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How do Code Signing Certificates Work?

How do Code Signing Certificates Work?

A code signing certificate is a digital certificate that fully identifies and authenticates a piece of code. Code Signing Certificates are issued by Certificate Authorities (CA). The Certificates link the identity of an organization to a specific public key. 

The public key is bound to a mathematically related private key. The publisher or developer will sign their codes with a private key, and the end-users will use a public key to confirm the developer’s identity. The two keys form a pair. The process of employing the public and private key system is known as the Public Key Infrastructure (PKI). 

Most software developers and publishers use Code Signing Certificates to create a unique identity for their products. The various files like applets, plug-ins, and other executable files have digital signatures before publication on the internet. 

The digital signatures ascertain the integrity of the software since Operating systems, mobile devices, software applications, and networks tend to request these trusted digital signatures to protect their users. 

The process of code signing is almost similar to that of getting SSL/TLS certificates. The similarities are that a pair of cryptographic keys are used to identify and authenticate the code before the code can be installed or executed. 

Why is Code Signing Important?

It helps prove the content source.

Code Signing confirms that an application is coming from a given developer or signer. When you download software from the internet, browsers will display a message that showcases the possible dangers of downloading data. In addition, an “Unknown Publisher” security warning will come from the browser. However, with code signing, the security warning is removed. The users can know the publisher’s name. 

It helps prove the content integrity.

Code signing ensures that any piece of information is not altered. Hackers tend to compromise websites by replacing uploaded files with their hashes. Some attackers corrupt application or executable files and cause problems with any systems that download the fraudulent applications. Code signing helps to determine if a piece of code is trustworthy. 

If the software or application is intercepted and tampered with after signing, the signature will appear invalid. Code signing is helpful for both users and developers. The users are sure of who they are downloading software from and can choose if to trust the source or not. Developers, on the other hand, can protect their software from unwanted alterations. 

It builds Trust

Code signing certificates build Trust by authenticating publishers and developers and confirming the integrity of any software or application. See, malicious scripts always cause uncalled-for damages to networks and devices. Furthermore, end-users feel safer when they know that the software and files they install are the original versions from trusted publishers and developers. 

How Does Code Signing Work?

To Understand how Code Signing works, we need to look at the process of enrolment, deployment, and what happens at the user’s end. 

Enrolment

The first step in getting a code signing certificate is applying from a reputable Certificate Authority. A code signing certificate may cost more than the standard SSL certificate, but it is necessary since the content will be outside the developer’s network. It is more efficient than a self-signed certificate. 

The Certificate Authority does its due diligence in authenticating and verifying all the documents that you have provided. That is to ensure that there is reasonable proof that you are who you say you are.

When you apply for the certificate, a pair constituting a public and a private key is generated. The public part is given to the Certificates Authority, and after the validation process, you will be issued a code signing certificate. 

You can then sign your software or applications. That involves generating a one-way hash of the executable files and encrypting it with a private key that is only known to you. 

Users can then download your content without receiving an error message. 

Deployment

You use a Code Signing Certificate to sign your software, code, script, or another executable file in the enrolment stage.

Once you digitally sign your content, a hash mark that can not be duplicated is made on it.

You can then make your content public by publishing it on a website or mobile network. 

User End

When a user downloads your content, the system will use a public key (The public key is part of the Code signing certificate) to decrypt the hash.

Then, the users have to create a new hash for the downloaded software, code, program, or executable file. 

After creating a hash for the content, the two hashes- (One from the developer and the other from the user) are compared. If hashes match, it means that the file has not been altered or corrupted since leaving the publisher or developer. 

Types of Code Signing Certificates

There are two types of code signing certificates- regular code signing Certificates and Extended Validation (EV) Code signing certificates. Regular Code Signing certificates are issued a few days after some standard vetting of the developer. Regular Code signing certificates can be stored locally within the publisher’s workstation. 

They are more similar to Organization Validated SSL. 

EV Code signing certificates involve extensive vetting of the developer. With EV certificates, the private keys are stored externally to avoid any unauthorized access. There are some benefits to EV Code signing. EV code signing certificates ensure confidence with customers. 

Nowadays, customers want to install only safe software. Software that malicious third parties have not altered. With an EV certificate, browsers do not flash security warnings and, therefore, customers feel safe using the software or files. 

Browsers tend to trust products that are signed using EV Code Signing Certificates. If your product is signed using an EV certificate, it is easier to build an exceptional reputation with the browsers. EV code signing certificates are also safer since the private keys are away from the developer’s network. The choice between the two types of Code Signing Certificates depends on one’s budget and requirements. 

Wrapping up

Code Signing Certificates are the accepted standards for securing digital information. They ensure that the integrity of the developer’s and publisher’s code is maintained while building reputation and confidence among the users.

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