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The role of machine identity management in today’s identity security

What are machine identities?

Authentication is the first step to keeping your data secure by restricting access to sensitive resources. Users are authenticated via various measures such as passwords, biometric authentication, and 2FA before they gain access to organizational resources. In the same way, machines also need to be authenticated. Any machine in an organization, be it a server, a virtual machine, or any other machine, has a unique identity that can be used to verify it. Unlike human identities, machine IDs come in the form of cryptographic keys, digital certificates, and other secrets.

The role of machine identity management in today's identity security

Content Summary

Why is machine identity management necessary?
How do machine identities work?
What are the popular machine identifiers?
The solution: Automate certificate management for machine identities

Why is machine identity management necessary?

When the identity of a user is compromised, the threat actor gets access to all the information the user has access to. However, if a machine’s identity were to be compromised, the amount of data that the threat actor can access is exponentially higher. Machines can hold information on tens of thousands of individuals, so of one of them getting compromised can bea scary concept for any organization.

Ransomware attacks have shown no signs of slowing down, rising by 92.7% in 2021 compared to 2020. The proliferation of devices that connect to corporate networks due to remote work has provided threat actors with various new targets. The sudden increase in the number of devices has made it difficult for the IT teams to manually ensure every machine is always protected.

With a comprehensive machine identity management solution in place, the risk of a threat actor finding a machine with lax security is substantially low.

How do machine identities work?

When two machines communicate, an encrypted, secure channel is created for data transfer once the machines verify each other’s identities. When a machine sends a connection request to a server or any other machine, it sends its digital certificate to the server. The server then validates the certificate and authenticates the machine. Likewise, the server also sends its certificate to the machine to get itself validated. Once all participants in the communication channel have been authenticated, they exchange keys for hashing and encryption, and a secure session is established.

What are the popular machine identifiers?

Machine IDs are usually in the form of cryptographic keys, digital certificates, and other secrets. Here are some of the commonly used certificates and keys.

  • X.509 certificates are the most widely used machine identity certificate. Each X.509 certificate provides identification of a single machine and provides information about the subject, the issuing CA, the certificate’s version, and the validity period.
  • SSH keys are key-based authentication for SSH protocol. SSH certificates are signed by a trusted CA to verify the authenticity of the machine.
  • Code-signing certificates are used to digitally sign software, applications, drivers, scripts, and executable files. This allows end users to verify the integrity of the received files.
  • Symmetric keys are used for encrypting data in transit, data at rest, and PII like credit card information.

The solution: Automate certificate management for machine identities

The validity of digital certificates has been decreasing since they were first introduced as the need to ensure security is forefront. With more devices and shorter validity periods, it’s now more important than ever to automate the process of managing digital certificates. Make sure you have a thorough scanning process that can monitor the validity of all your certificates and keys at any given time. Ensure that your certificate management solution can replace expired keys before they become a threat and rotate keys on a regular basis to reduce the possibility of being hacked. Encrypt and store digital certificates and keys in a secure location. Automate the process of securing new and updated certificates.

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