Zero trust is a security strategy in which user access requests for data or resources on an organization’s network always need to be authenticated and authorized. The concept of zero trust became more of a necessity within the last few years due to the dissolving network boundary of most organizations. This article describes how certificate lifecycle automation helps establish a zero trust architecture.
The digital transformation at most modern organizations has resulted in hybrid IT environments featuring cloud computing, IoT devices, and more. The modern corporate network environment is a dynamic, distributed environment with many moving parts that need to be managed, authorized, and secured.
PKI, Certificates, and Zero Trust
Identity is the new network perimeter, and verification of digital identities on your network is central to a zero trust strategy. However, many organizations mistakenly assume that limiting verification to user identities is sufficient. True zero trust implementation relies upon certificates and key pairs to strengthen security and ensure device verification in addition to identity verification.
NIST’s 2020 publication on zero trust architecture highlighted how public key infrastructure (PKI) plays an important role in the implementation of this perimeterless network security model. SSL certificates using the X.509 standard form the basis for device verification and establishing device trust on an ongoing basis. Their use of public-private key infrastructure makes digital certificates far more secure than user credential-based authentication.
Digital certificates aren’t just limited to authenticating devices on your network. Other network entities, including web servers and virtual machines can all be issued with a digital certificate to authenticate them and verify their legitimacy.
The Digital Certificate Lifecycle Overview
Similar to user identity, all digital certificates have a lifecycle, which ends when the certificate expires. The certificate lifecycle includes (but is not limited to) the following important stages:
- Enrollment— A machine or user requests a certificate from a certificate authority (CA) which distributes the certificate to the user after verification.
- Validation— The CA checks the certificate each time it’s used to make sure the certificate is still valid and not on the revocation list.
- Revocation— Some certificates are revoked before their expiration dates due to issues such as loss or potential compromise.
- Renewal— If a certificate policy allows for renewal, it can be renewed either manually or automatically.
- Destruction— For certificates no longer used and expired, there’s a need to destroy both the certificate and its private key.
It’s impractical for manual processes to keep pace with this lifecycle within the modern enterprise IT environment. Continual changes across a hybrid multi-cloud infrastructure necessitate bringing automation into the picture to avoid security mishaps. After all, zero trust should improve rather than reduce your cybersecurity posture.
Certificate Lifecycle Automation and Zero Trust
Automation plays a critical role in supporting zero trust. The sheer number of disparate devices and users requesting access to resources on the typical corporate network is too large to manually manage. It’s worth bearing in mind that any automation solution for improving zero trust architecture shouldn’t impact negatively on user experience.
The need for automation becomes even more pressing in the context of digital certificates, which vary in type (SSL/TLS, S/MIME) and source (IoT devices, containers, workstations). Aside from the heavy workload and significant expertise needed for manual certificate management, the risks of mismanagement that can lead to security compromises is high.
Here are some crucial ways certificate lifecycle automation bolsters your zero trust architecture.
Visibility is of paramount concern in a zero trust environment. Digital certificates already exist within your IT environment, and manually accounting for them in such infrastructural complexity is an unenviable and almost impossible task.
Automated solutions that provide visibility over your all digital certificates can greatly improve the feasibility of building a zero trust environment. In a framework that can be distilled to the mantra of “never trust, always verify”, it’s only possible to achieve that aim when you discover every digital certificate on your network. It just takes one undiscovered digital certificate with an unsafe key length to drastically weaken zero trust security.
New devices constantly get introduced to corporate IT environments, including IoT devices or laptops used by employees. Furthermore, the use of virtual machines necessitates digital certificates to function as “machine” identities in the zero trust world. Container technology, which packages applications and their dependencies to run in the cloud, calls for further certificate deployment.
Manually deploying digital certificates within such infrastructural complexity is not going to work. Quickly and automatically circulating digital certificates is vital when you have a network with thousands of moving parts.
It’s also important to automate certificate deployment to support practices like DevOps and CI/CD pipelines because these practices and their tools depend on fast-paced deliverables, which could easily be slowed down by manual digital certificate deployment.
Some certificates have lifespans lasting years while others have far shorter lifespans of days or weeks, particularly at organizations practicing DevOps. Certificate renewal is no longer a relatively sporadic undertaking; it’s shifted to an ongoing process.
Expired digital certificates carry both security risks and even outage risks for key enterprise applications. It’s clear given the volume of certificates circulating within your network at a given time that manual renewal using an Excel inventory is not going to work with the aim of zero trust security. An automated solution can track your inventory of digital certificates and manage their renewals in a far more secure way.
How AppViewX Helps
It’s clear that digital certificates contribute much to zero trust architecture, but there’s a real need for a managed solution with automation of the certificate lifecycle at its core. At AppViewX, our CERT+ solution provides your business with a certificate management suite. CERT+ helps you automate your certificates and key lifecycles on application servers, firewalls, ADCs, and endpoint devices. Get your 30-minute live demo here.