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Blog Post Nov 09, 2023

What Is Crypto-Agility and How to Achieve It

Today's organizations must achieve crypto-agility, which enables them to switch out cryptographic components whenever necessary instead of being locked into a specific cryptographic method. 

This article explores what crypto-agility entails, why it's important, how it supports cybersecurity, and how to achieve crypto-agility. Plus, we'll discuss where certificate agility fits in and how you can protect your organizations against threats from quantum computing, which may soon make current cryptographic components ineffective.

Table of Contents

What is crypto-agility?

Crypto-agility, also called cryptographic agility, is the ability of a system to maintain security by rapidly adapting its cryptographic mechanisms, algorithms, and key management practices without disrupting the rest of the infrastructure. It requires the flexibility to replace cryptographic components like encryption, digital signature algorithms, or key exchange protocols while maintaining data privacy and security.

Crypto-agility is increasingly essential for cybersecurity. It allows organizations to respond to emerging threats by replacing weak or obsolete cryptographic components swiftly. It helps companies prepare for a quantum-secure future by enabling the transition to post-quantum cryptographic algorithms. Additionally, organizations can meet fast-changing compliance requirements and maintain long-term security with minimal disruption to their overall infrastructure.

Why is crypto-agility important?

Crypto-agility addresses these critical aspects of cybersecurity and data protection:

Fast-evolving cryptographic standards

Cryptographic algorithms are constantly evolving to stay ahead of emerging threats. Crypto-agility allows organizations to implement the latest standards and quickly transition to more secure algorithms whenever necessary with minimum disruption to business operations.

Rapidly shifting threat landscape

As criminals employ increasingly sophisticated techniques, organizations must be able to respond to new threats by promptly replacing cryptographic methods that may have been targeted or compromised. Additionally, crypto-agility allows them to handle cryptographic failures swiftly by replacing vulnerabilities or weaknesses in cryptography algorithms to ensure data security.

Meanwhile, quantum computing may soon render many of today's commonly used encryption algorithms ineffective. The US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has announced a new set of cryptographic primitives, and organizations are expected to implement post-quantum cryptography by 2024. Crypto-agility helps them prepare for this threat by efficiently transitioning to quantum-resistant cryptographic methods.

Future-proofing cryptography

Crypto-agility allows organizations to quickly update their cryptographic methods to maintain robust security measures no matter what new threats and attack techniques emerge. They can maintain long-term data security as their infrastructure evolves and incorporate new technologies, allowing them to stay relevant and competitive without compromising security.

How to achieve crypto-agility

Achieving crypto-agility requires a well-defined roadmap and ongoing effort that includes the following: 

  • Establish a comprehensive strategy that covers policies, guidelines, and objectives for maintaining robust cryptographic practices. 
  • Take inventory of all your cryptographic components (e.g., encryption algorithms, digital certificates, and key management systems) and prioritize assets and systems that require the highest degree of protection.
  • Implement a robust Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) for maintaining digital certificates that are essential for authentication, encryption, and digital signatures. 
  • Keep an inventory of cryptographic algorithms in use and prepare a plan to transition from older ones as soon as they become vulnerable or obsolete. 
  • Enable your key management system to support the secure generation, storage, and rotation of cryptographic keys and allow you to replace them quickly when necessary. 
  • Stay prepared to update encryption algorithms and transition to more resilient encryption methods whenever new threats or vulnerabilities arise.
  • Enforce an organization-wide policy to govern how cryptographic mechanisms are used, modified, and retired. Ensure all vendors, partners, and resellers understand these rules. 
  • Address internal role-based access controls to cryptography in your security policy and include provisions for rapid algorithm and protocol swaps in your incident response and disaster recovery plans. 
  • Conduct regular security audits and assessments to identify vulnerabilities and areas of improvement in your cryptographic infrastructure. 
  • Create backup plans for migrating to alternative vendors if a Certificate Authority (CA) that issued your digital certificates becomes compromised. 
  • Implement encryption key recovery and backup strategies to avoid data loss or service disruptions.
certificates crypto agility

What is certificate agility, and how does it relate to crypto-agility?

Certificate agility is an organization's ability to quickly adapt, manage, and update its digital certificates (e.g., SSL/TLS and code signing certificates) within a PKI system. All certificates must be known, current, and immediately replaceable.

Certificate agility is essential for crypto-agility because digital certificates facilitate communication, authentication, and data protection in digital transactions, such as HTTPS websites and secure emails. It enables organizations to update their digital certificates as cryptographic standards evolve and new security threats emerge. 

Moreover, certificate agility facilitates the adoption of quantum-safe or hybrid certificates. They incorporate quantum-resistant algorithms to increase an organization's readiness for quantum-related cryptographic challenges.

To achieve certificate agility, centralize and automate Certificate Lifecycle Management (CLM). A robust platform, such as the Sectigo Certificate Manager, helps you handle the issuance, renewal, and revocation of certificates cost-efficiently while ensuring nothing falls through the cracks, especially for managing shorter certificate lifecycles, which many organizations introduce to enhance security. 

In the future, organiztions will be able to employ hybrid certificates that combine traditional cryptographic algorithms with new quantum-resistant ones. These certificates are planned to be compatible with existing systems while providing the quantum readiness you'll need for added crypto-agility.

Stay prepared in today's fast-evolving digital landscape 

Achieving crypto- and certificate-agility will help you adapt to changes in today's fast-shifting digital landscape. This means continuously reviewing your security system and practices and leveraging threat intelligence tools to protect against emerging threats or new vulnerabilities. Also, update your cryptographic standards and algorithms regularly and be prepared to transition to more robust and secure ones quickly.

Moreover, implement robust key management practices, such as regular key rotation and secure key storage. Automate cryptographic transitions to simplify the process of replacing encryption algorithms, keys, and certificates so you can easily update cryptographic components without causing disruptions. 

Crypto- and certificate agility is a moving target for enterprises. They are particularly challenging when the total certificate volumes increase while the average digital certificate lifespan decreases. Meanwhile, as we get closer to the reality of quantum computing, crypto-agility has become more vital than ever for adopting post-quantum cryptographic standards and quantum-resistant algorithms. 

What can you do right now to start your journey to crypto- and certificate agility?

Implement a robust digital Certificate Lifecycle Management platform, such as Sectigo Certificate Manager, to enhance your organization's certificate agility. Meanwhile, explore the Sectigo Quantum Labs and download our Quantum Safe Kit to evaluate your options.

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

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