Browser manufacturers shorten certificate lifetime to one year

From September onwards, HTTPS certificates may only be issued for a maximum of one year.

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CAcert will adapt the free certificates

The maximum validity of certificates for proof of identity on the web will be further reduced – in the next step to one year. Although a vote on this issue in the CA/Browser Forum failed in September due to resistance from the certification authorities, it is still being discussed. But in March Apple came forward and declared that Safari will only accept certificates issued after September 1, 2020 if they are not valid for more than one year.

Now Mozilla and Google are following suit and creating facts. In the past, terms of 5 years were not unusual. Currently, certificates may still be issued for 2 years (more precisely: 825 days — i.e. plus some grace period). With the renewed tightening, Chrome, for example, delivers an ERR_CERT_VALIDITY_TOO_LONG if a certificate was issued after September 1, 2020 and is valid for more than 398 days.

Revocation broken

The main reason for the constant shortening of the certificate lifetime is the fact that there is no generally functioning revocation mechanism by which a certificate could be revoked. Revocation lists (CRLs) and the Online Certificate Status Protocol (OCSP) have proven to be unsuitable and are now switched off by default.

The browser manufacturers still maintain their own internal revocation lists, which they can use to react to acute incidents. But this is a quasi manual procedure that can only cover significant problem cases. Ultimately, the browser manufacturers are now focusing on damage limitation: if, for example, the secret key of a certificate is stolen, an expiration date that is approaching as soon as possible should solve the problem.

No need for action for users

Lets Encrypt, which meanwhile dominates the market, is the pioneer and only issues certificates for 3 months anyway. Renewal is then automated via ACME. According to Mozilla, however, the other certification authorities have also agreed to only issue certificates for 398 days from September 1. In view of the demonstration of power of the browser manufacturers, they probably don’t have much choice.

As a web site operator, you don’t have to do anything else – even if you still have a certificate with a longer validity in operation. The new rule only applies to certificates issued after September 1, 2020.

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