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It was only a week ago that we were discussing how an expired certificate disrupted the Microsoft Exchange admin portal. This week’s certificate related outage goes to World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)! Yes, the international organization that develops the standards for the World Wide Web!
Pratik Savla, Lead Security Engineer at Venafi, noticed on the night of June 1st, 2021, that the organization’s certificate had been expired and it remained in this status for about four hours.
During this time span, the site was not accessible, and browsers were displaying the well-known warning that it was not secure to access the W3C website.
Certificate Management is increasingly painful
Certificates are used to authenticate communication between a wide range of machines, category that includes virtual machines, mobile, remote and IoT devices as well as hybrid and multi-cloud infrastructures including clusters and containers. In addition, nearly all types of software require certificates.
Managing digital certificates effectively is critical to security and reliability all organizations. Automating certificate management and not relying on error prone and time-consuming manual processes is even more important as the number of digital certificates owned by businesses is skyrocketing, and the lifecycle of certificates are shrinking.
However, experience demonstrates that certificate management is increasingly painful for most organizations. In fact, a recent study revealed that 75% of global CIOs expressed concern about the security risks connected with the proliferation of certificates. In addition, over half of surveyed CIOs say they worry about outages and business interruptions due to expired certificates.
Expired certificates are Trojan Horses
Organizations and CIOs should also be concerned about the security risks posed by expired certificates. As Pratik Savla notes “Not only can expired certificates cause unplanned system / service outages -- they can also open the door through which malicious actors can find entry into one’s environment.”
Expired certificates break the chain of trust and they can be leveraged as an attack vector for criminals to launch man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks, which become feasible because the certificate chain of trust is broken. The problem with MITM attacks is that they are relatively easy to launch, but difficult to detect.
“If one gets down to the basic workings of an MITM attack, they’ll see that it’s relatively simple, explains Savla. “A MITM attack involves a malicious actor intercepting the communication between a user and the server/system the user is trying to reach. There are typically two types of MITM attacks – active and passive. In the passive variety, an attacker may just eavesdrop on communications and steal sensitive credentials as well as data. On the other hand, in active MITM, the attacker would consider actively injecting malware or modifying information that is presented to a user. What is more concerning is that MITM attacks have the potential to remain unnoticed for a relatively long period of time, if its detection is not attempted in a proper way.”
Automate certificate management
The only way to eliminate certificate outages is to establish and enforce a centralized, self-service, automated certificate management solution. And while certificate management is becoming increasingly complicated, Venafi is the only solution provider that completely understands exactly how to eliminate outages quickly and completely, even on complex networks.