What is SSL Certificate Management & How to Implement It
TLS/SSL certificates are one of the core principles of security for any website, helping certify that each website has a base level of integrity and privacy, and ensuring that data is transferred securely from point A to point B.
As we move toward a 100% HTTPS implementation, website owners face the challenge of having to manually manage and maintain all their TLS/SSL certificates. For businesses, the more TLS/SSL certificates that are in use, the more difficult it becomes to effectively manage the lifecycle of the certificates at scale. It can quickly get very expensive, and manual processes are error-prone. A TLS/SSL provider can lighten that burden and support businesses along the whole certificate lifecycle.
What is HTTPS?
The Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) is used to transmit data between a website and a web browser in the clear. HTTPS requests and responses are encrypted with TLS (SSL) certificates. HTTPS is used in various applications such as web mail applications, account logins, and ecommerce.
What are TLS/SSL certificates?
To authenticate a website’s identity and encrypt the HTTP traffic, a digital certificate (TLS/SSL certificate) is needed. Secure Sockets Layer, in short SSL, creates an encrypted communication channel for data flows between a server and a client. To keep customer information secure and private and protect data in transit, every website owner needs to have an TLS/SSL certificate. SSL certificates were established in the mid-1990s and security vulnerabilities emerged that led to the evolution of better protocols. Transport Layer Security, in short TLS v1.3, is the most current protocol, but as website owners are used to the term SSL, both SSL and TLS are used interchangeably or together such as TLS/SSL certificates.
How to manage TLS/SSL certificates
All TLS/SSL certificates that are deployed within a network need to be monitored and managed throughout their whole lifecycles – creation, deployment, renewal, expiration, and usage; that is where TLS/SSL certificate management comes in. IT administrators should have TLS/SSL certificate management capabilities that provide complete control and visibility of their TLS/SSL certificates, so they can stay ahead of the security curve and prevent compliance issues, outages, and breaches. One of the most important aspects of TLS/SSL management is expiration monitoring. As a website owner you need to proactively renew certificates and avoid unintentionally allowing your certificates to expire. Imagine you are a website owner and you forgot to renew your certificates, and now the website is down, inaccessible, and money is lost every second of the outage. Visitors to the site get the message that the connection is no longer private as the TLS/SSL certificate has expired. Not only that, but it also opens the door for data breaches and other threats lurking online. As the volume of TLS/SSL certificates increases, and the frequency of the lifecycle steps increase with shorter certificate validities, it can become overwhelming for TLS/SSL administrators.
Manually monitoring and managing TLS/SSL certificates is not scalable in today’s environment. Website owners need tools and capabilities that allow them to continuously run tests to verify their TLS/SSL certificates are configured and operating correctly and that they avoid any lapse in security through robust expiration monitoring and alerts. The cost of not staying on top of your TLS/SSL estate is expensive.
What types of TLS/SSL certificates exist?
Depending on the validation level a business needs, there are six different types of TLS/SSL certificates:
- Extended Validation certificates (EV TLS/SSL)
- Organization Validation certificates (OV TLS/SSL)
- Domain Validation certificates (DV TLS/SSL)
- Wildcard TLS/SSL certificates
- Multi-Domain TLS/SSL certificates (MDC) /Unified Communications certificates (UCC)
How to manage multiple TLS/SSL certificates
We have learned that it is quite challenging for website owners to manage their TLS/SSL certificates by themselves but what happens when they have multiple TLS/SSL certificates across various domains or multiple TLS/SSL certificates for one domain. For example, trying to replace an expiring TLS/SSL certificate with a new one, but while doing so not wanting to leave the website unprotected. The general rule is that certificates need to be manually bound to a specific port, for example, port 443 (https). Multiple certificates can be installed on a server but only one certificate can be used at a time (One port=one certificate).
To keep on top of the TLS/SSL lifecycle of acquisition, deployment, renewal, expiration, and usage a TLS/SSL certificate management capability is necessary. TLS/SSL management does not have to be a burden if you have the right TLS/SSL certificate management partner by your side – whether you handle multiple TLS/SSL certificates or just one.
What are the best TLS/SSL certificate management providers?
As a website owner it is important to choose a TLS/SSL certificate management provider that suits your business and operational needs. Price is not the only factor, albeit an important one, to consider when it comes to your cybersecurity. Entrust collected three major influencing aspects to consider when looking for a TLS/SSL certificate management provider. When IT professionals evaluate certificate management providers the following criteria influence their decision the most:
- Longevity of the TLS/SSL provider: Use trusted public certificate authorities that issue and manage TLS/SSL certificates that have an established history in the marketplace in most operating systems, browsers, devices, and applications. A certificate management provider’s strong root ubiquity can extend trust to your business and provides a strong level of credibility with your users.
- Support: When looking for a TLS/SSL certificate management provider it is important to know what kind of support the provider can offer. Do they provide support in your time zone and language? Do they offer tiered support models with an option to upgrade to 24/7 support? What channels do they communicate with customers on and what SLAs do they offer for different severities?
- Overall package: While evaluating your TLS/SSL certificate management provider, there is value in exploring the different categories of products and services that they offer. Working with one cybersecurity vendor that can offer multiple solutions can be more cost-effective in the long run, leading to economies of scale. Some TLS/SSL certificate providers offer additional services and product categories that can help you in other areas of cybersecurity including: identity verification, ID issuance, user identity, machine identity, digital signature, financial issuance, digital card solution, database security, and multi-cloud security.