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The Low-Stress Way to Fix an Expired SSL Certificate

Gestión de certificados

SSL certificates are crucial for securing data transmission between your website and its visitors.

Businesses use SSL certificates to protect everything from customer transactions on e-commerce sites to sensitive data exchanges on corporate portals. When an SSL certificate expires, it can lead to severe consequences, including staff disruptions, data breaches, and service disruptions. 

High-profile outages, like those experienced by Starlink and Microsoft Teams, highlight the importance of certificate management. Just one expired SSL certificate can cause significant problems, damaging your business and reputation. Let’s dive into how you can quickly and efficiently recover after an SSL certificate expires.

 

So your SSL certificate expired—here’s how to fix it

Step 1: Find the certificate

First, you need to locate the expired SSL certificate. This can be challenging as certificates can reside in multiple places, especially wildcard certificates, which are often used across dozens or even hundreds of servers and locations. Ideally, you have done discovery through scanning and have good visibility into your Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) with all certificates identified. You know when they’re set to expire, where they’re located, what they’re used for, and what systems or assets they’re connected to.

However, many organizations lack a complete inventory of their certificates or cryptographic assets. According to the Keyfactor’s 2024 PKI and Digital Trust report, 91% of organizations are deploying more certificates than ever, yet only 32% reported using a dedicated certificate lifecycle management tool. If you can’t perform proactive certificate discovery, you can’t protect yourself from unknown certificates.

To find the certificate manually, filter or aggregate logs from your tools and search for events generated by an expired certificate. Once you’ve found the expired certificate, you can take steps to renew it and restore functionality.

Step 2: Renew the certificate

Obtain a new Certificate Signing Request (CSR)

To start the renewal process, you need a new Certificate Signing Request (CSR). You can obtain this by contacting your hosting provider or accessing your hosting control panel where your SSL is based. The CSR is essential for creating your new SSL certificate.

Select and purchase an SSL certificate

Next, choose an SSL certificate that meets your validation needs. This step involves selecting the right type of certificate and deciding how long it will be valid for. You’ll need to provide specific details about your domain and organization to ensure the certificate meets your requirements.

Validate your renewal

To validate your renewal, you must complete a Domain Control Validation (DCV). This step confirms your ownership rights to the domain. You can complete DCV through one of three methods:

  • Email validation: Respond to an email sent to an administrative address on your domain.
  • HTTP validation: Place a specific file on your web server.
  • DNS-Based validation: Add a specific DNS record to your domain’s DNS settings.

Verify organization validation (OV) and extended validation (EV) certificates

If you have an Organization Validation (OV) or Extended Validation (EV) certificate, additional verification is required. You’ll need to resubmit your organization’s documents to the CA. This process takes longer than domain validation:

  • OV Certificates: Verification can take up to a week.
  • EV Certificates: Verification can take up to two weeks.

Completing these steps ensures your SSL certificate is renewed, keeping your website secure and maintaining the trust of your users. However, these steps are time-consuming. Automation can help reduce tedious tasks and bring the process down to a single click, or even no clicks at all with auto-renewal and provisioning.

Step 3: Install the new SSL certificate on your server

After the renewal phase, your new SSL certificate will be emailed to you. This email will typically include the certificate file and detailed instructions on how to install it. 

The installation process can vary depending on your server type and hosting environment, so it’s crucial to follow the specific guidelines provided. Generally, you’ll need to upload the certificate to your server and configure your web server (such as Apache, Nginx, or IIS) to use the new certificate. 

If you encounter any difficulties during the installation process, contact your hosting provider for assistance. Many hosting providers offer support services to help with SSL certificate installations. They can guide you through the steps or even handle the installation for you, ensuring that the certificate is correctly deployed and that your website remains secure.

Step 4: Check details and add it to your management system

Visit your website using a secure (HTTPS) connection and ensure that the browser shows a padlock icon, indicating that the SSL certificate is correctly installed and active. Additionally, you can use online tools to check for any potential issues with the installation. 

You can also check for the padlock icon in the browser’s address bar to confirm that the SSL certificate is correctly installed and active. Click on the padlock to view detailed information about the certificate, including the issuing CA, expiration date, subject, and cipher suite.

If you’re manually managing certificate lifecycles through spreadsheets or similar methods, be sure to record your new SSL certificate details, including its expiration date. Keeping accurate records helps you stay on top of renewal dates and prevents future expirations. 

It is possible to manage a few certificates manually, but this approach is prone to errors and oversights, which can lead to security lapses, failed audits, and costly outages. Documenting details such as the issuer, expiration date, serial number, key size, and supported cipher suites in a spreadsheet can quickly become unmanageable as your certificate inventory grows. 

For greater efficiency and scalability, consider a Certificate Lifecycle Automation (CLA) system to automate tracking, send expiration alerts and facilitate approvals, and integrate seamlessly with your infrastructure for automated renewals, reducing the risk of human error and ensuring continuous security. CLA systems are designed to scale with your organization, providing comprehensive oversight and management capabilities as your digital infrastructure expands.

How a CLA solution can help

1. Identification and alerts

If you have a CLA solution, you don’t have to wonder whether an SSL certificate expired. You can easily identify where a certificate resides, when it expires, and who is responsible for renewing it. The CLA solution can deliver alerts to ensure certificates are renewed before they expire, preventing unexpected outages and security risks.

2. Streamlined renewals

With a CLA solution, you can set up self-service and approval workflows for certificate renewals. This streamlines the process and ensures that renewals are handled promptly. Some CLA solutions even allow for the automation of renewals, further reducing the risk of expirations.

3. Automated provisioning

A CLA solution can automate the provisioning and installation of the certificate to the endpoint or server. It can also bind the certificate to the correct website, port, and/or IP address, ensuring seamless lifecycle management and reducing the likelihood of human error during manual installations.

With a CLA solution, you can maintain comprehensive visibility and control over your SSL certificates, minimizing the risk of expirations and the associated disruptions to your business operations.

Never get caught off guard

Getting caught by an expired SSL certificate should never happen to any organization. Fortunately, there are solutions available to help prevent such occurrences in the future. 

Not sure where to begin? Use this certificate management maturity model to identify where you are today and the practical steps you can take to get even better.

A closer look at the five levels of certificate management maturity.

Don’t let an expired certificate compromise your website’s security and reputation. Take proactive steps to manage your SSL certificates effectively with CLA solutions like Keyfactor Command. This tool offers discovery, tracking, and automation within a universal CLA hub.

Keyfactor Command is the best way for you to streamline your certificate management processes, ensure timely renewals, and maintain the security and trustworthiness of your digital assets.