Certificate lifecycle management solutions allow you to gain (and keep track of) critical information regarding SSL, SSH, and TLS certificates. These digital certificates authenticate user, machine, and website identities when the exchange information with one another, ensuring that each connection is legitimate and secured—often via encryption. Certificate lifecycle management is a key component of an effective Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) – this umbrella term describes all the technology, policies, and services used to facilitate identity confirmation.
In recent years, we have seen a drastic increase in the number of employees working remotely, and a diversification in the devices that they are using. This has resulted in a more complex identity and access management landscape. The task of ensuring that users are engaging with the correct sites, and that they are correctly secured, has become much more complex. There is an ever-increasing number of certificates to manage, each with its own specifications and expiry date.
Failure to effectively manage your certificates and PKI can result in unexpected outages – where users are unable to access the services your business provides online – leading to business interruptions and productivity impacts. There are also security risks associated with not using certificates or having them configured inappropriately. For example, if a threat actor were to steal a website’s certificate, they could pose as the legitimate owner of that certificate and manipulate a user into installing malware.
Because of this, it’s important that organizations keep track of and maintain their digital certificates through each stage of the certificate lifecycle. A certificate management tool should be able to complete the following tasks: discovery, creation, installation/deployment, inventory, monitoring, renewal, revocation, and replacement.
In this article, we’ll explore the top 10 certificate lifecycle management solutions available today. In each case, we’ll identify some of the solution’s key features, before suggesting the type of organization that would benefit most from using it. It is worth noting that this article covers a range of solutions for a range of use cases; some platforms are dedicated to securing just SSL, for example, while others have a broader remit.
What Are The Stages Of Certificate Lifecycle Management?
Certificate lifecycle management is a multi-stage process that should be carried out in the correct order, to ensure that nothing is overlooked.
Discovery – Before a certificate lifecycle management tool can do anything useful, it must identify the certificates that need to be managed.
Consolidate and Monitor – Once the certificates have been identified, the platform will pool the information and data into a centralized database. This allows users, and ML, to analyze the trends and identify any discrepancies. This process will be ongoing to ensure that all certificate data is accounted for.
Notification – If any discrepancies are identified, or there are any certificates that require actions, notifications can be sent to relevant admins.
Automation – In some cases, these actions can be automated to improve efficiency. Common tasks that can be automated include:
- Certificate renewal
What Are Certificate Lifecycle Management Solutions?
Organizations that provide a digital service needing to authenticate and validate accounts, users, and devices, which means they must handle many digital certificates. In a large organization with many users accessing many services, it can be a complex task to oversee all these certificates.
Certificate Lifecycle Management solutions automatically monitor and manage the entire lifecycle of authentication certificates. By monitoring and keeping track of these processes, CLM solutions can:
- Identify issues and errors before they have an impact on user experience and productivity
- Mitigate the risk of security breaches
- Ensure compliance with regulatory standards
- Protect sensitive information from unauthorized access
To achieve this, there are several functions that certificate management tools can perform.
- Certificate enrolment – A user’s device will request an authorization certificate, which confirms identity and generates a unique certificate.
- Certificate distribution – A digital certificate is sent securely from the certificate authority (CA) to the client that is requesting it. This stage requires an onboarding solution to ensure compatibility.
- Certificate validation – The solution checks that the certificate is valid and that access has not been revoked.
- Certificate revocation – If the allotted time has elapsed, or there are other concerns regarding the validity of a certificate, access can be revoked.
What Is The Difference Between TLS, SSH, And SSL Certificates?
You will see these acronyms used to describe the types of certificate that can be managed by each solution. It is worth understanding what the difference between SSH, TLS, and SSL is, to ensure that the solution will work for you.
SSH – This stands for Secure Shell and tends to be used by network administrators for more complex, privileged tasks, e.g., executing server commands. SSH runs on port 22, and is authenticated by the client verifying the server, then generating a session key.
TLS/SSL – These are very similar technologies. TLS stands for Transport Layer Security, with SSL being Secure Socket Layer. SSL was developed around 25 years ago and TLS is a newer, more complex, iteration of the technology. This type of security protocol runs on port 443 and is used by web users to communicate sensitive information.
What Is Public Key Infrastructure (PKI)?
Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) describes the hardware, software, policies, processes, and procedures that are used in the management of digital certificates and public keys. Without this infrastructure, organizations will be unable to effectively recognize and approve access requests.
PKIs help to facilitate the services that validate identity and approve access. This is not the same as identity and access management, as PKI is the foundation that these identity services are built on.
What Is The Difference Between PKI and CLM?
You might see Public Key Infrastructure and Certificate Lifecycle Management Solutions being used interchangeably. However, they describe distinctly different types of technology.
PKI refers to a wide range of technologies and components that facilitate the recognition and approval of identities. This includes hardware and software components, as well as policies and procedures.
Certificate Lifecycle Management solutions monitor and collate data regarding certificates specifically. They store information detailing when certificates expire, as well as validation, deployment, and revocation details.