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What Is a Certificate Authority (CA) and What Do They Do?

What Is a Certificate Authority (CA) and What Do They Do

Every year enterprises spend massive money on securing their platforms. According to Statista, by the end of 2022, total spending on security services will rise to $77 billion. Among such security services, one critical service is SSL Certificates. It helps enterprises and businesses secure users’ data from hackers through cryptographic encryption.

What is a Certificate Authority (CA)?

Certificate Authority (CA) is a trusted service or entity that provides SSL certificates. For example, you can request an SSL/TLS certificate for your website from CA. These certificates are an indication that your users can securely interact with the website. A CA validates your identity and issues the certificate.

Digital certificates also help to ensure software stays intact. CAs provide certificates and trusted seals for businesses to imbibe trust. Take the example of the Colonial pipeline ransomware attack. Attackers managed to gain access to passwords through a VPN account.

Such attacks are a testament that you need a trustworthy security service. Fortunately, a Certificate authority does precisely that. So, here we will discuss what CA is and what they do to enhance your website security.

Let us begin with the fundamentals.

Fundamentals of encryption: What is a CA’s Role?

So far, we know that CAs issue SSL certificates to businesses. The question in your mind will be, what is an SSL certificate, and how does it secure your business?

Imagine your website having a secure line where no hacker can snoop on what users interact with. SSL certificates use encryption to help you achieve such security. There are two types of encryptions that an SSL certificate uses,

  • Asymmetric encryption uses two distinct keys for the encryption and decryption process
  • Symmetric encryption uses the same keys for encryption and decryption

An SSL certificate uses asymmetric encryptions to create a secure connection between the server and the browser. Further, it uses symmetric encryptions for keeping data exchanged through this channel anonymous. Find out the basic difference between symmetric encryption and asymmetric encryption

However, you may ask- what’s the CA’s role here.

Certificate authority ensures that the certificate holder is a trusted entity. It validates the identity and allows users to verify it through a public key. In addition, certificate holders have a private key with which they can request the validation process.

After the vetting process, SSL certificates are issued and assigned to a public key. Further, users use the public keys to decrypt the encryption for a secure connection.

So, CA plays a vital role in the entire encryption process for your website. How do CAs function?

Certificate authority: How do they do it?

CAs verify servers for businesses or clients before issuing the certificate. It is a three-step process for every certificate authority.

Step 1- Validate domain names, individuals, or organizations

Step 2- Issue digital certificates to the authenticated servers and organizations

Step 3- Maintain the revocation lists for certificates and the renewal process

The first step begins with the validation. Each certificate authority provides diverse types of validation like,

  • Domain validationsCA verifies whether a severe domain name of the website belongs to the requesting client.
  • Organization validations – It involves certificate authority validating the domain information and further vetting business identification. It can include business locations, legality, third-party records, and others.
  • Extended validations – EVs are an extension of organization validation that involves beyond business vetting and ensuring absolute legitimacy.

Certificate authorities are of many types depending on the certification in the chain of trust. A web of interlinked certificates traces back to the original issuing authority. This includes a root certificate, several intermediate certificates, and a leaf certificate.

  • A root CA issues your websites’ self-signed, or root certificate signed through a private key.
  • A minimum of one intermediate certificate is present in every SSL certificate chain. It allows root certificates to extend the security to other untrusted entities. Such certificates have an internal CA or intermediate CA.
  • Lastly, a server certificate or the end entity is issued through the trustworthy CA. It provides information to root CA through a certificate signing request and it is issued after validation.

The question that will pop up in your mind is, which one to choose and how to choose?

Fret not! Here is how to choose the best certificate authority?

Choosing the best Certification Authority: five essential tips

If you are looking for a certificate authority to issue SSL/TLS certificates, there are many factors to consider.

Hosting service

There are CAs that provide hosting services along with SSL certificates pre-built. Why is this important? It helps you have excellent hosting services and reduce the cost of an SSL certificate.

However, this is best for individual businesses, small brands, and companies. Most of the CAs that pair SSL certificates with the hosting service are standard and may not provide extended validation.

EV Capabilities

If you are an organization or enterprise looking for a higher brand of trust, extended validation certificates are essential. It is where a CA validates several critical information of the organization like identity, legal data, location, etc.

Extended validation helps users to verify your brand. With a standard SSL certificate, the validation is restricted to the domain. So, for brands that want to establish trust among their customers, an extended validation certificate is essential. That is why finding a certificate authority with Extended Validation (EV) capabilities is critical.

PKI expertise

Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) is a system that allows you to encrypt or sign data through processes, tools, and policies. The proper certificate authority needs to have expertise in PKI because it will facilitate the entire encryption process.

PKI expertise allows a CA to issue digital certificates and authenticate users, devices, and networking services.

Customer support

Certificate authority with 24/7 support is beneficial for your organization. However, installing an SSL certificate is not everything, and you may need technical support any time in the day. Therefore, you need a CA with better customer support service.

Certificate management

Issuance of SSL certificates leads to activities like validations, user authentication, certificate revocation, and renewals. So, choosing a CA that offers certificate management tools or capabilities is beneficial. Many CAs in the market provide certificate management platforms integrated with the service.

These are just a few tips that you can follow to choose a CA. At the same time, there are other factors like maintenance of security standards, years of experience, timestamping abilities, etc., which you need to consider.

Now that you know the fundamentals of encryption’s role of CA and how to choose the right one for your business, here are some market leaders.

Top Certificate Authorities in the market

There are many options in the market when you look for a trustworthy certificate authority.  According to the survey, DigiCert has captured the market share at 18.8%. However, these are not the only ones, and many other certificate authorities provide good security features.

GlobalSign

GlobalSign being a certificate authority highly offers PKI solutions scalable for enterprises. The identity and security solutions enable businesses and enterprises to carry out online transactions in a secure environment. The authority provides automation encryption and authentication to verify business identity.

DigiCert

DigiCert is another top certificate authority that helps with digital certification, code signing certificates, PKI infrastructure solutions, etc. It has been at the forefront of several security solutions ranging from protecting websites, applications, and IoT (Internet of Things) devices.

Comodo 

Comodo is a top certificate authority that provides cheap digital certification after the standard validation process. From Domain validation to EV code signing certificates, Comodo SSL delivers diverse types of encryption-based solutions. Despite the competitive pricing, Comodo SSL offers advanced protection for your applications.

Thawte

Thawte is a co-brand of Symantec authentication infrastructure. Thawte has been improving SSL products to meet customers’ needs. The authority deals with distinct types of SSL certificates by offering supreme encryption strength to verify the website’s identity. Thawte has issued millions of SSL certificates to date.

Conclusion

When it comes to advanced security solutions and enhanced cyber security, SSL certificates have become essential. The proper certificate authority will help you leverage encryptions for protection and enable trust among users.

A trustworthy CA is essential for you to have that sign of trust for your customers. These are often known as the trust signals and popularly seen as the famous padlock sign; these are indicators of a secure experience. So, it is time to choose the right CA and have that trust signal for your users.

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