Digital Signature Vs. Digital Certificate

Posted DateJuly 26, 2022
Posted Time 3   min Read

Digital signature vs. digital certificate – wondering if they are different? Well… Digital signatures and digital certificates are quite different despite being used as security and authentication measures for digital documents, software, code, or other data in transit. This article will delve into the key digital signature vs. digital certificate differences.

Digital Signature vs. Digital Certificate: The Definitions

Digital Signature

A digital signature is a mathematical technique used to verify and validate the authenticity and integrity of a digital document, message, software, or transaction. It is the digital equivalent of a stamped seal or handwritten signature but not a scanned copy of either. A cryptographic code sent as a digital attachment to the document establishes the signer’s identity.

Digital Certificate 

A digital certificate is like an ID card, such as a driver’s license, passport, etc. They are issued by trusted third parties, called Certificate Authorities (CAs), who verify and authenticate the holder/applicant’s identity, assuring the same to the receiver of this certificate in electronic transactions. Digital certificates ensure that the data in transit is not intercepted or modified by malicious entities during transit.

The CA issues an encrypted digital certificate that contains the public key of the applicant/ certificate holder and detailed information about the certified entity. This information typically includes the entity’s name, address, unique serial number, issue and expiration dates, the digital signature of the CA, etc.

Digital Signature Vs. Digital Certificate: The Main Differences 


One of the key differences between digital signatures and digital certificates is their purpose. Digital signatures validate and establish the source of a digital document, software, code, or transaction. They assure authenticity, integrity, and non-repudiation of data when transmitted across a digital medium.

On the other hand, digital certificates validate and establish the credentials, legitimacy, and ownership of a digital medium (website/ code/ software/ app/ email, etc.), as well as guarantee the authenticity of the message. It helps create trust between the sender and receiver of digital communications.

How Do Digital Signatures and Digital Certificates Work? 

The other main digital signature vs. digital certificate difference is the process.

Digital Signatures

  • Digital signatures work by generating a unique one-way hash of the document/message and encrypting it with the sender’s private key.
  • Upon successful hashing and encryption, digital signing is complete, and the message is sent to the receiver.
  • The recipient will create their own unique hash for the message/ document and decrypt it using the public key.
  • The hashes will then be compared. If they match, the message is unaltered, and the sender is authenticated. If the message was modified intentionally or unintentionally, the decrypted hash will differ and not match the original hash.

Digital Certificates

  • Private keys are typically generated along with the Certificate Signing Request (CSR).
  • This is followed by the verification and authentication process by the CA and the issuance of the certificate.
  • The certificate is installed on the digital medium it was requested for. The certificate thus protects the medium.
  • Messages from the medium are encrypted using the private key and must be decrypted by the receiver using the public key.

How is it Obtained? 

To create digital signatures, individuals/ entities must apply to issuing authorities along with requisite personal identification documents. The signature is issued to that individual/ entity for specific purposes. Alternately, they may use signing software to create a digital signature.

To obtain digital certificates, entities/ organizations must apply to a trusted Certificate Authority (CA) by sending a Certificate Signing Request (CSR) and necessary documentation. Based on the type of certificate purchased and the level of authentication, the CA will perform background checks, validate the organization/ entity requesting the certificate, and the certificate will be issued upon successful verification.

Use Cases 

Another difference between a digital signature and a digital certificate is the use cases. Digital signatures are used by individuals and organizations alike for financial transactions, software/ code distribution, loan applications, etc.

Digital certificates are used for establishing secure and encrypted connections between the server and client for the transmission of information. Different types of digital certificates – SSL/ TLS certificates, code signing certificates, client certificates, etc. – serve different core purposes.

Security Assurances 

Digital certificates scramble and encrypt the data in transit to prevent eavesdropping, interception, man-in-the-middle attacks, phishing, impersonation, cracking, counterfeiting, and other attacks. Data can be decrypted only by users with access to the public key.

A digital signature is a virtual, encrypted authentication stamp on the document/ message/ data that is being transmitted. A digitally signed document cannot be altered without invalidating the signature and making the digital attachment redundant. Digital signatures thus, solve the problem of tampering, interception, and impersonation in digital communications.


Despite the digital signature vs. digital certificate differences, they often work in tandem to ensure the authenticity, integrity, and security of digital transactions and connections.

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