The Importance of PKI
Businesses are becoming ever more dependent on digital information and electronic transactions, and as a result face stringent data privacy compliance challenges and data security regulations. With the enterprise increasingly under threat of cyber attacks and malicious insiders, business applications and networks are now dependent on the use of digital credentials to control how users and entities access sensitive data and critical system resources.
Over the years, there have been a few forms of authentication which have been developed to safeguard critical and sensitive data. The most basic method of encryption is single password sign-on. While many businesses end up using these kinds of verifications, they are scrutinized for the relatively simple ways in which they can be defeated. Passwords are a great place to start; but they are rife with shortcomings that prevent them from protecting information all on their own.
One-time passwords (OTP) can be an effective solution. OTP solutions first took the form of code generators and plug-in tokens that authenticated users with random codes on top of their personal passwords. But this method has taken a new step thanks to text messaging and mobile applications. OTPs can be sent to smartphones and tablets upon the successful input of user-generated alphanumerics. That means if the phone is in the wrong hands then it can be used for malicious purposes. Therefore, among all the authentication systems, Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) has emerged as the trusted technology of choice for ensuring the trustworthiness of identity credentials.
In recent years, it has become the cornerstone of how data is encrypted as it is passed over the internet using SSL/TLS – without it, e-commerce wouldn’t be practical. PKI is used to digitally sign documents transactions, and software to prove the source as well as the integrity of those materials – in important task as Trojans and other malware proliferates.
There are a number of important concepts that can prove why PKIs are so important. Well, the answer is that almost all security controls ultimately come down to authentication and access controls. Encryption is a powerful tool for protecting confidentiality but unless that data can be decrypted it is forever useless. Determining who has the right to decrypt data and to access applications becomes the critical issue. When we think about cloud computing, virtualization, outsourcing and other examples of where the traditional perimeter defenses in an organization has started to evaporate the need to authenticate and verify becomes clear. If a company cares about the integrity of its data and systems, it must either deploy a PKI with an appropriate set of checks and balances or use a third party service it can trust. Failure to do so leaves an organization exposed and increasingly vulnerable compared to other potential victims.
Critical to the proper functioning of a PKI are digital certificates. Much like a passport certifies one’s identity as a citizen of a country, the digital certificate gives the key pair a meaning and establishes the identity of users within a group. As a consequence it is vital to protect the authenticity and integrity of the digital certificates and the process by which they are created and issued – otherwise the credentials can’t be trusted. This is what has been achieved by CCA in creating RCAI and regulated certificate policies.