What is a Code Signing Certificate?
There was a time when we purchased software on CDs and DVDs from brick-and-mortar stores, and there wasn’t much fuss about security. But today, we do everything online, including buying software which comes with a high risk. How do you know if the software is legitimate and that it hadn’t been tampered with by hackers? This is where code signing certificates come in.
But what is a code signing certificate exactly? Keep reading to understand what a code signing certificate is, its types, benefits, and how it works.
What is a Code Signing Certificate?
Code signing certificates are digital certificates issued by Certificate Authorities (CAs) to authenticate the identity of the organization/ software author and assure the integrity of the software/ application/ programs. They contain the organization’s digital signature, the name of the organization, and timestamp if needed/ desired.
Software developers leverage code signing certificates to put their digital signatures on applications, executables, software programs, and drivers. This offers an assurance to end-users that the code has not been tampered with/ compromised by third parties after it was signed by the organization/ software developer.
Benefits of Code Signing Certificates
Having understood what a code signing certificate is, let us now look at its benefits.
- Increases user confidence and trust by assuring them of the content integrity and source.
- Removes the unknown publisher warnings that browsers display when a software/ app is downloaded on the internet
- Confirms to the end-user that the code and nothing in the package hasn’t been tampered with by third parties
- Tells end-users if the code is trustworthy for the specific purpose
- Ensures hassle-free user experiences by creating a chain of trust
- Enables organizations to keep their software/ app secure
- Protects the organization’s Intellectual Property (IP) against fraud, malware, and theft
- Easier to monitor alterations/ modifications
- Prevents third parties from tampering with the verified software
- Helps meet contractual platform requirements more effectively by showing the organization is invested in user security and safeguarding their data.
Types of Code Signing Certificates
There are 2 types of code signing certificates – Standard and EV code signing certificates.
Standard certificates may still show pesky security warnings to users until the software publisher reaches a certain level of downloads and can minimize bug reports. With EV certificates, you can prevent these warnings.
EV certificates offer all the benefits of standard certificates but bolster user trust further, create a trustworthy image of the software publishers, boost download volumes and strengthen the adoption of the software/ app. How?
Through a more rigorous vetting process that verifies the physical address, jurisdiction, and other corporate information of the software publisher, it is difficult for attackers and scammers to get certificates for malicious software.
There are robust hardware security requirements for EV code signing certificates. It includes a timestamp that indicates to the user that the code was signed with a valid certificate and that the digital signature is valid even if the code signing certificate expires.
Further, the private key is stored in an encrypted USB token for two-factor authentication, making it extremely difficult for attackers to access the private key.
How Do Code Signing Certificates Work?
Like SSL certificates, code signing certificates use Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) to bind the organization’s identity to the public-private key pair.
The mathematically related key pair is generated when you submit a request for a code signing. The private key must be kept secret and stored on the organization’s device (or on a USB token in case of EV certificates). The public key is submitted to the CA to issue the code signing certificate.
So, the organization signs the code using the private key. The end-user would use this public key to verify the organization’s identity and ensure that the code is not compromised/ modified.
How to Get a Code Signing Certificate?
- Purchase a code signing certificate from a trustworthy and reputable CA.
- Generate a certificate signing request (CSR).
- A key pair will be generated. The browser will send the CSR and the public key to the CA from which you purchased the certificate.
- The CA will perform the vetting process based on the type of certificate purchased.
How to Use Code Signing Certificates?
Upon successful verification, the CA will issue the certificate and email the collection link. Download and install the code signing certificate. Here’s how to use code signing certificates to sign your code.
- Generate a one-way hash of the code/ executable
- Use the private key to sign and encrypt the code.
- Bundle the hash and the code signing certificate on the code before shipping it from development to the production environment.
With this understanding of what a code signing certificate is and its powerful benefits, there should be no doubt whether you need one. With Entrust code signing certificates from Indusface, you can bolster user trust and increase your code’s adoption and robust security while continuously monitoring it.