What Happens When Your Digital Certificates Expire?

The answer is ‘major network outages causing compromised network security.’ 

Spotify forgot to renew their expired digital certificate, which led to an hour-long outage. When TLS/SSL certificate expires, your website shows warning messages to the users, like ‘your connection is not private’ or ‘your communication is not secure’. Such alarming notifications drive users away from your website, impacting your website traffic, brand value, and sales. 

What Happens When Your Digital Certificates Expire?

Expired Certificates-What does it mean? 

A secure website, with certificates in proper conditions, is the face of your brand. Now imagine, prospective buyers landing on your website and they are shockingly greeted with warning messages. If your organization is public-facing, even downtime of a couple of hours can cost millions of dollars and customer trust. With expired certificates, the website remains down for a long period of time, and it will be until you renew your certificates or purchase new ones. 

An expired SSL certificate may scare off your users with warnings and the HTTP sign, instead of HTTPS, but this does not stop encrypting the outgoing data, flowing from the server to the user’s browser. The problem is that the communication is no longer secure and the network is susceptible to severe data breaches, leading to a catastrophe and affecting all the stakeholders in the organizational structure.  

A network, which comprises innumerable crucial interconnected points, can collapse due to expired certificates. Comprised keys and certificates allow attackers to decrypt all sensitive information that passes through the network, which might include credit card details, account numbers, passwords, etc. 

Buyer’s Guide for Certificate Lifecycle Automation

What Happens when Digital Certificate Expire?

To ensure human identity, we have documents like driving licenses and passports, with pre-defined validity periods. Post the validity period, the document is perceived as invalid and it no longer serves as a proper identity proof. In the case of machines, there are digital certificates, like TLS/SSL certificates and X.509 certificates performing a similar function. 

TLS/SSL certificates attest to the authenticity of your website, thus rendering a secured communication. They form the backbone of PKI infrastructure and bind the public key to the corresponding owner, which can be host, domain, or server. Besides the security component, TLS/SSL certificates also help with SEO and improve Google search rankings. 

Let’s see what happens when the digital certificates expire. 

  • Network outages: A network outage or downtime refers to the period when a system is unable to perform its primary function. The system might be offline, temporarily unavailable, or unable to operate completely. Outages occur when certificates expirations are missed or when the website owners forget to renew the certificates on time.

Expired digital certificates can cause a network outage or downtime incurring adverse effects on an organization’s network and functionality. Digital certificates like TLS/SSL certificates play a crucial role in the smooth functioning of your website. TLS handshake enables the TLS client and server to establish secret keys for communication. Using an SSL certificate assures the end-user of the client that your website is authentic and facilitates encrypted communication sessions to secure data in transit.

  • Loss of customer trust: The majority of website users might not be aware of the technical aspects of certificates and keys, but they are well aware of the visual cues of a secured website, like the HTTPS sign, padlock sign or the green URL, as displayed in the case of Extended Validation (EV). An inoperative website that is displaying warning messages is a massive blow to winning customer trust. Although websites with expired certificates retain the information, the verification actions of the certificates become invalid.

In spite of data encryption between servers and clients, with highlighted warning messages, the users no longer trust the website. With cautionary notifications of expired certificates, users are unable to verify whether the domain owners are ‘legitimate’. 

  • Brand damage: When websites or web apps suffer downtime or network outages due to expired certificates, it damages the brand image. Customers and clients cannot avail the services and products of the organization, driving them away to your competitors’ websites. They might also come under the impression that your organization does not consider the security requirements seriously, thus portraying your brand in a negative light.

Expired certificates can cause phishing scams where website users are roped in to expose their confidential information to bad actors.

  • Poor shopping experience: Expired certificates fuel occurrences of shopping cart abandonment, therefore leading to a prominent decline in sales. User experience is pivotal in boosting the brand’s revenue as it aims to fulfill the users’ needs. A positive shopping experience promotes brand loyalty, buyer retention, and growing market share.

Expired certificates jeopardize the shopping experience of your buyers, and they become hesitant in disclosing their sensitive information for any financial transaction on a website with compromised security.

  • Loss of revenue: If your users are scared off and are reluctant to proceed with transactions, loss of revenue is evident. A pop-up window with alarming messages about expired certificates compels the users to terminate any kind of communication with the concerned website.

Even if users click through the browser warnings, they will not be ready to disclose their payment information and sensitive details on your website, as the information is vulnerable to breach and data theft.

  • Exposure to vulnerabilities: Expired certificates are the doorway to your network, and hackers look for such opportunities to exploit. Your network can get exposed to severe security vulnerabilities, like phishing scams, SSL stripping attack, Poodle attack, FREAK attack, Raccoon attack, man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack, and advanced malware attacks.

Today, most organizations have moved to perimeter-less networks, hybrid, and multicloud environments, and they are still struggling with managing the multitude of digital certificates. With the increasing volume of encrypted traffic, dangerous cybercriminals are capitalizing on the chaos of digital certificates to unleash newer and more sophisticated attacks. 

Manage Your Certificates Efficiently with Automated Certificate Lifecycle Management 

Every system that is connected to the Internet requires at least one digital certificate to operate securely. PKI administrators often have to manage hundreds and thousands of digital certificates, and that too of various kinds, for instances certificates with different expiry dates, and being issued by different certificate authorities (CA). It is crucial to track temporary and rogue certificates, revoke expired certificates, and monitor them to avoid sudden certificate expirations and consequent network outages. 

Instead of using homegrown tools, invest in a certificate lifecycle management (CLM) solution, which provides end-to-end automation of the entire certificate lifecycle stages: certificate request, issuance, provisioning, scanning, renewal, and revocation. 

Do you want to manage your machine identities better?

Tags

  • certificate lifecycle management
  • Digital Certificate
  • PKI
  • PKI management
  • SSL Certificate Lifecycle Management
  • SSL Certificate Management

About the Author

Debarati Biswas

Senior Specialist- Product Marketing

A content creator and a lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity. She pens insightful resources to address the pain points of the readers and prospective buyers and help them make well-informed decisions.

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