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The Changing Landscape of PKI: Why Managed PKI Solutions Are the Future

PKI

Many companies tackle Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) internally, but its intricacies often lead to errors. According to the State of Machine Identity Management survey, a typical enterprise manages over 256,000 internally trusted PKI certificates, with some going up to 500,000, according to Gartner

Implementing a self-managed PKI system compounds these challenges. Managed PKI services emerge as a solution, offering organizations a way to navigate the complexities of PKI management more effectively.

This blog investigates the challenges of self-managed PKI and offers guidance for discovering the right time to switch to a managed PKI solution

Three challenges of running your own PKI

Self-managed PKI has long been a standard practice for many organizations because it is perceived as a cost-effective solution compared to managed or hosted solutions. While these approaches seem enticing, they overlook many operational costs and challenges that impact the total cost of ownership. 

Modern IT environments need robust, scalable PKI. Securely running a PKI demands specific expertise, which is rare and expensive. Here are a few reasons to reevaluate self-managed PKI in the face of evolving digital landscapes.

Complexity

Managing your own PKI is a complex undertaking that demands a deep understanding of cryptographic principles, secure communication protocols, and experience designing a robust and resilient PKI architecture. According to the State of Machine Identity Management, report by Ponemon & Keyfactor, over half of organizations report that insufficient staff for effective deployment and maintenance of their PKI compounds the complexity of self-managed PKI.

Self-managed PKI involves the entire digital certificate lifecycle, including issuance, renewal, revocation, and expiry tracking. It also involves establishing and enforcing policies for certificate usage, ensuring correct deployment across various systems and applications, and adapting to the evolving landscape of security best practices.

Reliability

Organizations need PKI to be operational around the clock. However, self-managed PKI systems often struggle to maintain this level of reliability. This is primarily due to a lack of resiliency; running a PKI infrastructure requires more than just setting up a couple of Certificate Authorities (CAs). It necessitates a sophisticated infrastructure capable of rapidly recovering from system failures. Any outages or disruptions related to PKI can significantly impact crucial services such as authentication and encryption.

Moreover, the rapid scaling of modern IT infrastructure adds complexity to PKI management, especially with the increasing migration to cloud services. This expanding IT landscape increases the complexity and the number of endpoints, each requiring secure communications. As a result, the demands on PKI systems escalate, often surpassing available resources. This highlights the resource constraints of self-managed PKI, emphasizing the need for a more robust and scalable solution.

Security and compliance

Public-key cryptography is an integral component of many security tools and services. When self-hosting, there is always the risk of insider threats due to the complex challenges of implementing adequate controls and monitoring. While the majority of insider threats are the results of improper training and accidental misconfiguration, employees with access to the PKI infrastructure could intentionally or unintentionally misuse their privileges, compromising the entire system’s security. 

Though insider threats are only part of the challenge, self-managed PKI also requires continuous alignment with evolving security standards and protocols. This process involves regular updates and thorough audits to ensure system security. 

Even with a properly configured infrastructure, managing certificates and authorities is still challenging. Mismanagement can lead to unauthorized certificate issuance, expired certificates, and compromised keys, which can significantly undermine the security of the PKI system, exposing it to potential attacks.

What is managed PKI?

Managed PKI solutions mitigate risks

One of the easiest ways organizations can mitigate these risks is through managed PKI. These services are provided by experts who understand the complexities of PKI, offloading the management of critical tasks such as certificate issuance, validation, renewal, and revocation. Managed PKI, or PKI-as-a-Service, allows organizations to transfer the intricate operations of PKI to a trusted third party.

Three advantages of managed PKI solutions

Managed PKI offers numerous advantages, enhancing security infrastructure and operational efficiency by providing access to specialized knowledge and expertise in PKI management.

Cost-effective

For many organizations, managed PKI is a more cost-effective solution than undertaking the burden in-house. Although it can be tempting to manage PKI in-house, the costs of doing so can outweigh any savings: certificate outages can cost upwards of $300,000 per hour. Instead of giving another complex and time-consuming responsibility to your already stretched team, working with a managed PKI provider allows teams to shift their focus from reactive outage prevention to proactive business growth.

Scalable

Scalability is another significant benefit, as managed PKI provides access to deep domain expertise that can adapt to your organization’s growth and changing needs. As organizations evolve, their approach to PKI and certificate management matures, starting with manual management and going all the way to zero-touch automation and crypto-agility. Working with a qualified PKI provider will ensure your PKI has the right foundation and capabilities to scale with your organization’s growing needs.

Enhanced security

Enhanced security and continuous updates are built into managed PKI solutions to help protect against evolving threats. A trusted and knowledgeable partner will also support compliance with regulations relevant to your organization, while ensuring the PKI itself follows all best practices and complies with the latest standards.

How to tell if managed PKI is right for my organization

If your organization is grappling with rogue certificates, half a dozen certificate authorities, or a “management by spreadsheet” mentality, a managed PKI solution may be the best option for you. Here are some of the top reasons it’s time to update your PKI.

Aging or outdated systems

Platforms built for enterprises a decade ago may now face issues with aging hardware needing replacement or upgrade. Additionally, the growth of IT infrastructure can tax existing systems, manifesting in signs like slow response times or frequent failures.

Lack of in-house experience

The challenge of hiring and retaining top-tier talent to manage PKI is significant. Organizations often find themselves with a functioning system but lack the expertise for adequate maintenance, especially in highly regulated industries where maintaining compliance, detailed logs, and complex security configurations are time and resource-intensive.

Highly regulated industries

For highly regulated industries, managed PKI solutions are even more beneficial. Organizations in these areas face numerous mandatory audits, requiring evidence of in-depth logging and well-documented security configurations that align with regulatory standards. The right PKI solution provider will be well-versed in the latest cryptographic standards and security measures. By shifting to a managed service, organizations can focus on their core operations and leave the specialized task of PKI management to the experts.

It's time for a change

Managed PKI solutions simplify the complexities of traditional PKI. They deliver a streamlined, secure, and scalable platform through highly available certificate authorities, real-time certificate lifecycle monitoring, and robust data backup and recovery services. 

When your organization faces challenges in managing an increasing number of digital certificates, desires to reduce the costs and efforts of in-house PKI, or seeks to enhance security and compliance, it is time to consider a managed PKI solution. Keyfactor’s PKI as a Service is especially beneficial for enterprises looking to modernize their PKI infrastructure, focusing on automation and scalability to support evolving digital security needs.

Ready to explore managed PKI solutions for your organization? Consider scheduling a demo with Keyfactor to understand how PKI-as-a-Service can meet your specific needs.