Automating SSL Certificate Management with Certbot and Let’s Encrypt

As we posted previously, following best practices for SSL certificate management is critical to properly secure your site. In that post, we discussed automating certificate management as a best practice. This post is an example of how to do just that.
To do so, we will use the highly-trusted free certificate provider Let’s Encrypt. We will also leverage the free certificate automation tool Certbot.

Installing Certbot

Installing Certbot is pretty easy, overall, but you do need to be comfortable with the command line and generally know how to configure your chosen web server. That said, if you check out the Certbot site, you will find a dropdown menu that will let you pick your chosen web server and operating system. Once you make your selections, simply follow the on-screen step-by-step instructions. In our testing, we found them to be complete and intuitive.

That’s It!

Following the on-screen instructions will have:

  • Certbot installed
  • Configure your web server for the certificate
  • Generate, get and install the certificate
  • Implement automatic renewals of the certificate to prevent expiration

You can literally go from a basic website to fully implemented and automated SSL in a matter of moments. Plenty of support is available from EFF for Certbot, or via Let’s Encrypt. In our testing, we ran into no issues and the implementation completed successfully each time.

Give it a shot! This might be one of the easiest and most effective security controls to automate. Together, Certbot and Let’s Encrypt can create a no-cost cryptography solution for your web sites in a very short amount of time.

Beware of Drive Erasure Problems on SSD Drives

There is a lot of interesting research going on right now with the processes and tools that may be useful in erasing the new solid state drives that many laptops and other systems are using. The traditional methods of magnetic cleansing (degaussing), and even file over-write tools that have been in use now for decades in many organizations, have little to no effect on removing sensitive data on these solid state drives.

Here is a nice article explaining some of the problems.

As described in the article, it seems that many of our current data management and cleansing techniques simply do not apply to these solid state memory-based devices. This makes drive encryption all the more urgent, as these systems are beginning to pop up in many organizations that are starting their hardware refresh processes after delaying them due to economic conditions.

If you are an information security team, or an IT team considering such purchases, please make appropriate cryptography a part of your solution. Many solutions exist by a variety of vendors today with pricing ranging from near zero to the cost of full-scale commercial enterprise implementations in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Complexity also ranges from trivial and built into the operating system to quite high, depending on centralized management and remote assistance capabilities.

No matter how you to choose to address the problem, the key factor is that you are aware that SSD systems are a different animal with unique challenges versus traditional hard disks. Knowing that will at least put you on the right path toward investigating a solution and updating your processes.