Recent breaches, vulnerabilities are compounding frustration with rapid proliferation of keys and certificates, Ponemon research says

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Security professionals are losing confidence in the ability of digital certificates and encryption keys to protect their data, according to a study published Wednesday.

The Ponemon Institute released its bi-annual Cost of Failed Trust report, a survey of 2,300 IT security pros across the globe. This year's results indicate that over the next two years, the risk facing every Global 5000 enterprise from attacks on keys and certificates is at least $53 million (USD), an increase of 51 percent from 2013.

The study, which was developed in conjunction with encryption vendor Venafi, says that the number of keys and certificates deployed on infrastructure -- such as Web servers, network appliances, and cloud services -- grew more than 34 percent over the last two years, to almost 24,000 per enterprise. Some 54 percent of respondents admitted to not knowing where all keys and certificates are located and how they're being used.

Virtually all of the respondents said their organizations have responded to multiple attacks on keys and certificates over the last two years. Incidents involving enterprise mobility certificates were assessed to have the largest total impact, at over $126 million among the 2,300 respondents.

Security researchers are reporting an increasing number of attacks on enterprises, principally man-in-the-middle attacks, that use false or compromised digital certificates to fool devices into giving up data or credentials. Researchers at Intel in December posted a blog stating that stealing certificates to sign malware will be "the next big market" for cyber criminals.

One of the key reasons for the growing problem is the rapid proliferation of keys and certificates across the enterprise, says Kevin Bocek, vice president of security strategy at Venafi. As enterprises take on new, network-based applications and technologies -- such as cloud services and mobile systems -- they increase the number of keys and certificates they use while losing visibility of where they are.

"Most of the key management systems we've seen to this point have provided vaults for storing the keys, but they don't really provide much more than that," Bocek says.

Venafi used the release of the Ponemon study as a platform for the launch of Venafi TrustNet, a new reputation service that helps enterprises gauge the trustworthiness of digital certificates and see where their own certificates are being used. The new service could help enterprises identify and stop the misuse of their certificates by attackers, Bocek says. 

About the Author(s)

Tim Wilson, Editor in Chief, Dark Reading


Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one of the top cyber security journalists in the US in voting among his peers, conducted by the SANS Institute. In 2011 he was named one of the 50 Most Powerful Voices in Security by SYS-CON Media.

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