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Friday, 15 January 2021 16:17

1-Year Certificates are Here: What Now?

By Jeremy Rowley, Chief Product Officer at DigiCert
Jeremy Rowley, Chief Product Officer at DigiCert Jeremy Rowley, Chief Product Officer at DigiCert

GUEST OPINION: In 2020, the world experienced a cosmic shift in how we live and work, and the infosec industry was no different. Publicly trusted TLS/SSL certificate lifetimes were reduced to one-year, making automation and sophisticated management tools more important than ever.

Shorter certificate lifetimes are already required by the industry groups and enforced by the browsers.

This changes caps certificate validity to a maximum of 398 days — just over one year. This shorter certificate lifetime can lead to management challenges for administrators still using spreadsheets and calendar reminders to manage certificates.

The motivation for the change was to make the web more agile and secure. Shorter validity periods mean a faster adoption of new standards and a quicker rollout of industry improvements. With short validity periods, compromised keys are changed over more quickly and, hopefully, issues in configurations are more quickly detected and resolved.

Manual Certificate Management is Becoming Increasingly Difficult

Manual certificate management was never a great idea. There is a staggering number of websites that go down simply because an admin forgot to renew a certificate. Spreadsheet management is too error prone and makes delegation of responsibilities difficult. With shorter validity periods, the mistakes made by manual renewal and installation cycles will likely increase.

To remain up to date on security, administrators need to do the following:

  • Inventory certificates
  • Keep up with industry changes
  • Create alerts for reminders on expiring certificates
  • Plan on revocation if something goes wrong
  • Designate an alternative admin
  • Ensure a certificate expiration is never missed
  • Ensure validation remains up to date

While a manual process can work for small organisations that only need a single certificate, the exponential work required is not scalable for enterprises. Plus, the financial impact of missed certificate renewals can become quite severe when talking about global organizations.

Consequences of lack of visibility

Many organisations find the lack of visibility into certificate usage as a significant challenge in managing certificates. The struggle with managing a large certificate inventory is one of the largest contributors to certificate-related outages and downed websites.

One expired TLS certificate can shut down a website for hours or days, costing a company potentially revenue.

A leading position on 1-year certificates

Shortening certificate lifetimes allows the industry to make updates to the certificate ecosystem faster (transition from SHA1 to SHA2 and longer keys). Shortening lifetimes also allows a change in certificates to happen more quickly in case a website owner changes or if there is a key compromise event.

Even before shorter validities became mandatory, some CAs supported shorter validity periods, allowing customers to order certificates for hours or days instead of years. This flexibility gave organisations the ability to respond quickly to new industry threats and changes in their network infrastructure.

While most organisations lack the ability and agility to readily use certificates with extremely short validity periods, automation helps simplify the process, making renewal and automated management a possibility. Automated systems allow users to deploy certificates within seconds of a change, replacing their entire portfolio as necessary to account for new risks.

The best practice is to have both an in-depth management system for certificate administration and an automated system for certificate deployment and configuration. Using both gives administrators insight about certificate use while allowing the organisation to flexibly respond to security events.

As the industry trends towards shorter certificate lifetimes, infosecurity leaders need to continue to innovate to help customers simplify certificate management.

Multi-Year Plan simplifies management

Businesses now have the option to purchase a Multi-year Plan of up to six-years of coverage for TLS certificates. Multi-year Plans simplify certificate purchasing and renewal processes for customers and partners.

A multi-year plan eliminates the need for annual per-certificate purchases and provides a service period of up to six years, during which time customers may reissue and renew certificates as often as needed.

Organisations can also lock in pricing discounts for succeeding years. Simply purchase an OV or EV certificate and then set up automated renewal using ACME.

Shorter TLS certificate lifetimes are here to stay and now is the time for organisations to adopt automation solutions that help them achieve agility in managing their cryptographic assets.

By Jeremy Rowley, Chief Product Officer at DigiCert.


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