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Code Signing vs. SSL Certificates: What are the Key Differences Between the Two?

Code Signing vs. SSL Certificates: What are the Key Differences Between the Two?

If you've taken any measures to protect your web presence, you've likely encountered two methods of certificate-based authentication, SSL/TLS certificates and code signing certificates. The authority that issues these two certificates can be the same, but their purposes differ and they actually secure two separate things. 

Simply put, code signing certificates safeguard software products that users work with, while SSL certificates protect communication transmissions across an internet connection. Given the differences in functionality and between Certificate Authorities (CA), it’s recommended that you understand the key differences – or even employ both. To that end, let’s take a closer look at code signing and SSL certificates so that you can determine which is best for your needs.

Are there any similarities?

Before we dive into how code signing and SSL certificates differ, let’s review the similarities they share. Most importantly, both certificates use public and private keys to encrypt a communication path or software solution. These processes get their public key from a root CA which, after validating the authenticity of the party requesting a digital certificate, assigns the key to said certificate.

This requesting party is typically a developer when it comes to code signing and a website when it comes to SSL/TLS. The purpose behind this certificate request, however, remains the same: validating the authenticity of a particular website or software developer can prevent unsuspecting visitors/users from being tricked by malicious actors distributing malware

What are the primary differences?

Now it’s time to unpack the key differences between the two types of certificates. 

Verification processes can vary

CAs need to verify parties requesting approval for certificates, and they have a few different means of verification. When it comes to code signing certificates, CAs typically need your business details as well as your address and contact info so that they can register it. Occasionally, developers applying for a code signing certificate will choose to undergo an even stricter vetting process to assure end users that the identity of the publisher has been verified.

When it come to SSL/TLS certificates, there are several options available. Extended Validation (EV) certificates undergo the most rigorous vetting process and offer the highest levels of protection. With Domain Validated (DV) certificates, on the other hand, the CA simply checks the right of the applicant to use a specific domain name. The process happens very quickly, with the certificate issued almost immediately and without the need to submit company paperwork. You can learn more about the different types of SSL certificates available in the SSL Information Center

Installation process

The CA is ready to issue a certificate once the verification process is complete. Developers, once they receive their code signing certificate, can use their new digital certificate to protect their software products as well as important lines of code. 

Users interacting with a developer’s software receive a prompt referring to a code signing certificate once they install their software onto their machines. If there is no certificate, or the digital signature appears to have been tampered with, users will receive a security warning, letting them know that the software cannot be trusted.

For SSL certificates, a padlock sign will display in a secured site’s address bar and sometimes at the bottom of the page. Users can click on the padlock to verify the valid identity of the CA as well as the identity of the website’s owner. In general, it’s always good to communicate about security with your customers, and savvy users will expect to see the SSL lock. Many web hosting services come with SSL encryption for free.

Certificate and key storage

The location you choose to store your SSL and code signing certificates – as well as the encryption keys – is critical for ensuring your data is fully secured and safe from hackers and other intruders. Certificate management becomes especially challenging when multiple types of certificates are employed – and most businesses require a variety including SSL/TLS, code signing, and digital signing for starters. Make sure you understand the best practices for secure key management and storage

Conclusion

SSL and code signing certificates both rely on public and private keys to encrypt communication paths and ensure data integrity. If you are doing any kind of business online – especially if you are a website owner that is distributing your own software – it’s critical that you understand the use cases for both, as well as the proper methods for storage and management. 

Note: This blog article was written by a guest contributor for the purpose of offering a wider variety of content for our readers. The opinions expressed in this guest author article are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect those of GlobalSign.

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