A code-signing certificate is one of the ingredients developers and businesses can use to gain the end-user’s trust. One certificate will make the user confident about engaging with the digital solution, which can be an executable file, a game, a software patch, etc. With the increasing number of cyber attacks troubling people, setting the right precedents to gain their confidence is essential.
There are two ways to get a code signing certificate, a self-signed certificate and getting a certificate from a third-party Certificate Authority (CA). There are numerous ways to get a self-signed certificate, as you will find platforms that will help you create and authenticate the certificate. However, a code signing certificate issued by a third-party CA provided by firms like Sectigo and Comodo has a better representation.
In this article, we will understand why choosing a third-party CAs is better for your users and business.
Why Do We Need Certificate Authority?
A certificate authority is a trusted establishment providing security certificates to businesses and developers. These certificates are cryptographic authorization statements linking the underlying component to the public keys.
The core purpose of a certificate authority is to;
- Issue Digital Certificates
- Verification or Validation of the Certificate
The purpose of a certificate authority is to verify the identity of software, service, etc., through authorization and authentication. With this, they help developers and development companies demonstrate their trustworthy identity.
The CAs provide different types of certificates, with each one having a unique set of properties.
Another purpose of a Certificate Authority is to validate the digital certificate. A CA completes the verification process, but the process depends on the type of certificate requested.
- Validating a Domain: A certificate authority validates and verifies the identity of the requestor, ensuring that it has a legitimate manager of the domain or the website.
- Validating an Organization: After domain verification, the trusted CAs also validate the identity of the organization. Under the OV process, the CAs review the information provided by the certifying requestor and provide them with the same after verification. The basic purpose is to ensure that the organization is legitimate.
- Provide Extended Validation: In EV Code Signing (extended validation), the Certificate Authorities run a comprehensive verification process running for up to 5 days. Here the CAs go deep into the credentials of the business or requestor organization.
So, besides providing the code signing certificates, the Certificate Authorities are also tasked with validating the certificate when asked. They function in cohesion with the businesses for the benefit of the end-user.
For a business, the CA is not only an entity to issue and verify certificates, but they have the potential to make a business popular or face rejection. Proper verification helps ensure that the business operates with security and has set the right precedents to help its end-users.
When choosing a Certificate Authority, businesses are faced with two options, a Public CA or a Private CA.
What’s the Difference Between a Public & a Private CA?
The function of both types of Certificate Authorities is the same, but they are different. Learn more about the differences below;
- Public Certificate Authority
- Private Certificate Authority
These are third-party CAs businesses use to get code signing certificates. Being a public entity, these CAs don’t have any connection with the recipients of the certificates.
Plus, the certificates they provide are trusted across the web. The public CAs have the trust and confidence of the general public and organizations. One of the reasons for this trust is that they follow the regulatory standards outlined by the CA/Browser Forum.
As the CA/Browser Forum sets the guidelines and requirements for every public certificate authority, the users can be assured of receiving a trusted service. Plus, these requirements are updated regularly.
All this means that the browsers, organizations, and developers will trust the Certificate Authority and contact them to get code signing and digital certificates.
As the name suggests, a private certificate authority works for a particular organization and provides security services for that organization only. These private CAs are trusted within the organization only, and they cannot be used for providing certificates and other services to external parties.
When an organization uses a Private Certificate Authority, that does not mean they cannot employ the services of Public CAs like Sectigo and Comodo. Rather, the private CAs services are used to secure intra-organizational transactions and connections.
So, these certifications are essential for intra and inter-company communication, file sharing, accessibility, etc. When companies want to allow access to its employees on company-owned devices or when they want them to log on to the company server and authenticate themselves.
Each of these employees can get a certificate, which makes logging into the company platform redundant.
In essence, the private and public CAs work together to ensure that an organization is protected, trusted, and secured from all aspects.
With time, private CAs are becoming more prevalent and important, especially with the rising trends of the remote workforce. As more devices are used in an organization, it is essential to set up the right security measures. The certifications give an organization a modular and granular control system and allow the teams to set bespoke security standards. So, this customization is one of the key differences between a public and private CA.
Another difference is that the public CAs are responsible for maintaining the high-security standards of a certificate they issue. The recipient doesn’t have to worry about the upkeep and updating of the certificate. So, using a public CA allows organizations to have one less thing to worry about.
Benefits of Choosing a Trusted Public (Third-Party) Certificate Authority
Harnessing the services of a Certificate Authority to get code signing certificate has several benefits.
- Verify the Identity of the Certificate Holder
Just like everyone has to undergo a verification process to get a passport, a certificate holder needs to be verified. In other words, the main benefit of CAs is that they authenticate and verify the identity of the certificate holder.
The businesses that have received the certificate can be trusted, and this trust is provided by the certificate holder. The certificate authority provider issues the digital certificate to the asking entities by charging a small fee.
In the pursuit of providing the certificate, they run a rigorous check on the recipient to ascertain their identity. If satisfied, trusted CAs will provide the organization with the certificate.
Here’s how the authentication process works;
- After getting the request, the CA verifies the company or server.
- The digital signature provided provides that the certificate is valid.
- For this discussion, assume that a browser is asking for a digital certificate. In this case, the CA will authenticate the identity of the browser and provide a certificate and a private key.
- The users or the public will have access to a public key, which they can use to encrypt data.
This completes the cycle of transactions happening between the digital certificate holder and the user.
Certificate Authorities collect data of numerous organizations, browsers, development companies, developers, etc., in the process of providing digital certificates.
Different types of development companies contact them to get code-signing certificates. Due to this, CAs have a list of organizations and entities. All the trusted entities are added to the central list.
A digital certificate for servers helps the servers establish secure communications with the end-users. It secures communications between the server and the client.
The Certificate Authorities also maintain a revocation list containing the details of certificates that have been issued. The certificate revocation list is a blacklist of certificates. A blacklist means these certificates cannot be trusted.
Anyone wanting to get a certificate can ask the CAs to present the list. The process whereby the list is shared is called OCSP Stapling.
Software and solutions that do not obtain a code signing certificate are not trusted. Not obtaining certificates does not mean that the developers cannot publish the solution.
However, by doing so, their software, patch, etc., will be tagged with “Unverified Publisher.” Obtaining the code signing certificate will remove this warning and build trust.
Functions of a Certificate Authority in the Chain of Trust
The chain of trust represents high standards of security, scalability, and compliance. By following the chain of trust, we can assure privacy, trust, and effective confidentiality of the entire stream of information.
For every website owner and developer using end-entity certificates, establishing the chain of trust is essential. CAs also look at the entity’s chain of trust while providing them with the digital certificate.
In a chain of trust, the CA fits right in the middle as they are tasked with finding out the chain links going back to the server certificate by following the trail crossing through intermediate certificates.
So the trust model CAs employ includes Root Certificates >> Intermediate Certificate >> Server Certificates.
How to Decide Which CA is Trustworthy?
There are several CAs in the industry providing certificates for several purposes at different prices. Some of the most popular names include Sectigo and Comodo. Certificates authenticated by these authorities are easily available at signmycode.com, allowing anyone to obtain an authenticated certificate from trusted CAs.
However, to choose the right CA, look for the following aspects;
- Customer Service: CAs that have a robust customer service system in place will always help their customers, and recipients access the best of services they have to offer. Having the required customer service structure means that the CA is ready to help its customers in any way possible.
- Price: Good code signing certificates are available at affordable prices, and still, some service providers tend to put exorbitant prices. On average, you are looking to spend between $400 to $500 per year on certificates.
- Security Reputation: Lastly, always prefer associating with the CA that has a better security strength. The authentic and secure CAs will always share their name and organizational unit in the certificate. For any service, you can access the security certificate credentials and check the CA's details.
Prefer associating with the CAs that have a price lesser than the average price. If reputed names like Sectigo and Comodo are available at lower prices, go for it immediately.
To get a code signing certificate, you need to get in touch with a Certificate Authority. CAs provide digital certificates that protect your code from unauthorized access, establish trust, and help generate confidence about your code. Having the code signing certificate will allow your end-users to interact with your website, application, software, etc., with trust.
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