The Shortcut Guide to Certificates in the Enterprise

by Don Jones


Do you use digital certificates? Not just utilize SSL certificates for Web servers but really use digital certificates in your enterprise? The many ways in which certificates can be employed to improve security, stability, reliability, and more are amazing—and what's equally amazing is how few businesses really leverage these simple, powerful tools.

In The Shortcut Guide to Certificates in the Enterprise, author Don Jones shows you all the ways that certificates can help easily solve common challenges, explains what certificates are and how they work, and offers creative ideas for using certificates effectively.


Chapter 1 : Digital Certificates Crash Course

Digital certificates are becoming more and more prevalent throughout today’s enterprises, and for good reason: In many cases, they offer the opportunity for better security, less complexity, and an overall more stable and trustworthy IT environment. In many ways, they’re a magic bullet for some of IT’s longest-standing and trickiest problems, although certificates sometimes seem like one of the most-overlooked and often-ignored technology solutions out there. If you’ve never looked at digital certificates before, now is definitely the time: More technologies are using them in more ways, and the sooner you start taking advantage of them, the better off you’ll be.

In this guide, I’ll be introducing you to digital certificates and their place within the enterprise. In this chapter, I’ll begin with an introduction to digital certificates and how they work; if you thought that they were just for encrypting email and Web server traffic, then you may be in for a bit of surprise. In Chapter 2, we’ll look at the many ways in which digital certificates are used within a modern enterprise, including some familiar ways and some that might surprise you. In Chapter 3, we’ll dive deep into the issue of certificate trust and explore the real value of a certificate (it isn’t encryption, believe it or not) as well as the responsibilities of someone who issues certificates (whether it’s someone internal to your enterprise or a commercial partner). Finally, in Chapter 4, we’ll cover some of the “gotchas” surrounding certificates—the things that can come back to bite you if you don’t know about them.

Now, let’s jump in and see what certificates are, and how they work.

Chapter 2: The Many Faces of Digital Certificates

We’re all accustomed to digital certificates when they’re used to identify and secure the connection to a Web server—“SSL certificates,” although that name is technically a bit inaccurate, as we’ll discuss in a moment. But certificates’ usefulness goes far beyond Web servers and the HTTPS protocol. In fact, in many ways, certificates have always held the solution for some of IT’s most irritating and difficult challenges. Want to eliminate malware? Try using certificates. Want to be compliant with some piece of legislation? Certificates can help. Trying to find a way to authenticate business partners to an extranet? Yes, certificates offer a solution.

Certificates have been around for a long time, and you might not even be aware of the ways in which they already help you solve tricky problems. In this chapter, we’ll start with some of the most common uses—ones that you’re probably already familiar with—just so we can be comprehensive. We’ll then go beyond those common uses and start talking about some of certificates’ lesser‐known capabilities in the enterprise.

Chapter 3: Trust, Trust, Trust—the Root of a Useful Certificate

In previous chapters, I’ve written briefly about the role that trust plays in digital certificates, and how digital certificates are essentially ID cards. In this chapter, we’re going to dive into that concept in a lot more depth, and really illustrate how certificates work from a trust perspective.

Chapter 4: Certificate "Gotchas"—What You Don't Know Will Hurt You

I’m always running into administrators and users who have "given up" on certificates because they’ve run into troubles with them. There’s no question that certificates can be a bit complicated, and there are definitely a few "gotchas" that can make them seem even more complicated-and even annoying. In this chapter, we’ll explore some of the more common certificate snags, and look at ways of avoiding them entirely.