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How to Renew and Automate SSL Certificates

Gestion des certificats

SSL certificates, synonymous with security on the Internet, are deployed across a vast array of digital interactions. The SSL certificate, which has evolved to rely on the more modern TLS protocol, serves as the backbone of secure communications and data integrity. 

Both enterprise organizations and humble startups leverage many types of certificates to secure their communications, network access, virtual private networks, single sign-on systems, and IoT or OT devices. The increasing use of SSL certificates in recent years can be attributed to several factors, including safer browsing requirements, the proliferation of connected devices, heightened digital security, and an industry push by Google to use SSL since 2014. 

The world of SSL certificates is vast and dynamic, constantly evolving to meet new industry standards. Understanding the significance of SSL certificates and adopting practices to automate SSL certificate renewal allows organizations to take steps toward a secure digital environment. 

Want to jump straight into renewing your SSL certificate? Follow these steps.

How long does it take to renew an SSL certificate? 

Every digitally connected organization, website, or application has a specific kind of SSL certificate and a certain process to revalidate the SSL certificate.

SSL Certificates:

  • Single Domain Certificate: Secures a single domain.
  • Wildcard Certificate: Secures a domain and all its subdomains
  • Multi-Domain (SAN) Certificate: Secures multiple domains and/or subdomains within a single certificate definition. 

Types of Validation:

  • Domain Validation (DV) renewal typically only takes a few minutes. DV only validates the ownership of a domain rather than the entire organizational validation. Organizations can confirm ownership of the domain through email, DNS records, or file-based authentication.
  • Organization Validation (OV) will typically take 4-5 days to renew. OV certificates require additional validation steps beyond domain ownership, such as verifying the legal entity and physical location of the organization. Certificate authorities (CAs) may request documentation, such as business registration records or legal authorization, during the renewal process, which can contribute to a longer processing time. 
  • Extended Validation (EV) SSL certificates can take between 1-2 weeks to process. SSL certificates undergoing EV may require an extensive verification of the organization’s legal status, physical presence, and operational legitimacy. CAs thoroughly investigate organizations by contacting government agencies and researching the legal authority of the SSL certificate. 

 

SSL certificate renewal best practices recommend renewing your certificate 30 days before expiration. Most organizations automate SSL certificate renewal before the certificate expires to avoid outages.

Renewing your certificate 30 days before its expiration gives ample time to verify the organization and handle any legal disputes.

Why do SSL certificates expire?

All digital certificates, including SSL certificates, have an expiry date. Best-practice guidance continues to prescribe shorter periods of validity. The time at which a certificate expires is often up for debate but it’s known that an expiration time is crucial. The expiration mechanism is fundamental to security infrastructures and serves several important purposes:

  • Expiry dates enforce renewals at predictable moments, prompting organizations to review and possibly upgrade their PKI at frequent intervals. SSL certificate expiration plays a critical role in maintaining trust and credibility with customers, partners, and regulatory bodies. 
  • Most SSL certificates expire 398 days from issuance, or sooner depending on the security requirements of your organization. Most browsers will alert you if a certificate has a longer lifespan than the browser can accept. Best practices recommend setting certificate expiration to occur between three and six months after issuance. This process is made easier if you automate SSL certificate renewal. 

 

An expired certificate may be a sign that a server is running with no one maintaining it for a very long time—long enough for an attacker to compromise the system and leverage it for malicious activity. Most browsers represent this secure connection with a padlock icon or lock symbol with the related URL containing “https.” 

  • The loss or expiration of an SSL certificate can result in a drop in website visitors. If the SSL certificate is deployed on an application, letting the SSL certificate expire can disrupt services for users, whether they are internal within your organization or customers of your product.
  • Maintaining an active SSL certificate empowers you with controlled access; bolstering your security defenses against potential threats and providing a smooth, secure,  working environment. An expired certificate may result in downtime, outages, and lost productivity if the requested system is configured to deny requests.

6 steps to renew an SSL certificate

Before you begin SSL certificate renewal, assess the certificate type and validity period. As mentioned, there are different types of SSL certificate validation, each with its own processing time and validation requirements. Once you’ve identified your SSL certificate and its validation requirements, you’re ready to renew your certificate.

  • Generate a certificate signing request (CSR). A CSR is typically generated from your server or hosting platform. A CSR contains information about your organization and the domain(s) you wish to secure. The following information may be in the CSR:
    • Common Name (CN): The primary domain name for the certificate.
    • Organization Name: For OV or EV certificates, provide the legal name of your organization.
    • Organization Unit (OU): Optional field indicating the department or unit within your organization.
    • City, State/Province, Country: Physical location information.
    • Email Address: Contact email for the certificate and renewal notifications.
    • Key Size: Typically 2048-bit or higher for security. Read more here if you’re unsure of your key size. 
  • Choose a trusted Certificate Authority (CA) and submit your CSR for renewal using their online portal. The CA will contact you if any additional documentation is needed. 
  • Undergo the validation process as required by the CA. For OV and EV certificates, this may involve providing legal documentation, responding to verification calls or emails, or confirming domain ownership. 
  • Receive and install your renewed certificate by downloading the certificate files from your CA’s platform. Install the renewed certificate on your hosting environment by following the instructions provided by CA or your server hosting provider. 
  • Verify the SSL certificate installation by using SSL connection tools or with a browser to ensure a secure connection.
  • Update any remaining SSL certificate expiration reminders. Set new reminders for future SSL certificate renewals in accordance with best practices.

3 reasons to automate SSL certificate renewal

To err is human. Without enabling automatic renewals, there’s a good chance your SSL encryption renewal might completely fall off your radar. Automating your SSL certificate renewal is a proactive approach that streamlines the process, reducing the risk of manual errors, preventing outages, and safeguarding your organization’s reputation. 

  • The manual certificate renewal process is prone to human errors, such as forgetting renewal deadlines, misconfiguring certificate settings, or overlooking crucial steps. When you automate SSL certificate renewal, you eliminate costly mistakes. 
  • An expired SSL certificate can cause service disruptions, downtime, and outages that impact the user experience and business continuity. Automate SSL certificate renewal to ensure that valid certificates are consistently in place. 
  • Improper SSL certificate renewal and expiration can tarnish an organization’s reputation and erode trust with customers, partners, and stakeholders. The ability to automate SSL certificate renewal demonstrates a commitment to security best practices. 

 

Want to learn more? Check out our short video on automating certificate renewals, or request a demo with one of our PKI experts.