Companies use various controls and processes to ensure trust in their growing network of users, devices, applications, and IoT. With this expansion, PKI becomes vital for securing machine-to-machine connections and handling machine identities, leading organizations to adopt private PKI services, both on-premises and SaaS-based managed PKI.
What is a managed PKI (MPKI) service?
SaaS-based PKI services offer organizations the option to outsource their PKI infrastructure to a trusted third-party provider, rather than maintaining it in-house. By leveraging a SaaS-based service, organizations benefit from faster deployment, reduced total cost of ownership, and enhanced operational efficiency. Unlike traditional in-house PKI setups, SaaS-based PKI eliminates the disadvantages associated with self-managed infrastructure. It provides a streamlined and cost-effective solution for organizations seeking secure and reliable certificate management.
Top 6 managed PKI service benefits
The primary benefits of a modern, SaaS-based PKI solution, and why organizations are seeking them out, are the following:
1. Speed to market and scalability
One significant benefit of opting for a SaaS-based PKI solution instead of an in-house model is the significantly faster and more cost-efficient initiation of digital certificate and machine identity provisioning. A SaaS-based PKI service offers flexible identity provisioning that can be easily scaled up or down as needed.
2. Enhanced security of cryptographic keys
SaaS-based managed PKIs employ hardware security modules (HSMs) to guarantee the complete protection of keys and cryptographic operations, preventing them from being exposed in an unsecured manner. When you subscribe to the PKI service, you can benefit from a flexible "grow-as-you-go" business model, without any upfront expenses for HSM or key storage.
3. Lifecycle certificate management
Handling machine identities throughout a machine's existence can be a complex endeavor when constructing an internal PKI platform. To ensure ongoing trust in the public key infrastructure, a SaaS-based PKI service consistently oversees the issuance, renewal, utilization, and possible abuse of machine identities (such as TLS and SSL digital certificates) throughout their entire lifespan. If credentials are compromised, they could potentially enable unauthorized access to secure environments. To mitigate this risk, a SaaS-based PKI service maintains a Certificate Revocation List, identifying certificates that have been compromised or misused and should no longer be considered trustworthy.
4. Enhanced physical security
SaaS-based PKIs typically offer stronger protection against physical security threats compared to in-house private PKIs. Their servers are often housed in highly secure, stable facilities safeguarded against natural disasters like earthquakes and fires, as well as power outages. Additionally, these environments are tightly controlled, ensuring that unauthorized individuals cannot access them.
5. Get access to a team of experts
SaaS-based PKIs are developed by seasoned experts, ensuring thorough attention to detail, as opposed to depending on an IT professional with limited experience. By opting for a SaaS-based PKI, you gain round-the-clock access to the very team of experts responsible for constructing and upkeeping the PKI. This means that any issues you encounter will be promptly addressed, guaranteeing smooth and uninterrupted operation.
6. Cost savings
Using a SaaS-based PKI service eliminates the necessity to employ additional personnel for PKI implementation, sparing you the expense of acquiring expensive physical hardware. Furthermore, you won't need to allocate office space for securely storing the PKI.
Why do businesses need a private PKI service?
Publicly trusted digital certificates, like TLS/SSL certificates, serve as robust safeguards for securing publicly accessible websites and servers. Nonetheless, their suitability for internal networks, servers, and devices is often limited. Certificate Authority (CA) compliance regulations prohibit the issuance of publicly trusted TLS/SSL certificates for private IP addresses or internal domains.
Consequently, many organizations use a private PKI to fulfill their business requirements. A private certificate authority is employed to issue certificates known and trusted solely within your internal network. Some common use cases for private PKI are:
- Machine identities for ensuring secure authentication and communication in IoT devices and networks
- Authentication via PKI for smart cards
- Certificates for devices to facilitate VPN or network authentication
- TLS/SSL certificates for private use in safeguarding connections between servers
- Code signing to enhance the security of DevOps containers and packages
On-premises private PKI service
Some businesses are choosing to implement an internal PKI service through Active Directory Certificate Services, also known as the Microsoft CA. This approach offers the benefit of retaining complete control over machine identities and code signing management. In-house solutions can be tailored to align with unique business requirements, a flexibility not always available with third-party solutions. If a company uses a PKI to oversee services related to confidentiality, integrity, and authenticity for its internal workforce, it may be sensible to have an in-house solution.
There are some drawbacks associated with the in-house approach that render it impractical for many businesses:
- Substantial time commitment required to manage the certificate authority.
- Tangible expenses incurred for a hardware security module (HSM) and additional infrastructure.
- Constrained certificate management capabilities, particularly concerning non-Windows devices
Numerous companies lack the necessary skills and expertise to implement an internal PKI system. Furthermore, organizations must procure all the essential hardware and software components necessary for generating digital certificates and machine identities. Subsequently, they must incorporate digital signatures and authentication mechanisms into their internal applications. Assuming a smooth onboarding process, the company will also be obligated to conduct periodic audits.
Leveraging their advanced expertise, SaaS-based PKI service providers can deliver a more dependable, secure, robust, and adaptable solution that doesn't rely on hard-to-source skills. As the landscape grows increasingly intricate, regulations become more stringent, and compliance penalties escalate substantially, businesses should confidently rely on the skilled guidance of a PKI provider rather than incorrectly assuming that in-house security and control are more effective.
Venafi Zero Touch PKI is a fully SaaS-based alternative to creating and running your own internal PKI. It can be configured and managed in any way you need, in conjunction with multiple CAs and with the options you need for security and traceability. Talk to a Venafi expert about how you can discover the benefits of a SaaS-based PKI solution.
(This post has been updated. It was originally published on March 21, 2022.)