What is a Code Signing Certificate? How does it work?

Riya Sander
Published 08/31/2021
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Code SigningThe use of various applications has made it easier for us in various activities. But can you ensure that the application that you are downloading is safe? There must be proper mechanisms in place from the application developer that allows users to ascertain that the software is secure for downloading.

Hashing is undertaken to secure the applications. This is where the code signing certificate can be of immense help. It can inform the user that the software has not been tampered with and is safe for downloading. We will learn more about these certificates in this article.


Read more related articles: The Marriage of Passwords and Microsoft in 2021  |  What Is the Cyber Kill Chain and How It Can Protect Against Attacks  |  4 Secure Services You Need for 2021 and Beyond  |  The Use of Artificial Intelligence in Cybersecurity: A Review


Understanding a Code Signing Certificate


Code signing is a process by which the software developer signs the applications and executables before releasing them. It is done by placing a digital signature onto the executable, program, software update or file. The certificate ensures that the software has not been tempered and the user can safely download it.

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The code signing certificate assesses whether the software that is being downloaded comes directly from the publisher. In addition, the certificate proves the publisher’s authenticity and code integrity. It also allows users to trust any upgrades, and all major browsers and operating systems support code signing.


What is the use of a code signing certificate?

How do you feel when you see an alert when you are about to download software? You start wondering whether the software is safe! Other users feel the same way. The code signing certificate can inform the user about the software developer.

The certificate authenticates the software’s author and verifies whether the software was not tampered with by any unauthorized third party. It also ensures the user that the software they are trying to download is not malware published by any random hacker. It helps increase the number of software downloads and improves the brand image of the software developer too.

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How Does Code Signing Work?

Digital certificate authority uses public key infrastructure as well robust authentication practices to sign a code for application, software, and drivers. The process is as follows:

  • A developer uses a private key to add a strong digital signature to the code with a code signing certificate.
  • A user always has a public key to decode the signature applied during code signing process. The user’s software or application decodes the signature using the key.
  • Then a software searches for a root certificate with verified identity to validate the applied signature.
  • The software system then applies a hash used during download the application and the another hash used to sign the code.Code signing 3/3
  • If a root and hashes are validated and matched, the download continues.
  • If a root and hashes does not match, the download will be interrupted and shows a warning.


Types of Code Signing Certificates

There are two types of code signing certificates: viz.

Standard code signing certificates. The CA undertakes organization validation of the business. The process involves confirming the developer’s identity, the name of the organization, the physical address, and the phone number. When the certificate is approved, it is issued to the business. The private key can be stored on the server.

EV code signing certificates. The CA undertakes a more comprehensive verification of the business.  The validation process is as per the guidelines laid down by the CA/Browser Forum.

The documentation needed includes the standard procedure for the OV certificate. Moreover, the application also consists of the registration certificate of the business, a business profile created by a reputed entity and an attestation from a government organization or a Chartered Public Accountant.

The private keys must be maintained in a Hardware Security Module (HSM).  In addition, it must be compliant with FIPS (Federal Information Processing Standards) 140 Level-2 or equivalent. This way, it acts as an additional layer of security, making it safer for the business.



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Benefits of Code Signing Certificate

The integrity of the underlying code

The certificate ensures the integrity of the underlying code. The warning can raise valid concerns about the software being tampered with. A hash function is used to check the integrity of the software. The browser will check the software’s integrity and use the hash function to check if the software is genuine. Once it confirms, the warning is no longer shown.

Enhances user confidence

When the users see the warning, they stop downloading the software. It leads to revenue loss and loss of trust in the user’s mind. The code signing certificates check whether the software has been tampered with and inspires confidence in the user’s minds. The authenticity of the software developer can be ascertained, and the user can safely download the software. It also enhances the brand equity of the software developer.

Removes the risk of tampering

The code signing certificate ensures that the code that the user is downloading is genuine. Thus, it prevents any malicious software from getting downloaded. It is also necessary to include a timestamp that ensures that the certificate was still valid when the software was signed. It also ensures that the code remains valid even after the expiration date of the certificate.


Final Thoughts

More users are downloading software to make their daily activities easier. However, most of the time, they are worried about whether they are downloading genuine software. Moreover, there have been incidents where users have downloaded malicious software that caused harm to their systems.

A code generation certificate can ascertain whether the software is genuine and has not been tampered with by any unauthorized third party. Therefore, it can help distribute efficiently, and there would be more downloads as users are confident that they are downloading genuine software. The article discusses in detail these certificates and how they are helpful.