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Inside the Netherlands Ministry of Justice’s Journey to Scalable PKI

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When the European Union introduced e-passports in 2009, government agencies needed a way for officers in the field to verify the authenticity of these documents and the data contained within them. For the Netherlands Ministry of Justice and Security, the answer lay in introducing PKI. But the value of PKI didn’t stop there. Instead, one use case turned into several, which quickly became even more. 

Fast forward over a decade later and the Ministry of Justice has built an expert PKI team that has not only expanded PKI adoption within their own agency, but also advised many other teams across the EU.

Cor de Jonge, who leads the PKI team within the judicial information services department of the Ministry of Justice, credits this success in large part to finding a strong partner and highly scalable PKI solution in Keyfactor.

Finding an open source PKI platform

One of the main requirements for any new technology the Ministry of Justice adopts is that it be open source. According to de Jonge, “We want to be in control security-wise over all the things we do, so we don’t want any black box solutions. We want to know exactly what’s happening behind the scenes so we can prepare accordingly.”

But when his team first started the search for a PKI solution, they quickly found that not many vendors could meet this requirement. Then, a recommendation from the Swedish police pointed the Ministry of Justice team to Keyfactor EJBCA.

The team attended a few Keyfactor workshops in Stockholm to learn more and immediately knew they had found exactly what they needed in the community edition of EJBCA. And while they started looking deeply into Keyfactor due to the true open-source offering, they quickly realized there were many more reasons to adopt EJBCA.

Building highly scalable PKI operations

From the introduction of 2D barcodes on visa stickers in the EU, to internal needs within the Ministry of Justice and other government organizations in the Netherlands, to digital health certificates issued during the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for PKI quickly snowballed.

Fortunately, de Jonge and his team were able to scale their efforts seamlessly to meet this growing demand with EJBCA. They even moved from the community to the enterprise edition of EJBCA to ensure they had the right tools to support critical government use cases – without sacrificing the agility and open-source nature that attracted them to EJBCA in the first place.

“EJBCA works so well for us because we can use it every way we want. We’ve had such a positive experience using the product because it’s truly transparent. Some vendors just give you a black box and say it’s working, but what if that’s not the way you want it to work? We always know exactly what’s going on with EJBCA,” de Jonge explains.

He continues that the success the Ministry of Justice has had with EJBCA over so many years and so many varied use cases (not to mention the same type of results from other government agencies to whom they’ve recommended it) more than proves the scalability and reliability of EJBCA for even the most critical PKI use cases.

Developing a true PKI center of excellence

The Ministry of Justice has established true expertise around PKI and normative documents in the years since they got started. Although they are a small, multidisciplinary team, de Jonge reports that they support everything from internal audits to verifications, working within the Netherlands and between member states of the EU.

Most recently, de Jonge’s team packaged this expertise into a four-day training course about PKI and chip technology for border officers and policymakers across the EU. They now conduct live training sessions and offer a detailed reference guide with their approach to leading PKI and best practices, all of which are based on using EJBCA, as the team views it as the ideal open-source solution for a variety of PKI-related use cases.

Top lessons on scaling PKI from the Ministry of Justice

The Netherlands Ministry of Justice has had incredible success with PKI since getting started in 2009, and the team has since made a name for themselves across the EU as PKI experts. And if the past is any indication, there are still countless new use cases for EJBCA yet to be discovered by the team.

Interested in learning how Keyfactor EJBCA can help your organization simplify and scale PKI for critical use cases? Click here.

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