SSL/TLS certificates are critical to ensure data security, authenticity, and integrity in transit. They help prevent a whole range of attacks such as eavesdropping, impersonation, man-in-the-middle, phishing attacks, and so on. But what about the security of these certificates and their keys? By implementing SSL/TLS best practices, you can secure your digital certificates and keys effectively.
This article has put together important SSL/TLS certificate best practices to help you protect your organization and digital assets.
Why Take the Security of Digital Certificates and Keys Seriously?
Attackers know encryption tunnel blind spots like stolen/ lost private keys, certificate vulnerabilities, implementation failures, etc. exist. These encryption tunnel blind spots make the attackers’ job easy; hence, they target digital certificates and keys.
When they have access to stolen, forged, or unused certificates or gain access to private keys, they gain a trusted status. They could, thereon, eavesdrop on corporate communications or create phishing websites/ their own encrypted tunnels to spread malware, steal login credentials, steal money, etc.
SSL/TLS Best Practices to Protect Certificates and Keys
Visibility is Critical: Create and Update Your Certificate and Key Inventory
One of the most important SSL/TLS best practices is gaining full visibility into the certificate lifecycle. After all, you cannot protect SSL certificates and keys you don’t know exist within your infrastructure. To this end, creating and updating a robust, accurate inventory of all certificates and enterprise keys is necessary. You need to know the answers to the following:
- What digital certificates exist in your infrastructure?
- What is the key strength? Is it in line with the industry standards?
- Where are the keys stored?
- Who has access to keys?
- What does each of the certificates protect?
- How are the certificates utilized?
- When do they expire?
- Where are they installed?
- Who owns the certificates and keys?
- Are there rogue, expired, or revoked certificates in the system?
- Are there certificates that you purchased but haven’t installed yet?
- Do all certificates follow the current industry standards?
This will help you understand if the certificates extend reliable protection to your company infrastructure.
Automate and Centralize Certificate Management
It is not enough if you know what certificates exist; you need to monitor and centrally manage them continuously. Centralized management of certificates ensures you have full visibility into the certificate lifecycle, breaking any departmental siloes that may exist. So, no certificates are installed or used without centralized knowledge.
For this, manual methods or tracking using spreadsheets are highly ineffective unless you have only a handful of certificates. You must opt for an automated certificate management system (CMS) for effective and centralized certificate management.
The best CMS solutions like Entrust CMS offered by Indusface not only automate scanning and updating of the certificate and key inventories but are also equipped with easy renewal, revocation, and reissue capabilities.
Where and How You Store Your SSL Certificate Keys Matter
It is an SSL/TLS best practice to generate private keys and the certificate signing request (CSR) on the server where it is to be installed. This helps eliminate the risks involved in transferring private keys between machines. However, when external CSR generator tools are used, private-public key pairs need to be stored securely in password-protected keystores. Make sure to generate sophisticated, random, strong passwords for the keystores.
For more secure storage of key pairs, USB tokens, smart cards, hardware storage modules, etc., are used. These are bulletproof methods because attackers need physical access to the hardware device to access the private keys. Further, ensure that you don’t share private keys or leave them in logs, emails, chats, etc., for attackers to use freely.
Perform TLS Server Tests and Crypto Agility Scanning
Weak encryption algorithms, certificate misconfigurations, outdated SSL protocols or cryptographic modules, short keys, low key strength, etc., make the certificates and keys vulnerable. To proactively identify and rectify such SSL certificate vulnerabilities, you must regularly perform TLS server tests and crypto agility scanning. The best CMS solutions include these capabilities
Enforcing Policies and Workflows
Well-defined and clear policies and workflows on the certificate and key management help minimize risks and strengthen the security posture. The policies and workflows must support your business processes and goals, not hinder them. They must be regularly reviewed and worked into the CMS systems.
Ongoing Threat Monitoring and Remediation are Critical
In addition to strong encryption and authentication, the certificates need to be protected by a multi-layered, managed web app security bundle that includes vulnerability and malware scanning, reputation monitoring, automated threat monitoring and remediation, compliance validation, security audits, etc.
When digital certificates and keys aren’t secured effectively, they make way for cyberattacks they are designed to prevent. Take the first step towards hardening your security posture by immediately implementing SSL/TLS best practices.