Digital certificates are essential for enabling trust and protecting online transactions and communications. They are employed to guard against many forms of cyberattacks, authenticate users, and encrypt sensitive data. However, because digital certificates have an expiration date, they must be renewed frequently to maintain their validity.
It can be a difficult and lengthy process, for large organizations with numerous certificates, in particular. Moreover, expired or compromised certificates may result in detrimental service outages, security breaches, and vulnerabilities. In order to overcome these security issues, Google proposed the reduction of certificate life spans from 13 months to just 90 days. The industry as a whole, as well as certificate authorities, browser developers, and businesses that depend on digital certificates for security, may be significantly impacted by this proposed change. With a validity period of a mere three months, public TLS certificates will require renewals not once but four times a year! While a renewal in itself isn’t necessarily a challenge, manual processes at scale are. According to the 2023 Enterprise Management Associates (EMA) Research Report sponsored by AppViewX (SSL/TLS Certificate Security – Management and Expiration Challenges), 28% of the top six questions on certificate management are questions related to certificate renewal.
The Current Certificate Management Landscape
Security Risks Related to Expired Certificates: The study investigated how many SSL/TLS certificates are still in use on the web today by looking at certificates on Port 443, the most popular HTTPS port used today. It is discovered that 61,498,655 connections out of over 147 million active Port 443 IP connections returned a certificate with a certificate expiration date. 5,936,298 (almost 10%) of these certifications were expired. This indicates that almost 10% of all publicly accessible websites on the internet are not functioning properly because of an expired certificate. Self-signed certificates, or certificates that weren’t issued by a certificate authority, make up 8,974,557 (15%) of the certificates that are accessible on the public internet and appear to have expired twice as frequently. Self-signed certificates pose a particular security risk since they need users to bypass browser security measures in order to use them, which opens the door for man-in-the-middle attacks.
Using Weak and Out-of-Date Cryptographic Protocols: Prior to TLS version 1.3, client/server connections using SSL/TLS are vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks, in which attackers insert fraudulent signatures using outdated Md5 cryptographic hashes. This problem is fixed by TLS 1.3, which only permits stronger hash algorithms like SHA-256 and SHA-512. Therefore, TLS certificates should only be used with this cryptographic protocol today. However, only 21% of servers on the internet employ TLS 1.3, which means that 79% of SSL certificates currently in use are still vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks. Numerous organizations are yet to implement TLS 1.3 since TLS 1.2 has not yet been deprecated, and TLS 1.3 adds new security features that can be challenging to configure accurately. The possibility of higher expenses and drawn-out deployment durations is the reason behind this. Furthermore, the continued usage of obsolete TLS versions, which account for almost 41% of all connections, is a potentially dangerous security practice.
Exposure to Critical Vulnerabilities: It is interesting to note that the top 10 vulnerabilities currently linked to IP addresses listening on port 443 are disproportionately associated with expired certificates (10%) and self-signed certificates (15%), which make up a sizeable portion of the certificates available on the public internet. An average of 22% of the top 10 vulnerabilities are caused by IP addresses with expired certificates, and 23% are caused by IP addresses with self-signed certificates. There is no doubt that IP addresses with mismanaged certificates are more likely to also have security flaws, demonstrating that the same organizations who fail to manage certificates properly also fail to manage vulnerabilities, patches, and security updates.
Impact of Improper Certificate Management on the Overall Security Posture of Organizations
Vulnerability to Cyberattacks: Improper certificate management can lead to significant vulnerabilities in an organization’s security posture. Certificates play a crucial role in establishing secure communication channels and verifying the identity of servers, devices, and users. If certificates are not managed effectively, cybercriminals can exploit weak or expired certificates to launch man-in-the-middle attacks, intercept sensitive data, and compromise network integrity. EMA report states that nearly 80% of SSL/TLS certificates are vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks.
Breach of Trust: Certificates are essential for ensuring trust and authenticity in online transactions and communications. When organizations fail to manage certificates properly, it can erode the trust that customers and partners have in the organization. Unauthorized or improperly issued certificates can lead to suspicion among users and result in a loss of credibility, potentially leading to a decline in business and brand reputation.
Compliance and Regulatory Risks: Many industries and organizations are subject to compliance requirements and regulations that mandate proper certificate management. Failing to comply with these standards can result in severe penalties, fines, or legal consequences. Improper certificate management might also lead to data breaches, which can further compound the regulatory risks and damage an organization’s reputation.
Operational Disruptions: Certificates have an expiration date, and their proper management involves timely renewal and replacement. Failure to do so can lead to operational disruptions and outages, as expired or revoked certificates can cause services to become inaccessible or generate errors. This may impact business continuity, disrupt customer experiences, and lead to costly downtime for critical systems. The majority of expired certificates seem to belong to nonprofit organizations and certain local government bodies, with.org subjects being expired 15% of the time. With a 12% expiration rate, commercial companies with conventional .com names rank second.
Increased Attack Surface: Inadequate certificate management can lead to an increased attack surface for cybercriminals to exploit. Organizations may end up with numerous unnecessary or duplicate certificates, making it harder to track and manage them effectively. A bloated certificate landscape increases the risk of unmonitored and insecure certificates, making it easier for attackers to find weak points and penetrate the organization’s defenses. The study revealed that almost 1 in 5 servers that have one of the top 10 internet vulnerabilities also have self-signed or expired SSL certificates. Consequently, it may be concluded that businesses that have issues managing certificates also have issues with other cybersecurity practices.
In today’s digitally connected world, security is of paramount importance, especially when transmitting sensitive data over the internet. TLS plays a crucial role in ensuring the confidentiality and integrity of data during its transmission. TLS certificates are at the core of this security infrastructure that authenticate and encrypt data exchange between servers and clients. However, managing and renewing these certificates can be a complex and challenging task. Proper certificate management is essential for maintaining a robust security posture. Organizations must implement a comprehensive certificate management strategy, including regular monitoring, timely renewal, and strict adherence to industry best practices to mitigate potential security risks and protect sensitive data and digital assets.
Automated Certificate Management is the Way Forward!
The time for manually managing SSL/TLS certificates is rapidly coming to an end, especially with Google’s 90-day TLS certificate validity proposal. As a result, businesses that do not invest in a full automation stack for SSL/TLS certificate management risk having overworked, burned-out IT administrators and maybe higher employee turnover. It is high time to automate the certificate management process. Manually maintaining certificate lifecycles is labor-intensive, prone to mistakes, and extremely ineffective. Administrators cannot rely on manual management procedures to keep PKI secure and up-to-date because there are thousands and thousands of certificates in use. Automation enables cryptographic agility by allowing digital identities to keep up with protocol and algorithm updates and provide the greatest security feasible at all times. Automating certificate and key lifecycle management – enrollment, provisioning, renewal, and revocation – helps keep machine identities up to date and efficiently eliminates downtime.
It is now essential to have an automated certificate lifecycle management solution that can continually discover and manage certificates across hybrid-cloud or multi-cloud environments from multiple devices and applications.
Download and read the full report today: 2023 EMA Report: SSL/TLS Certificate Security-Management and Expiration Challenges
Is your organization facing similar certificate management challenges as stated in the EMA report, talk to an expert to learn how you can combat these critical security risks with an end-to-end automated certificate management solution.