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What is a Code Signing Certificate? How Does It Work?

Code Signing Certificate

Code signing certificates are digital certificates that bind a developer to a software application to make applications safer for users. With millions of applications being downloaded every day, there is so much cybercrime in this space. You’d be astonished to know that over 24,000 malicious applications are blocked every single day, and the next one could be yours. 

If you are an application developer, you would know the dire consequences that follow when cybercriminals alter the code of your proprietary application. Just because you own the app, you will have to take the heat unless you can convey your non-involvement in the alteration. You can very well do this with a code signing certificate, a digital certificate that lets developers sign and timestamp their code, updates, and releases. 

These certificates are a must-have for serious developers and development firms who wish to protect their code’s integrity. Regardless of whether you are a budding developer or a seasoned pro, we’ll give you a clear and complete idea of what a code signing certificate is. We shall also delve deeper into how the code signing mechanism works, its significance, uses, and what it means for you.

What is a Code Signing Certificate?

A code signing certificate is a digital certificate that displays information of the entity deploying the code and the CA that has issued it. This technology is used to sign executables and is instrumental in enabling the operating system and other connected applications to determine the authenticity of any new application.

Each time an executable is signed with a code signing certificate, a timestamp is applied to retain the integrity of the code. This tells the user exactly who created or modified the code of an application and prevented the insertion of malicious codes. So, the signature and the timestamp ensure that the code remains untampered from the very moment the deplorer first signed it.

What Does Code Signing Do?

The code signing certificate performs a two-fold function — confirms the developer’s identity and retains code integrity. These two functions play a critical role in preventing several forms of cyberattacks that involve alteration of code. As mentioned earlier, it binds the developer to the executable by making use of public-private key cryptography to bind the software developer to the application. 

So, each time the developer tweaks the application or releases updates, the developer can use the private key to sign the code. The end-user can determine this through the developer’s public key, which confirms the developer’s identity and prevents unauthorized manipulation. Coming to the code integrity part of it, each time the developer signs the code, a timestamp is applied, and this confirms that the developer indeed made the changes.

How Does It Work? 

To get the code signing certificate up and running, start by picking the right type. Based on your requirements, you may choose an individual or EV code signing certificate. However, these certificates come with a validity period ranging between one and three years, so take that into account while choosing one. You may then apply for the right type through a reputed CA.

Next, the CA performs validation based on the type of certificate you choose. Here, the CA verifies all your claims and confirms that you are who you claim to be. Upon successful validation, the CA issues the certificate, which you must install on whichever platform you prefer. You can then start signing the software applications with the code signing certificate.

The code signing certificate works on the public-private key infrastructure, so a public-private key pair is used to display the developer’s identity and confirm whether the code has been tampered with. This is done through a hash algorithm that performs a hash function on the code, after which the hashed code is encrypted with a private key. Then, the encrypted and hashed code and the signature and the timestamp are attached to the code. This confirms code integrity and is read by operating systems and other applications already running on the user’s system.

Advantages of Using Code Signing Certificate 

Now that we have discussed everything there is to know about code signing certificates, let us discuss some of its key benefits.

Confirms the Source

Internet users tend to download software applications from several repositories like download.com, filehippo.com, and so on. Although some of them claim to test the software applications or verify app owners, there’s still a possibility of discrepancies seeping in. 

The only surefire way for a user to check an application’s authenticity is by seeing a trust seal from a reliable source. This is exactly what the code signing certificate does because it contains details of the developer and the CA. 

Retains code integrity

The hash function, encryption, and timestamping help retain code integrity by confirming every authorized alteration made to the code through a valid signature. If someone manages to tamper with the code in an unauthorized manner, then this discrepancy is easily detected by the operating system during the installation process. It notifies the same to the user and keeps them safe from hackers. 

Final Takeaway

We have discussed everything you need to know about a code signing certificate and how you can procure one. As a responsible developer and business owner, you must always sign the code of your software applications and the updates you release. 

 This may not seem important when you are developing a basic application but remember, the world of the internet thrives on trust, and the code signing helps build that. Besides customer trust, it prevents duplication of work by malicious threat actors and its consequences.

 You’d be amazed to know that applications of even the most reputed brands have been emulated and are available on third-party repositories. However, they do not have much to worry about because their code signing certificate takes care of their worries. 

 

Written by Frederick Jace

A passionate Blogger and a Full time Tech writer. SEO and Content Writer Expert since 2015.

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