SCEP stands for Simple Certificate Enrollment Protocol. SCEP was created by VeriSign, Inc., and was published as an Internet Draft by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) in 1999. It was initially built to enable creation and management of X.509 certificates in large-scale environments. Simply put, it’s a protocol used to automate the issuance and management of certificates within a Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) environment. SCEP is primarily designed for certificate enrollment on devices such as routers, switches, and other network devices.
Think of a certificate as a digital ID card for devices and websites. For this ID to be valid, it needs a stamp of approval from a trusted group called a Certificate Authority (CA). For more information on certificate authorities, check out our blogs on public vs private CAs and root vs issuing/subordinate CAs. SCEP helps devices and systems talk smoothly with this authority, using a web link and a shared code. This makes the whole process quicker and cuts down on manual work.
Here is an easy 4-step breakdown of how SCEP works:
1. SCEP Endpoint
This refers to the SCEP URL, allowing a device to connect with the Certificate Authority for the purpose of obtaining an enrollment certificate.
2. SCEP Shared Secret
This is a secure, case-sensitive password functioning as a SCEP shared secret. It is used for mutual authentication between the Certificate Authority and SCEP server, verifying the identities and domains linked to the CA certificate.
3. SCEP CSR
Once the SCEP gateway is established and the shared secret is communicated, users can generate and deploy a configuration profile. This profile allows managed devices to automatically enroll for certificates. They do this by sending a request for certificate enrollment to the CA via the SCEP gateway, followed by the issuance of a signed certificate to the device after authentication.
4. SCEP Signing Certificate
The SCEP-signed certificate is uploaded through Mobile Device Management (MDM). This certificate encompasses the complete certificate chain, including the root CA, intermediate CA, and the end-entity certificate.
SCEP has been popular for many years. Why? It’s free and saves time for IT teams, making it a top choice for business security.
SCEP enables devices to request, obtain, and renew certificates without manual intervention. It’s commonly used in enterprise environments where a large number of devices require certificates for secure communication and authentication purposes. It simplifies the enrollment process and allows organizations to efficiently manage certificates across a diverse range of network devices.
Lots of systems use SCEP. If you’ve heard of MDM systems like Microsoft Intune, ManageEngine MDM Plus or Apple MDM, they use SCEP to help phones and tablets connect safely to business tools. Devices like routers, Wi-Fi spots, and VPN tools also use SCEP to get their digital IDs.
SCEP helps phones, tablets, and networking tools get their digital ID cards, so they can connect safely to business networks and apps. This protocol works well with popular systems like Windows, Linux, Apple’s iOS, and MacOS. Plus, it’s compatible with directories like Active Directory.
We have a whole separate blog dedicated to teaching you how Intune SCEP works, but here is a quick overview for your reading pleasure:
If you’re using Intune, you’re probably trying to move away from legacy on-premises technology and move your security to the cloud; to create a secure and compliant CA for Intune, you can use EZCA, the Azure-based PKI. EZCA connects to Intune using their third-party APIs and enables you to create SCEP certificates for Intune without the overhead of managing a complex PKI.
Intune starts the certificate creation workflow by sending a challenge to the client device. Then, the device creates a private key and a Certificate Signing Request (CSR) and sends it with the challenge to EZCA. EZCA then validates with Intune whether this request is valid; once Intune approves the request, EZCA creates the certificate and Intune installs the resulting certificate in the device.
Certificates are excellent when it comes to digital security, but obtaining and managing them can be a nightmare. Doing this manually is painfully slow and leaves plenty of room for error. Think about it: setting up a single certificate might take hours. Now imagine doing this for thousands of devices! If done manually, organizations risk system outages, security breaches, and cyber-attacks. Plus, certificates can be forgotten or mismanaged, leading to more issues.
That’s where SCEP shines. It automates getting and setting up these digital ID cards, removing the need for human work. This means fewer mistakes, less risk, and cost savings for businesses.
While SCEP certainly has its advantages, it’s important to remember that, like any technology, it needs to be configured correctly and managed properly to provide maximum benefit. Negligence could lead to security vulnerabilities and operational inefficiencies. For instance, using SCEP in conjunction with additional protocols or security layers can provide enhanced security; however, organizations should be aware of these limitations when deploying SCEP and ensure they are following best practices for secure certificate management.
To learn more about how EZCA can help you create a secure Intune CA and create SCEP certificates for Intune, schedule a FREE consultation with one of our ex-Microsoft PKI experts today!