Code Signing Certificate vs SSL Certificate: What’s The Difference?

The Difference between SSL Certificates and Code Signing Certificates

Do you want to know in brief about Code Signing Certificate vs SSL Certificate? Then fortunately you have landed on the right article. 

The increase in the number of cyberattacks worldwide has made businesses and users are on their guard. Also, it has led to the rise in the market for cybersecurity solutions. According to a study by Mordor Intelligence, the cybersecurity market was pegged at US$ 156.24 billion in 2020. It is projected to climb to US$ 352.25 billion by 2026 – which would translate to a CAGR of 14% between 2021-26.

Users have plenty of options from which they can choose. But still, there could be some who could get confused. For example, SSL/ TLS certificates and code signing certificates are both security certificates that use public-key encryption technology. Likewise, there are several differences between them – we will learn about them in this article.

What is an SSL certificate?

You must have seen the padlock on the address bar when you visit reputed sites. It has proper encryption mechanisms in place to ensure encrypted communication between the visitor’s browser and the webserver. In fact, it will prevent any unauthorized third-party to have access to this exchange.

The data are exchanged between the two entities is encrypted. The intended receiver of the information only decrypts it. There are various levels of validation based on the type of website. For example, for the Extended Validation certificate, the Certificate Authority (CA) undertakes a thorough vetting process by validating the registration details and the physical address, and the contact number.

Understanding the Workings of an SSL certificate

SSL Certificate work on public-key cryptography technology. When a user wishes to connect to a website, the browser will ask the server for its identity. The server sends out a copy of the certificate. Similarly, the browser checks and send a message accordingly to the server. A digitally signed acknowledgement is sent back by the webserver.

An encrypted SSL session can be started now. The encrypted data sharing is carried out between the browser and the webserver.

Understanding Code Signing Certificate

There have been several instances where users have downloaded malware without being aware of it. Such instances have occurred while downloading software over the internet. We would hope that there was a mechanism to prompt the user before the application is downloaded.

Whenever you try to download software, a pop-up shows the application’s developer and enquires whether you would wish to download the software. It is where the code signing certificate comes into play. In fact, a code signing certificate ensures the software’s integrity, with the developer able to digitally sign the software.

Once the developer uses a digital signature to sign the code, the software cannot be tampered with by any third party. Similarly, the developer’s name is displayed. It engenders a sense of trust in the minds of the user. Also, the user can know for sure that no third-party was granted unauthorized access to the software. 

Understanding Code Signing Certificate

How does it work?

A code signing certificate uses cryptography to prevent any unauthorized modification of the software. Once the CA verifies the certificate, you can install it. It adds the digital signature. 

The code is hashed to sign the software as per the developer wish. It is encoded with the certificate and the private key. Additionally, the certificate will have the developer’s identity and the public key. Similarly, when a user tries to download the software, the public key can verify the certificate’s authenticity. 

Also, for decryption, the system searches for a root certificate to ensure that the signature is authentic. The hash that was used to sign the software is validated with the one that is downloaded. Similarly, the software can be downloaded only if the root certificate is trusted and the hashes match.

Understanding the Difference Between Code Signing Certificates and SSL Certificates

Let us go through the difference between both these security certificates.

Parameters SSL Certificates Code Signing Certificates
What is it used for? Secures websites.  Secures executables, scripts, device drivers, software, etc.
Enlisting the types of validation
  1. Domain 
  2. Organization 
  3. Extended 
  1. Standard / Organization
  2. Extended 
Who uses it? Webmasters and the ones in charge of maintaining the website use it. Software developers employ them.
What happens? It encrypts the communication. The underlying data are transferred between the browser and the webserver. The certificate hashes the software along with a digital signature of the developer.
What happens on expiry? The browser will start showing the “Not Secure” sign on the address bar. It shows a security warning at the time of download. The warning is the same as that for any software without the code signing done.
Warranty It depends on the Certificate Authority and the type of certificate. Usually not offered.

Summing Up

With an increase in the number of successful data breaches, there is a need to use encryption mechanisms to ensure safety online. But which certificate is ideal for you? Are you willing to secure your website? You will need an SSL certificate. Similarly, when you wish to safeguard a software or device driver, you will need a code signing certificate. Also, we have discussed the differences in detail in this article. I hope this article helped you to know in brief about Code Signing Certificate vs SSL Certificate.

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