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From Manual to Automated: Transitioning to Automated Certificate Management

From Manual to Automated: Transitioning to Automated Certificate Management

Digital identity certification is an essential asset for businesses that need to maintain online trust and protect their data from fraudulent activities.

However, while adopting PKI certificates provides lots of security advantages, the process of managing certificate lifecycles has added unwanted (but necessary) overheads.

IT admin teams need to continuously monitor, renew, and issue certificates to keep the chain of trust intact and prevent data breaches and identity fraud. As the number of certificates increases, the time your team spends on managing these certificates also increases.

To overcome these challenges, businesses are gradually shifting their certificate management process from manual to automated solutions.

This guide aims to help you transition to an automated certificate management system smoothly, while understanding the implications of such a transition on your employees, systems, security, and compliance.

Understanding the Need for Transition

Regardless of the size of your business and operations, manual certificate management presents numerous challenges. As a result, many organisations have become more willing to adopt certificate automation solutions to limit overheads.

Some of the challenges of manual certificate management include:

  1. Time Consumption
    Tracking certificate life cycles manually can be time-consuming, distracting your workforce from other, more important tasks. Your employees will find themselves drowning in endless spreadsheets, which is simply unsustainable in the long term.
    Not to mention, manually installing and testing new certificates for validation can be very inconvenient, especially if new users and devices are regularly introduced to your network. At this point, tracking renewal and revocation dates for different certificates becomes pretty challenging, even if you manage to set up renewal reminders.
  2. Efficient Sorting is Virtually Impossible
    It takes quite a bit of effort to manually sort certificates. Digital certificates can (and should) be prioritised and sorted based on different criteria, like expiration date and level of importance based on the workloads they protect.
    Doing this manually is not only resource-intensive but also very sensitive to human error. It takes one expired certificate for malicious actors to compromise your company’s network.
  3. Manual Certificate Management Requires Expanding Your Team
    Installing, renewing, and monitoring digital certificates isn’t a one-time task — it requires an ongoing effort from your team. Such processes can exhaust your employees and deter them from more important tasks, leaving you no option but to hire more team members to accommodate the ever-increasing workload.
    Hiring new employees isn’t just costly — it also requires significant investment from your entire organisation, from recruiting to candidate screening and selection, as well as onboarding new hires, the process isn’t entirely smooth.
    Even then, your team will find themselves spending a big chunk of their time handling certificate management, which will naturally still end with missed renewals, undetected compromised certificates, and other potential – and often catastrophic – issues.

What is Digital Certificate Automation?

Certificate Automation is basically setting your certificate management process on autopilot. From the Certificate Signing Request (CSR) generation to adding new certificates and certificate renewals, certificate automation—or as some may call PKI automation—solutions take the entire certificate management job off your plate.

The value behind certificate automation is obvious, especially if you manage more than 100 digital certificates: it saves your organisation’s precious resources—resources that you can utilise more effectively in business growth initiatives and cybersecurity strategies.

Once you’ve set up your certificate automation solution and customised it to match your business needs and preferences, it handles everything automatically in the background, including installing and issuing new root and intermediate certificates, certificate renewals and revocations, replacing and sorting certificates, and more.

The best thing about certificate management systems is that you can fine-tune and scale them on the go to match your changing business priorities and needs, without experiencing extended periods of downtime or service loss.

In early 2023, Google publicly proposed limiting SSL/TLS certificate validity to just 90 days. The justification is that one-year certificate life cycles are far from ideal from a security standpoint, considering that cyber threats have become sophisticated and are evolving rapidly with the advancements in AI and ML threats.

So, what does that mean for your organisation? Well for starters, if you’re already struggling with certificate management, a potential shift to 90-day life cycles will just make things worse. Your employees will need to work even harder when it comes to renewing certificates before they expire.

While the move to 90-day SSL/TLS certificate validation can be good for security, it has made many businesses reconsider their certificate management practices and shift to automation to save resources. This will be especially pressing for organisations managing hundreds or thousands of digital certificates.

GlobalSign Certificate Automation Management solution eliminates the complexity and redundancy of certificate management processes, freeing up your resources and promoting productivity and business growth initiatives. It provides a user-friendly interface between your infrastructure and GlobalSign’s CA, facilitating certificate installation and management while maintaining security and compliance.

GlobalSign’s Certificate Automation Management relies on automation to streamline certificate deployment, without sacrificing control. With its customisation options, you can set rules, adjust access permissions, and design workflows that suit your needs.

Assessing Your Current Certificate Management Process

Before deploying your certificate management automation solution, it’s important to assess the current situation in your certificate management procedures. Start by identifying bottlenecks in your manual processes—how and where is your team struggling in the certificate management lifecycle?

Depending on the size and nature of your organisation, you may have problems identifying compromised certificates, ensuring that certificates are renewed before expiration, issuing new certificates for new users or devices efficiently, or a combination of some or all these issues.

It’s also important to consider the impact of adopting a new certificate automation solution on security and compliance. While legacy and non-compliant automation solutions may raise security concerns, globally trusted solutions like GlobalSign’s Certificate Automation Management platform are built-in with compliance in mind, ensuring that the productivity gains aren’t at the expense of compromised security.

Proper certificate management and automation can enhance security and compliance by renewing expiring certificates on time, issuing certificates for new users and devices, and identifying compromised certificates quickly.

preparing-for-transition-to-automation-globalsign

Preparing for the Transition to Automation

The technical prerequisites for Certificate Automation Management can be broken down into two areas: server requirements and database requirements.

Server Technical Prerequisites

  • OS: Minimum Windows Server 2012 R2, Windows Server 2016 or 2019 (64-bit) recommended

  • HDD: 100 GB

  • RAM: 8GB

Database Technical Prerequisites

  • RAM: 4 GB

  • OS: Minimum Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Standard; Microsoft SQL Server 2016 to 2019 Standard recommended

  • DB Space: 20 GB

     

Organisational Readiness and Stakeholder Alignment

Organisational readiness involves adjusting the company culture to accommodate for new changes in certificate management and embrace technological solutions. If your team has been managing certificates in a specific way for years, making disruptive changes to their workflows can be inconvenient.

Talk to your employees and illustrate the productivity benefits that certificate automation brings to the table. Explain that you’ll work closely with them to help with the initial learning curve.

Moreover, it’s important to make sure your stakeholders are aware of the changes and supporting them. Again, communication here is essential to ensure a smooth transition for your organisation in alignment with stakeholder priorities and needs.

The Step-by-Step Transition Process

  1. Setting up the Certificate Automation Management solution client provided by the certificate authority:
    • Install the solution client on your system
    • Provide the platform server access to your network with a private key
    • Configure the solution client’s options and ensure proper connectivity between the client-server and your servers
  2. Configuring your systems for the Certificate Automation Management solution:
    • Ensure that all system components meet the minimum requirements for deployment
    • Update all existing systems and make sure they’re compatible
    • Integrate Certificate Automation Managementwith your systems via API connectors
    • Set policies for using and maintaining the solution
    • Ensure that your setup meets PKI and X.509 compliance standards
  3. Testing the Certificate Automation Management solution setup in a controlled environment:
    • Run pilot tests to ensure that the solution is working properly before full deployment
    • Train your employees on how to use the platform
    • Ensure that the client is properly executing certificate lifecycle management tasks like issuance and revocation
    • Identify issues and collect feedback from your employees to solve potential problems with full deployment

Overcoming Common Challenges in Transitioning to Certificate Automation Management

Handling Legacy Systems and Compatibility Issues

Certificate Automation is a relatively new practice, meaning that you’re likely to experience compatibility problems when deploying a Certificate Automation Management solution. It can be challenging to integrate it with legacy systems, in particular.

Before adopting Certificate Automation Management, carry out a thorough technology audit to identify potential integration and compatibility challenges and areas of improvement throughout the entire certificate infrastructure. Certificate Automation Management solution providers, like GlobalSign, offer API gateways that provide a common interface for establishing communication and integrating with outdated tools and systems, ensuring a smooth integration.

Managing the Learning Curve and Training Needs

Before implementing a new automation solution, you need to make sure your team is ready for the transition. Understanding your team’s technical strengths and weaknesses is a good starting point as it’ll help you identify training priorities and close skills gaps.

Certificate Automation Management solution providers like GlobalSign provide extensive training resources and documentation for your team to ensure fast and smooth deployment.

Best Practices for a Smooth Certificate Automation Management Integration

Continuous Monitoring and Management of Certificates

To ensure smooth Certificate AutomationManagement integration, you need to monitor your certificates and the overall certificate management process. Keeping a certificate repository of active and expired certificates along with their expiration dates is a good first step for implementing Certificate Automation Management. You can use a certificate discovery tool like Atlas Discovery to make this step faster.

Ensuring Scalability and Flexibility in Your Certificate AutomationManagement Implementation

An automated certificate management solution should seamlessly scale with your evolving business needs. As you expand your operations and your identity management needs grow, Certificate AutomationManagement solutions easily adapt and issue new certificates for all new users and devices.

Moreover, Certificate AutomationManagement platforms can be adjusted according to changing industry requirements and regulations. For example, it’s highly likely that the SSL/TLS lifecycle will be reduced to 90 days. Without automation, such a scenario would leave you no option but to expand your team or make your existing team members work extra hours to be able to manage certificates regularly with the reduced lifecycle.

Looking Ahead: The Future of Automated Certificate Management

The transition to Certificate Automation Management isn’t always easy, but here GlobalSign, we make the transition process smoother with extensive support, resources, and training.

To learn more about the future of automated cybersecurity management, check out this FREE whitepaper: “5 Key Cybersecurity Automation Trends for 2024”.

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