What is a digital certificate? Definition and examples | eighth (2023)

Digital Certificates, also known asidentitycertificatesopublic key certificates, are a form of electronic passwords that use the public key infrastructure (PKI) that allows individuals and organizations to exchange data securely over the Internet.

A digital certificate uses cryptography and a public key to prove the authenticity of a server, device, or user and to ensure that only trusted devices can connect to an organization's network. They can also be used to confirm to a web browser the authenticity of a website.

A website, organization, or person can request a digital certificate, which must then be validated by a publicly trusted Certificate Authority (CA).

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Digital certificates can help keep communications, data, and websites on the Internet secure. There are some potential vulnerabilities for use with digital certificates, but websites protected by these public key certificates are considered more secure than those that are not.

What is a digital certificate?

A digital certificate is a type of electronic credential that can prove the authenticity of a user, device, server, or website. It uses PKI to exchange communications and data securely over the Internet.

this way ofauthenticationIt is a type of cryptography that requires the use of public and private keys to validate users.

Public key certificates are issued by a trusted third party, a certificate authority that signs the certificate, thus verifying the identity of the device or user requesting access. To ensure validity, the public key is checked against a corresponding private key, which only the recipient is aware of. Digital certificates have akey pairto which they are assigned: one public and one private.

A digital certificate contains the following identifiable information:

  • Username
  • Company or department of the user
  • IP (Internet Protocol) address or device serial number
  • Copy of the public key of the holder of a certificate
  • Certificate validity period
  • The domain certificate is authorized to represent

Benefits of digital certification

Digital certification can provide a level of security that is becoming increasingly important in the digital age. In fact, cyber security has been identified as one of the top priorities of the US government.Department of Homeland Security(DHS). Cybercrime is a huge threat to businesses and individuals.

Digital certificates can provide the following benefits:

  • Security:Digital certificates can keep internal and external communications confidential and protect data integrity. You can also provide access control, ensuring that only the intended recipient receives and can access the data.
  • Authentication:With a digital certificate, users can be sure that the entity or person they are communicating with is who they say they are and that the communication reaches only the intended recipient.
  • Scalability:Digital certificates can be used on a variety of platforms for individuals, large and small businesses alike. They can be issued, renewed and revoked in seconds. They can be used to secure a variety of user devices and can be managed from a centralized system.
  • Reliability:A digital certificate can only be issued by a publicly trusted and rigorously audited certificate authority, which means they cannot be easily fooled or forged.
  • Public trust:Using a digital certificate proves the authenticity of a website, document, or email. You can assure users and customers that the company or individual is genuine and respects privacy and values ​​security.

Different types of digital certification

There are three main types of public key certificates: Transport Layer Security/Secure Sockets Layer (TLS/SSL) certificates, client certificates, and code signing certificates. There are also variations within each type of certificate.

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  • TLS/SSL certificates:The TLS/SSL certificate is used to secure communication between a computer and the server and is hosted by the server. When a client computer tries to access the server, the server presents the digital certificate to prove that it is authentic and the intended destination.

The HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) designation at the beginning of a web address or URL (Uniform Resource Locator) indicates the presence of a digital certificate.

When a client computer is presented with the server's digital certificate, it performs a certification path validation to ensure that the subject of the certificate matches the hostname. A primary hostname or common name must be specified in the subject field of the certificate. Subject Alternative Name (SAN) certificates and Unified Communications Certificates (UCC) can have multiple host names.

Public web servers or servers connected to the Internet must have a digital certificate signed by a trusted certificate authority. TLS/SSL certificates can be domain-validated, which is used for websites, or organization-validated, which is used for lightweight business authentication.

Extended validation provides full business authentication. It can provide the highest level of security, trust, and authentication.

  • Client certificates:This is a form of digital identification that can identify one machine to another, one specific user to another user. This can be used to allow a user to access a secure and protected database and also for emails.

With email, often theS/MIME(Secure/Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions) that works for communication within an organization. Both parties need copies of the digital certificate before communicating.

Email messages can be encrypted and validated using a client certificate. Each user must send a digitally signed message and previously import the sender's certificate.

  • Code signing certificates:These types of digital certificates are software or files. The publisher or developer of the software signs it to certify its authenticity to the users who download it.

This can be very beneficial when downloading software through a third party to ensure that it is as it is intended to be and has not been tampered with by malicious actors. This can confirm that files or software downloaded from the Internet are valid and authentic.

Where digital certificates are used

Public certification authorities must meet a series of requirementsbasic requirements. Most web browsers are configured to trust a pre-selected list of certificate authorities, set by the browser itself or by the device's operating system. Verification of a digital certificate often happens behind the scenes and quickly without the user being aware of the process.

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use websitesdigital certificatesto establish the HTTPS connection and authenticate its validity by signing a trusted certificate authority. This can help a browser know that it is visiting the genuine website it is looking for and not a fake or fraudulent one.

Digital certificates are also used in electronic commerce to protect sensitive identification and financial information. Online shopping, stock trading, banking, and gambling use digital certificates. Digital certificates can be used for electronic credit card holders and merchants to protect the financial transaction.

Another common use of digital certificates is in email communications. Emails can often also include a digital signature that sends encrypted messages using a hash approach.

Criticism of digital certificates

Although digital certificates are designed to inspire public trust and demonstrate security and validity, they are not infallible. Digital certificates have potential vulnerabilities that attackers take advantage of.

For example, organizations can be attacked and cybercriminals can steal certifications and private key information to later distribute malware. An unauthorized certificate can configure an infected system to trust it, opening the door to attacks.

Also known is the MITM (man-in-the-middle) attack.Intercept SSL/TLS trafficGain access to sensitive information by creating a fake root CA certificate or installing a rogue certificate that can then bypass security protocols. However, in general, using digital certificates to protect websites is considered more secure than not doing so.

The central theses

Digital certificates work like passwords to protect data and communications, often between websites and browsers. They can be used to authenticate a website and tell the browser that it is safe to connect and distribute information.

Digital certification uses the PKI to move data between users, devices, and servers. A digital certificate uses a key pair, containing both the public key and the private key, to help encrypt and decrypt information as it is transmitted between a sender and recipient.

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A digital certificate can be trusted because it can only be signed by a public certificate authority, which must pass rigorous verification. Most operating systems and browsers have built-in lists of trusted digital certificates, so the certification process is usually quick and easy.

Digital certificates are also highly scalable and an essential aspect of cybersecurity.


What is federated identity?(2013).Introduction to federated identity.

internet security. (October 2021). Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

S/MIME to sign and encrypt messages in Exchange Online.(December 2021). Microsoft.

Basic requirements documents (SSL/TLS server certificates). CA/Forum Browser.

certificates. CIO.gov.

For the security of SSL/TLS-enabled applications. (January 2014).Applied informatics and informatics.

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