eMudhra Blog Automated Certificate Management Environment

Unleashing the Power of Automation with ACME and emSign

By eMudhra Editorial on January 16, 2023
Unleashing the Power of Automation with ACME and emSign

Automated Certificate Management Environment, commonly known as ACME, is a groundbreaking protocol that completely automates the issuance, renewal, and revocation of security certificates. Devised by the Internet Security Research Group (ISRG) for their Let’s Encrypt service, ACME has since been embraced by a plethora of certificate authorities (CAs), PKI vendors, and web browsers.

ACME Versions and their Evolutions

The ACME protocol has evolved considerably since its inception. ACME v1 was introduced in 2016 with support for single domain certificates, which was later superseded by ACME v2 in 2018. The upgraded version introduced support for wildcard certificates and offered enhanced security measures to bolster domain ownership verification.

The ACME protocol reached a significant milestone in 2019, when the IETF standardized it in RFC8555, allowing for wider adaptation. ACME v2, however, is not backward compatible with v1, leading to the deprecation of the latter in June 2021.

Effortless Certificate Management with ACME

At its core, ACME is designed to simplify and automate the process of obtaining and managing domain validated (DV) certificates. Through ACME, the verification of domain existence, certificate issuance, and installation becomes a streamlined procedure, eliminating the need for human intervention.

Although ACME's primary use is for DV certificates, the protocol can also assist in procuring higher-value certificates like organization validated (OV) and extended validation (EV). For these certificate types, additional support mechanisms must be implemented alongside the ACME agent.

Implementing an ACME Client

The integration of an ACME client onto your server or domain is a simple process. After selecting a client, such as emSign, the protocol's installation consists of five steps:

  1. Input the domain that needs to be managed.
  2. Choose a Certificate Authority (CA) that supports ACME from the list.
  3. Generate an authorization key pair upon establishing contact with the chosen CA.
  4. Complete DNS or HTTPS challenges issued by the CA to demonstrate domain control.
  5. Sign a nonce (randomly generated number) from the CA using the agent's private key to confirm ownership.

ACME and Certificate Automation

The process of issuing and renewing certificates using ACME is remarkably straightforward. The client sends certificate management requests and signs them with the authorized key pair. Both issuance and renewal processes operate on similar principles:

  1. The agent sends a Certificate Signing Request (CSR) to the CA for a certificate for the authorized domain.
  2. The CSR and the domain’s authorized key are signed with the corresponding private key.
  3. The CA verifies both signatures, issues a certificate for the domain, and returns it to the agent.

The Critical Need for ACME

According to the 2021 State of Machine Identity Management Report, 40% of organizations still rely on manual tracking of certificates. This approach often leads to unexpected outages caused by expired or misconfigured certificates. In an era characterized by rapid technological progress, relying on outdated manual methods exposes businesses to considerable risk and inefficiency.

Emphasizing CA (emSign) Agility

The ability to switch between CAs effortlessly, known as CA agility, is vital for maintaining business continuity and resilience. Overdependence on a single CA could potentially lead to catastrophic consequences in case of a compromise or service outage. ACME ensures CA agility, offering businesses the flexibility to select from numerous CAs during the configuration stage.

ACME with emSign

emSign is a recognized CA that seamlessly integrates with ACME, supporting businesses in their pursuit of end-to-end certificate lifecycle management. emSign's ease of use, comprehensive OS compatibility, and extensive documentation make it an ideal choice for deploying ACME. With emSign and ACME, businesses can significantly reduce manual procedures and human error, achieving a more efficient, secure, and automated certificate management process.


ACME protocol is an innovative tool that provides businesses with the means to automate the traditionally manual, time-consuming, and error-prone certificate management process. With its iterative advancements, ACME now supports the issuance of various certificate types, including DV, OV, and EV certificates.

The implementation of the ACME protocol, especially when paired with a compatible ACME client, is a game-changer in the realm of certificate management. This combination presents businesses with an opportunity to streamline operations, improve security, and enhance CA agility. As a result, organizations can effortlessly mitigate the risks associated with certificate expiry or misconfiguration.

With ACME and emSign, businesses are equipped to handle the complexities of certificate management and navigate through the digital world with much more confidence and efficiency. The future of certificate management is here, and it is automated, secure, and user-friendly, thanks to ACME and emSign.

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