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Difference between Code Signing Certificate and SSL Certificate

Difference between Code Signing Certificate and SSL Certificate

Code signing certificates and SSL certificates are digital security certificates that are used to establish trust and authenticity in digital communications. However, they serve different purposes and are used in different contexts.

But before we move to their differences, let’s check out what both these certificates offer in terms of security.

What is an SSL Certificate?

SSL/TLS (Secure Socket Layer/Transport Layer Security) certificates are cryptographic protocols that use encryption security for securing digital data. They secure all the browser-server exchanges with encryption, thus providing a secured link between two network devices.

This digital certificate safeguards the website/customer data against hackers since it encrypts data by converting the plain text into a cipher text which looks gibberish.

Nowadays, this secured HTTPS (hypertext transfer protocol secure) protocol is majorly used in all e-mail communications, instant messaging, digital transactions, etc. thus securing all communications over unsecured HTTP (hypertext transfer protocol) networks.

How does SSL Certificate Work?

When a user visits a website, the user’s browser and the web server communicate with each other. An SSL handshake process commences ensuring that there is secured and encrypted communication between these two parties.

ssl handshake steps

  • The initial process commences with the browser trying to communicate with the server who has an SSL certificate installed on it. The browser will request the server to identify itself.
  • In reply, the server will submit its SSL certificate to the browser along with the public key.
  • The browser will verify the SSL certificate by confirming the expiry status, revocation status, and other details. If the verification yields positive results, the browser will send an encrypted session (symmetric) key to the server.
  • The server decrypts the session key with its private key and sends an encrypted acknowledgment to begin a secured communication.
  • Now all the data exchanges will be encrypted between the browser and the server.

Encryption ensures authentication, data integrity, and data privacy.

What is a Code Signing Certificate?

code signing certificate

A Code signing certificate or a Software signing certificate as it is termed is used to verify the authenticity and integrity of the application, code, software, script, executable, etc. which are distributed online.

When software developers create a new application or update an existing one, they use a code signing certificate to sign the code with a digital signature and hash it.

This signature and hashing ensure the users and organizations downloading it, that the code has not been tampered with or altered in any way since it was signed, and that it comes from a trusted source.

These certificates are mainly used by companies and developers who distribute their software/applications via third-party sites.

If a software/code is unsigned, it will display an “Unknown” publisher which is a warning alert to the users who are unknowingly trying to download unsecured and unsigned software.

How does Code Signing Certificate Work?

In this case, the software developer/company making software needs to apply for the code signing certificate from a reliable certificate provider, just like SSL certificates.

These certificates are also issued after a thorough verification process carried out by the Certificate Authority.

ov code signing certificate function

The CA generates both the keys, i.e. the private key and the public key for software security. The motto of the public key is to authorize the digital signature, whereas the private key is used for signing the code/application.

Functioning:

  • These certificates function on both the Keys as well as Hashing. After generating the software, the publisher/developer will embed the digital signature with the private key.
  • The digital signature will later be hashed along with the code. Hashing is like sealing the code. When a user downloads the software, the user’s system will verify the signature.
  • After the signature verification is positive, the system will generate a hash for the software. The hashes generated by the system and by the software publisher must be identical.
  • If both the hashes match, the software code is authentic and not tampered with by hackers after the digital signature is placed on the code by the developer.

Note: If a code is timestamped, the software will validate the digital signature, even after the expiry of the certificate.

Code signing ensures developer legitimacy and code integrity.

Difference between Code Signing Certificate and SSL Certificate

The final motto of both these X.509 digital securities is to protect the users from cyber threats. SSL certificates authenticate and encrypt data communications, whereas code signing certificates only authenticate software code.

SSL certificates secure websites, the latter is used by developers to sign codes to eliminate warning alerts.

Apart from the above, there are a few major differences that set both these certificates’ poles apart from each other.

To have a clear idea about these differences, let us check out their functionalities, validations, warranties, prices, storage locations, expiry dates, etc.

SSL/TLS Certificates Code Signing Certificates
Purpose SSL certificates are used for site security. Code signing certificates are used for securing software codes, scripts, executables, drivers, etc.
Types of Validations SSL certificates are available in three validations, i.e., Domain Validation (DV), Organization Validation (OV), and Extended Validation (EV). These certificates are available in only two validations, i.e., Organization Validation (OV) and Extended Validation (EV).
Functioning These certificates encrypt the browser-server communications and secure website data. These certificates encrypt the signature of the publisher and the timestamp code which is placed on the software.
Storage Location SSL certificates are stored in web servers since they are used for securing websites. Code signing certificates are stored in the software/application itself via hashing mechanism.
Verification Process The CA verifies the domain ownership of the individual or the legitimacy of the company by sending a verification email to the concerned, before issuing an SSL certificate. The CA verifies the business details and other contact details. Web developers may need to submit a photo id proof and a notarized form to go through a telephonic verification process.
Expiry Alerts If an SSL certificate expires, the site will be unsecured and the browser will display an SSL warning alert to its users.

The warning will disappear once the certificate is renewed.

If a code signing certificate expires, the system will show a security warning when a user downloads the software.

The warning will disappear once the certificate is renewed.

Timestamping The site will instantly become unsecured on the expiry of the certificate since SSL certificates don’t have timestamping feature. The software code will be valid even after the expiry of the certificate, due to timestamping. If a code is timestamped, the signature will be valid even after the expiry of the certificate. If the code is not timestamped, the digital signature will be invalid after the certificate expiration.
Warning Alert When this certificate expires, it displays an SSL error and a “not secure” message in the address bar of the site which disappears on renewal of the certificate. When this certificate expires, it displays “unknown publisher” as an alert, which disappears on renewal of the certificate.
Requirement If you are a site owner, you need an SSL certificate for site security. If you are a software developer, you need a code signing certificate for code security.
Costing SSL certificates range between $5 per year to $11,000 per year. Code signing certificates range between $69 per year to $330 per year.
Identity Attachment When an SSL certificate is installed on the website, it enables padlock and HTTPS (hypertext transfer protocol secure) in the address bar. When a code signing certificate is installed on software, it places a distinct and verified digital sign on the software/code, thus displaying the publisher’s name on the software.
Warranty SSL certificates come with a warranty ranging from $10,000 to $1,750,000 depending on the choice of SSL certificate. Code signing certificates come with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Extra Benefits of using Extended Validation EV SSL certificates –

– Offer the maximum level of assurance and trust.

– Dynamic Real-time site seal comes complimentary with this SSL certificate.

EV Code Signing certificates –

– Enable 2FA (two-factor authentication) by providing a private key in an external device (USB).

–  Display compatibility with Microsoft Smart Screen.

Conclusion

If you are using a website wherein you need to sell your developed software, then you need to utilize both these digital certificates. The SSL certificate will encrypt your website, whereas the code signing certificate will secure your software code.Hope the above article, has widened your knowledge about both these digital securities.

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