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Hidden risks in the use of Digital Certificates

Since the approval of the European eIDAS regulation in 2014, relating to electronic identification and trust services for electronic transactions, the landscape of digital certificates and electronic signatures has undergone a revolution. This harmonised and robust regulatory framework has facilitated secure, cross-border electronic transactions in the EU, increasing confidence in these operations.

The need to intercorporate transactions and procedures with public administrations that require electronic document signing or authentication processes has made the digital certificate a key tool. Since 2021, the number of transactions and digital certificates managed by organisations has increased by 30%, reflecting the growing adoption of this technology.

However, this increase carries certain risks and vulnerabilities that must be addressed to ensure its effectiveness and protect sensitive information. This is where Qualified Trust Service Providers, such as Víntegris, play a crucial role in guaranteeing security, issuing and depositing digital certificates.

Challenges in Digital Certificate Management

Properly custody and managing digital certificates in organisations can be a significant challenge. This is due to the need to use them from multiple locations and devices, which often results in migrating certificates without deleting previous copies.

Finding and managing specific certificates within an extensive inventory can be complicated without effective digital asset management tools. Tracking the usage and activities associated with each certificate (for example, authentication and digital signatures) can require expensive auditing and monitoring systems.

Organisations with large volumes of certificates face additional challenges related to scalability and certificate lifecycle management (issuance, renewal, revocation). Properly managing these processes is crucial to ensuring security and avoiding service interruptions.

The large number of certificates increases the attack surface and the possibility of security compromises, primarily if adequate controls are not implemented.

Some organisations, aware of these challenges, resort to basic methods of storing certificates on shared devices, complementing them with security and access control tools. However, this only offers a false sense of security. On the other hand, some companies opt ​​for certificate centralisation solutions, which ensure adequate management.

The risks derived from poor certificate management fall into the category of “cyber compliance,” specifically in regulations that establish security requirements related to identity, data accuracy, and technical and organisational control measures. The GDPR, for example, specifies that technical and organisational measures must be appropriate, ensuring the accuracy of information and the traceability of compliance based on the principle of proactive responsibility.

Depending on the sector and the entity’s activity, adequate control of certificates is essential, especially if standards such as NIS 2 or DORA and standards such as ENS or ISO 27001 apply.

Main Risks and Vulnerabilities of Digital Certificates

  1. Identity Spoofing: Digital signatures can be vulnerable to spoofing attempts, where an attacker impersonates the legitimate owner of the signature. This risk can compromise the authenticity and integrity of digitally signed documents.
  2. Key Theft: The cryptographic keys used in the digital signature are an attractive target for cybercriminals. The theft of these keys can allow an attacker to sign documents on behalf of the legitimate owner, thus compromising the security of the information.
  3. Document Integrity: The integrity of digitally signed documents may be questioned if there are vulnerabilities in the signing process or the cryptographic algorithms used. Any unauthorized document alteration can go unnoticed, affecting confidence in the digital signature system.
  4. Signature Forgery: Forgery of digital signatures is a significant risk, especially if verification mechanisms are not robust. An attacker could create a fake digital signature that is accepted as valid, which could have severe legal and financial consequences.
  5. Insecure Storage: Keys stored on devices or systems with insufficient security measures are more susceptible to theft.
  6. Unsecured Transmission: Attackers can intercept the transmission of keys over unsecured channels.
  7. Technical Vulnerabilities: Attackers can exploit technical vulnerabilities in the software and hardware used for digital signatures to compromise the system’s security. These include flaws in cryptographic algorithms, implementation errors, and weaknesses in communication protocols.
  8. Management from Multiple Locations: Using certificates from different locations can complicate their custody and increase the risk of loss or duplication.
  9. Device Migration: When changing devices, they may forget to delete previous copies of certificates, increasing the risk of unauthorized use.
  10. Certificate Locating and Management: Locating and managing specific certificates within a large inventory can become complicated without proper digital asset management tools.
  11. Tracking and Auditing: Monitoring the usage and activities associated with each certificate can require expensive auditing and monitoring systems.
  12. Scalability and Life Cycle of Certificates: Certificate issuance, renewal, and revocation must be managed appropriately to guarantee security and avoid service interruptions.

The Solution: Centralized Certificate Management

Centralised certificate management solutions, such as nebulaCERT, offer guarantees, compliance with current legal regulations, and the provision of tools for the proper custody of digital certificates. The advantages include:

  • Diligence in the custody and management of certificates: Ensures controlled and legitimate use of certificates.
  • Automatic updating: Management by delegated regulations, avoiding the need to monitor regulatory changes.
  • Minimised risk: Avoid installing certificates on local devices where control is lost.
  • Express authorisations: Allows you to establish authorisations for using the certificate, proactively controlling its objective.
  • Advance notifications: Avoid certificate expiration by notifying us before the expiration date.
  • Remote Access: Greater flexibility in using certificates from any location and device.
  • Evidence of use: Records the date, time, and location of use, as well as the applications involved.
  • Security management policies: Increase the level of security through continuous audits.

In short, a centralised management solution for digital certificates is the best ally for organisations. It allows effective, secure use by current regulations, guarantees trust in electronic transactions, and protects sensitive information.

Discover all the benefits that the Digital Certificate Centralization Solution, nebulaCERT, can bring to your organisation.

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