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Last updated date : 11 May 2023

Organizations are often oblivious about where most of their certificates are stored, let alone their expiry dates and ownership. Certificate discovery and management is the first step towards efficient certificate life cycle management (CLM). Adopting a suitable CLM tool seamlessly helps you discover, view, and manage all the certificates in your network from a central console. By extension, this ensures that you keep track of certificate expiry dates, ensure prompt certificate renewal, prevent outages, and mitigate cyberthreats.

Why is certificate discovery important?

Enterprises often manage thousands of certificates in their networks. This includes certificates for most resources in the network, self-signed certificates created to ensure internal network security, temporary certificates created for testing, and so on. Most of these certificates are created in a siloed manner without centralized tracking or documentation.

Discovering all the certificates present in an organization's network manually takes a lot of effort, is tedious, and is not comprehensive enough to identify all the certificates stored in different locations in the network. Given the sheer number of certificates present in an organization's network, it is cumbersome to keep track of expiry dates, validation, ownership, etc. for all of them manually, increasing the likelihood of human error that could lead to an outage or security breach.

Should you miss a renewal, be unaware of a certificate's expiry date, or should a certificate turn out to be invalid, it can lead to failed TLS handshakes and unsecure communication involving critical data. This in turn can lead to network, application, or web outages, and expose your network to vulnerabilities and security breaches.

Certificate discovery and management is an essential cog in the CLM process. It provides much-needed visibility into all the certificates present in an organization's network, where they are stored, expiry dates, ownership, and so on, and makes it easy to manage all of them from a central console.

Let's look at this in detail in the following sections.

SSL/TLS certificate discovery and management process

01. Discover and identify all the certificates in your environment

The first step in the discovery and management process is to scan your network environment using a suitable CLM tool to identify all digital certificates present. SSL certificate discovery tools often identify the certificate owner, location, and expiry date when identifying a certificate.

Some popular certificate discovery and identification methods:

  • CA integration

    Discovery through certificate authority (CA) integration is when you integrate with internal as well as third-party CAs to fetch all the certificates issued to your organization directly from the source. This can be achieved by installing the different CAs' software in your infrastructure individually or through a holistic CLM tool that can fetch certificates by integrating with internal as well as different third-party CAs.

  • SSL/TLS discovery

    SSL/TLS discovery is the most efficient and widely used discovery method where you scan your network to discover the SSL/TLS certificates present in your organizational network. This is usually done by performing a port or socket scan. In general, using SSL/TLS certificate discovery enables you to identify certificates in all your endpoints, certificates that are stored in multiple servers, and their details, such as location, ownership, and expiry date, in a single scan.

  • Certificate store discovery

    Certificates in your network may also be stored in certificate stores without being exposed to your network. These are usually certificates created for internal security purposes and during product development. Such certificates may reside in Microsoft Certificate Stores or in cloud services such as AWS Certificate Manager or Azure Key Vault.

02. Store all the discovered certificates in an inventory

After all the certificates in your network are identified, they need to be added to an inventory such that they are documented and can be managed from a single console. An inventory helps you keep track of all of your certificates and relevant details, such as certificate expiry date, location, and issuer.

03. Validate the certificates in your inventory

Once the certificates in your environment are identified and documented, they then need to be validated to ensure that they can be trusted, in use, and not revoked. Suitable certificate management tools can verify the authenticity of all of your certificates, check their expiry date, and vet their revocation status.

04. Manage all your certificates from a central console

Post validation, you can manage the certificates in your inventory. From renewing expiring certificates to replacing and deploying certificates, you can holistically monitor and manage certificate life cycles from a central console.

How a CLM tool helps

A holistic CLM tool like ManageEngine's Key Manager Plus provides you with all the features required to discover and manage all the certificates in your network.

With KeyManager Plus, you can discover and inventory certificates in a particular IP range, load balancer and mail server certificates, certificates that reside in certificate stores, certificates stored in files and folders, user certificates from Active Directory, and third-party certificates through CA integration.

Post discovery and validation, you can monitor and manage all your certificates from a single console using Key Manager Plus. This includes creating new certificates, deploying them, setting up renewals and pre-emptive expiry notifications, scanning for vulnerabilities, and much more.

SSL/TLS Certificate discovery FAQs

  • What are SSL/TLS certificates?

    An SSL or TLS certificate, also known as a public key certificate, is a cryptographic file installed on your web server that helps establish secure, encrypted online communication.

    Learn more about SSL/TLS certificates

  • What is certificate lifecycle management (CLM)?

    SSL/TLS certificate management or certificate lifecycle management is the process of monitoring and managing the life cycles—from acquisition and deployment to tracking renewal, usage, and expiration—of all SSL certificates deployed within a network.

    Learn more about certificate lifecycle management

  • What is a certificate authority (CA)?

    A certificate authority (CA), also referred to as a certification authority, is a trusted entity that validates the identities of online assets, such as websites or email addresses, owned by organizations through the issuance of electronic documents called digital certificates.

    Learn more about certificate authorities

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