What is SSL certificate management?
what is ssl certificate management

What is SSL certificate management?

SSL certificate 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. This process provides IT administrators with complete visibility and control over their SSL environments and helps them preempt security breaches, outages, and compliance issues.

Before understanding why SSL certificate management should form an integral component of your organization's privileged access security strategy and how to implement a certificate management program within your network environment, let's take a look at how SSL certificates work to keep online communications secure.

SSL certificates and their role in securing online communications.

An SSL certificate, also known as a public key certificate, is an electronic document that verifies one's ownership of a public key. When site owners install SSL certificates onto their web servers, all web traffic between their servers and users' browsers gets encrypted, ensuring confidentiality of the information exchanged. The application protocol HTTP automatically changes to HTTPS in the browser's omnibox and a padlock icon appears, indicating that all connections to the website remain private.

You can view the SSL certificate of any website that runs on HTTPS and you will find the following information:

 

Public key

Shows details of which public key and cryptographic algorithm are used for signing the certificate.

 

Site owner identity

Identifies the site owner who has installed the certificate on his website.

 

Digital signature

Shows the signature of a trusted third party that authorizes the legitimacy of the site owner's identity and their website.

SSL certificates are usually signed and issued by entities called certificate authorities (CAs). These are third-party organizations that play a very crucial role in internet security by acting as the epitome of trust for both parties—site owners purchase SSL certificates to gain their customers' trust and site visitors rely on SSL for their data privacy. Browser companies trust only those SSL certificates issued by internationally acknowledged CAs and will throw error messages when connecting to websites that use locally generated SSL certificates.

How do SSL certificates work?

When browsers attempt to establish an encrypted session with a website that's secured with SSL, the following sequence of operations occurs in the background:

  • The browser connects to a web server secured with SSL and requests the server to prove its identity.
  • The web server receives the request and sends back a copy of its SSL certificate along with its public key.
  • The browser receives the certificate and checks its legitimacy by comparing it with a predefined list of trusted CAs. If the browser trusts the certificate, it creates a symmetrical key called the session key, encrypts the key using the server's public key, and sends it back to the server.
  • The web server decrypts the message using its private key, sends an acknowledgement—that is encrypted using the session key—back to the browser to start the session.
  • The browser and server then begin the session afterwards, in which all exchanged information is encrypted using the session key.

However, implementing SSL encryption for websites is not a one-time process. SSL certificates expire after a predefined duration and have to be constantly renewed. Failing to renew will cause browsers to lose trust in that website's legitimacy, which is shown as error messages. Worst case scenario, expired certificates may also pave the way for security breaches. Therefore, organizations need to maintain surveillance on the life cycles of all certificates deployed within their network and constantly monitor their usage to ward off any chances of data breaches or website outages.

 

Gain complete visibility and control over your SSL environment now.

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Now is the time for centralized SSL life cycle management

Organizations are increasingly relying on the internet for their business, which has resulted in a huge surge of SSL certificates scattered across their network. Cyberattacks have also increased multifold over the last decade, with many attack variants leveraging vulnerabilities. These factors have left IT administrators with the huge responsibility of tracking the life cycle of every security certificate deployed within their network, monitoring these certificates for any unusual activity, and renewing them before expiration. This is very daunting, especially for large organizations that juggle a lot of certificates. A centralized platform that can automate certificate management operations and provide insights on an organization's SSL environment is exactly what IT administrators need. Here are a few of the many advantages of deploying a centralized SSL certificate management solution:

Timely alerts to prevent outages and protect brand reputation.

It's not uncommon for organizations to let a certificate or two expire by mistake. But one expired SSL certificate is all it takes for visitors to lose trust in your brand's credibility. Implementing a centralized certificate management solution alerts administrators when certificates are about to expire and reduces the possibility of website outages due to unexpected certificate expiration.

Centralized inventory and increased transparency.

Quite often, SSL certificates are requested and deployed by teams locally, as needed, but then their existence is soon forgotten. Centralized management consolidates all of an organization's certificates in a single repository and streamlines the acquisition, deployment, and renewal processes. This provides administrators with complete transparency and control over their SSL environments.

Reduced time and effort.

Most of all, centralizing and automating certificate management greatly reduces operational costs and staff time associated with managing individual certificates.

Eliminate certificate fatigue by centralizing life cycle management with Key Manager Plus.

Key Manager Plus, our web-based SSH key and SSL certificate management solution, provides administrators with much needed visibility and control over their SSL environment. It centralizes and automates operations related to managing certificate life cycles and helps preempt security attacks, compliance issues, and site outages due to unexpected certificate expirations. Here's a quick summary of Key Manager Plus' features:

  • Centralized SSL certificate discovery and inventory
  • Built-in CSR generation tool
  • Streamlined certificate request workflow
  • End-to-end life cycle management through third-party CA integrations
  • Active Directory and MS Store integrations
  • Instant, comprehensive reports on all certificate management operations
  • Intuitive dashboard view
KMP Flow Diagram