3 Key Use Cases for Certificate-Based Authentication

October 20, 2022

Trends Favor Certificates

Certificate-based authentication has been around for a while, but more organizations are recognizing its value in today’s IP-connected world. As cybersecurity threats evolve to become more potent and difficult to detect, organizations are relying more on certificate-based solutions to keep their networks safe and secure.

There are several trends that make certificate-based authentication more attractive to organizations. “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) policies mean a flood of unrecognized devices on corporate networks. IT professionals lose sleep imagining rogue machines lying in wait as they quietly siphon data and commit untold damage to networks and connected devices.

These trends are shaping digital certificates as one solution of many to secure vital endpoints. The following use cases explain how organizations put certificate-based authentication to action as part of their best practices.

A Quick Primer on Certificate-Based Authentication

Trust is paramount when it comes to your organization’s network. You must be able to trust the users and machines that constantly request and gain access on a daily basis. It only takes one bad actor to create a serious security threat that leaves your organization’s data and infrastructure vulnerable.

Organizations utilize certificate-based authentication as a means of vetting users and devices. Each user and/or device has its own digital certificate. Any authorized user or device wanting to access network resources must have their certificate checked against a list of trusted certificates. Any user or device that’s not on the list is prevented from gaining access.

If you’ve ever visited a website before, then chances are you’ve run into a form of certificate-based authentication already. Nearly all modern web browsers rely on the SSL/TLS internet security protocol to authenticate online transactions. In this case, publicly trusted certificates are used to verify the server’s identity and encrypt data exchanged between it and the client.

These certificates are commonly known as “public” certificates, as they’re openly issued and trusted by nearly all devices and operating systems in current use. A “private” certificate, on the other hand, is used solely by organizations on their own networks and infrastructure. Private certificates are often used in conjunction with PKI authentication, allowing organizations to better manage their certificates.

Another way that certificate-based authentication differs from other forms of authentication is the lack of additional hardware needed. Whereas other methods call for one-time password tokens or biometrics, the necessary certificates reside locally on the device itself. Storing the certificate in this manner makes it easier to distribute, replace and revoke the certificate as needed and at a lower cost.

Common Use Cases

1. User Authentication

The work day is just starting and you need access to your corporate email account from your work PC. Perhaps you also need access to Office365 and other cloud-based apps, too. You log into the Azure AD sign-in page.

Instead of signing in by entering a password, you’ll click the “Sign in with a certificate” link. At this point, Azure AD certificate-based authentication steps in to verify the certificate and either approve or revoke access based on the certificate’s status.

As you can see, certificate-based authentication makes it easier to identify authorized users without adding the burden of passwords or other convoluted authorization measures on end-users. The entire process is designed to be as quick and seamless as possible from the end-user’s perspective. With the certificate stored on the device, there’s nothing more for the user to do except click.

Certificate-based authentication also makes it effortless for organizations to restrict access from unauthorized users and rogue machines.

2. Mobile Device Authentication

You bring a smartphone or a laptop to work and attempt to connect to your organization’s Wi-Fi. It’s a BYOD device, which means it’s not issued by the organization but instead brought in from outside. Before it can access the network and the data therein, it must be digitally identified and approved via private certificate.

Certificate-based authentication ensures that device has explicit permission to access your network resources. With the help of a managed PKI solution, organizations can utilize their private certificates to assign a digital identity to each employee-owned device. Said devices are authenticated every time they request access to the network.

Certificate-based Wi-Fi authentication ensures that the corporate Wi-Fi not only remains secure, but users are also protected against malicious attacks from threat actors and unplanned outages.

3. Machine Authentication

Your company operates a series of payment kiosks across the country. Customers depend on these devices to pay for various services via cash, credit and debit card. However, these devices also present massive risks for things like identity theft. Hardcoded credentials and identities make it more difficult for organizations to properly secure these so-called “smart” devices, if they’re managed at all. The end result is an increased threat of attacks from hackers and other threat actors.

Certificate-based authentication ensures that these machines are the only ones approved to communicate with your network and encrypt and transmit mission-critical data. It can be especially helpful in securing the connected IoT environment. This means that the only people who have access to private information are the ones who should have it.

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Certificate-Based Authentication: Is It Right for You?

The above use cases show just how organizations can implement certificate-based authentication to secure their resources and protect end users. While certificate management can be a challenging task for those who are new to certificate-based authentication, these downsides are often overshadowed by the numerous advantages.

Partnering with experts can give you a leg up when it comes to planning and implementing your own certificate-based authentication system. A trusted partner can help guide you through the intricacies of implementing and utilizing this authentication method and offer insights on other aspects of your network security.

Get in touch with the experts at Axiad today and discover how our certificate-based authentication offerings can help improve your bottom line.

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