Calum MacLeod on trust

This article first appeared in issue 239 of .net magazine – the world's best-selling magazine for web designers and developers.

.net: So, what is the black art of EKCM?
Enterprise Key and Certificate Management (EKCM) is all about the control over trust. In today’s enterprise, and out in the cloud, trust is established by cryptographic keys and digital certificates used with everything from web servers to cash points and smartphones. In global enterprises there are tens of thousands of keys and certificates – most unknown beyond the administrator or developer who need them to get their job done.

To the average developer or administrator, keys and certificates are a necessary evil. But small errors or oversights have caused borders to close, aeroplanes to stop flying and entire governments to shut down communications. Now malicious attackers are using the trust that’s too often taken for granted to attack enterprises by stealing digital certificates or faking signatures to make code appear to come from a trustworthy source.

Lose control over the trust with keys and certificates and there is no way you can live up to the responsibility outlined in regulations.

.net: Given the size and complexity of global enterprises, can we realistically expect just one person or team of manage security of this kind?
Establishing trust doesn’t take just one person or one machine and can’t be managed by any single person in a global enterprise. People own devices, administrators manage servers and virtual machines, and developers build applications. While you can automate every single process in using keys and certificates, from the generation, issuance and installation, you can’t complete the process. Therefore, you have control over trust without connecting the people who are responsible and benefit from its use. Ultimately, security relies on a person, in this case the administrator or developer, who can make wrong or right choices with the applications that use keys and certificates.

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