establishes a holistic view of certificates and their device associations.

The crucial role of certificate discovery for enterprises

Enterprises manage thousands of certificates in their networks. These include SSL/TLS certificates for secure online data exchange, code signing certificates for software integrity, and S/MIME certificates for email security. Manually identifying and tracking expiration dates, validation, ownership, and other vital information is labor-intensive and error-prone, increasing the risks of outages and security breaches. 

CLM software automates the certificate discovery workflow to help organizations establish an accurate, real-time inventory of all their digital certificates, identify unknown certificates, centralize security operations, and maintain complete visibility into the cybersecurity landscape. 

Certificate discovery is essential for avoiding service outages by proactively identifying and renewing certificates approaching expiration. It mitigates cybersecurity risks caused by expired, forgotten, unmonitored, or misconfigured certificates that hackers can exploit to infiltrate your network or steal your data. The process also creates a comprehensive view of the certificate landscape to support compliance and governance.

How does certificate discovery work?

Certificate discovery involves these key steps:

  1. Identify all certificates by scanning IP addresses, domains, and servers in your infrastructure. 
  2. Store information on the discovered certificate (e.g., expiry date, location, and issuer) in a centralized repository or database for tracking and management. 
  3. Lists digital certificates, and key risk attributes such as identifying expired ones, allowing user to flag and take the required remediation steps as a follow-up. validity checks on all certificates by verifying their cryptographic signatures, expiration dates, and revocation status.

Implementing a CLM automation tool enables continuous assessment of risks, such as expiration status, issuer reputation, and compliance with security policies. A CLM automation tool like Sectigo Certificate Manager allows you to manage thousands of certificates in complex environments, providing real-time monitoring to identify changes and critical issues immediately. It helps maintain an up-to-date inventory, eliminate human errors, and enforce consistent, granular certificate management policies across the enterprise. You may also automate actions like renewing certificates, updating configurations, or revoking compromised certificates based on predefined rules. 

Certificate discovery: The foundation of Certificate Lifecycle Management

Certificate discovery is the crucial first step for effective CLM. It allows you to identify all known and unknown certificates within your organization and create a comprehensive inventory to gain visibility into certificate types, locations, and status.

Once you've discovered all certificates in your environments, you can implement processes to track and manage them throughout their lifecycle. These activities may include monitoring their validity, managing timely renewals, and identifying invalid or revoked certificates. They help prevent outages or mitigate security risks associated with expired certificates, weak cryptographic algorithms, or misconfigurations.

Additionally, certificate discovery supports certificate management policy enforcement by ensuring the rules are consistently applied to all certificates in your environment. The visibility also allows you to continuously monitor your certificate landscape, identify new certificates, and promptly revoke or replace compromised ones to minimize security vulnerabilities.

Importance of a comprehensive certificate inventory

A certificate inventory allows organizations to maintain better control over certificates and ensure they align with security policies and compliance requirements. You can proactively manage certificates, such as plan for renewals, identify expiring certificates, and address potential security risks before disruptions and outages occur.

Moreover, knowing exactly how many certificates you have and where they are helps reduce security risks. For instance, you can promptly respond to compromised certificates to shorten the window of vulnerability. Moreover, a complete and detailed inventory supports regulatory compliance and internal audits by demonstrating adherence to industry standards and company policies.

Adapt to shorter SSL certificate validity periods with automated certificate discovery and management

As major technology companies like Google reduce the maximum validity period for public SSL/TLS certificates from 398 days to 90 days, organizations must adapt to the impacts and implications. Experts already are predicting certificate lifecycles will continue to be reduced to less than 90 days. For example, renewal frequency will increase, requiring more efficient discovery processes and inventory management to identify certificates nearing expiration. 

The increased renewal frequency will also result in a higher volume of certificate-related events (e.g., renewals and replacements), increased IT workloads, and risks of errors and oversights caused by manual processes. Moreover, the shorter validity periods mean a narrower margin for error. Delays in the discovery process may lead to expirations that impact the availability and security of your online services. 

Therefore, continuous monitoring will be critical for tracking certificate status in real time. You need an airtight certificate discovery process to identify expiring certificates and initiate renewal procedures promptly. Here are some strategies to adapt to these changes through automated certificate discovery and management:

  • Automate continuous discovery by scanning networks, servers, and applications for new or modified certificates.
  • Set up a real-time monitoring system to provide notifications for certificates nearing expiration.
  • Use a CLM tool to automate certificate renewal and minimize manual effort in certificate management.
  • Integrate CLM processes with Certificate Authorities' systems to streamline issuance and renewal.
  • Centralize certificate inventory management, and include details such as issuance and expiration dates, certificate types, and associated domains in your database. 
  • Automate certificate policy enforcement and perform regular compliance checks to identify deviations. 
  • Integrate CLM into DevOps practices to automate certificate deployment as part of continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) pipelines.
  • Develop an incident response plan to address certificate expirations or issues, and automate predefined response actions (e.g., dealing with a revoked certificate).

Gain comprehensive visibility into your certificate landscape with Sectigo

Complete certificate visibility is critical for maintaining cybersecurity and preventing service outages in today's complex IT environments. A thorough certificate discovery process is the first step to mitigate risks associated with expired or compromised certificates. 

Sectigo Certificate Manager (SCM) is a CA-agnostic platform for managing the lifecycles of all your public and private certificates, including discovery, issuance, provisioning, renewal, and revocation. Learn more about SCM and start a free trial to see how our robust automation capabilities can help you manage a growing number of certificates and adapt to shorter validity periods to avoid outages, downtime, security breaches, and increased costs.

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

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The role of certificate lifecycle automation in enterprise environments