Working of a Code Signing Certificate

What Is Code Signing Certificate and How Does It Work?

Looking for the cheapest code signing certificate out there? Before you buy a code signing certificate solely based on its price tag, it is always better to dig into the nitty-gritty of this security essential. If you have not done that yet, then we have got you covered. Starting from figuring out what a code signing certificate is, and a lot deeper into its core technical aspects, we will take you through everything you need to know in order to take your app security to the next level.

Need for Application Security

If you are a software developer or a business owner who has a mobile application listed on the app store or the Google Play Store, you know the challenges that come with it. There is always the possibility of someone cloning your application, manipulating its code by adding malware or indulging in some other nefarious activity that can ruin your business and its online reputation.

If that happens, then you could get entangled in lawsuits and financial losses and even have to close down your business. After all, one in every six small businesses shut down in less than six months from a security incident. Therefore, businesses must invest in the right security tools and one of them is the code signing certificate. Let us now try to understand what a code signing certificate is and how it works.

What is a Code Signing Certificate?

A code signing certificate is a digital certificate issued by the Certifying Authority (CA) to the software application developer or the app owner to attest the ownership. Besides authenticating the title, the digital certificate also confirms that the code has not been manipulated or altered by any third party and is safe for download. This allows the user to distinguish between the genuine application and the clones or duplicates that could be potentially dangerous. So, basically, this certificate brings along the reputation of the CA and also confirms the code integrity using the hash function to provide a safe and secure user experience. This is achieved by leveraging public-private key cryptography.

How does a Code Signing Certificate work?

The code signing certificate makes use of the public key infrastructure to enable businesses and application owners to deliver a secure experience to the end-users. It confirms that the application has been developed and published by the author whose digital signature is applied to it. This digital certificate can be used to sign the software application’s code or executable files.

After the CA issues the code signing certificate, the developer uses it to apply the unique digital signature on the code or the executable using the private key. So, when the user downloads and installs the application, the operating system looks into the digital signature. If that is missing, then the system shoots out a warning stating that the application is from an unknown or untrusted source.

The user’s system does this by looking up for the root certificate and then using the public key to decrypt the digital signature applied by the application owner. Throughout the process, the code integrity is checked through hash comparison — hash on the digital signature and on the application that the user downloads. The next course of action is based on whether or not the hashes match. If they do, then the system allows the installation, but if they don’t, then the system sends out a warning stating that the application is from an unknown source and installing it could be risky.

How to buy a Code Signing Certificate?

Before you decide to buy a code signing certificate, you must know that you can retrieve your expired one or pick a new one. If you decide to do the latter, then you must finalize which type you want — a regular, individual, or organizational code signing certificate, or one that comes with the extended validation (EV). All three do the job, but the vetting process varies and the more intricate it is, the more goodwill it adds to the application.

What is a Code Signing Certificate

For a one-off app, you can always pick the regular one, but if you are a business or a noteworthy individual then pick between the individual or organizational as that confirms the entity’s existence and authenticity. The EV is the most comprehensive digital certificate and requires thorough verification, so most CAs are likely to ask for a notarized set of identity proofs. The key advantage of having this particular type of code signing certificate is that the private key is stored externally on a USB or some other device. As the token is not connected to the existing IT infrastructure, it is much safer.

Once you have decided on a code signing certificate, you then need to put in an application and go through the vetting process to establish your authenticity. Once you are through with that, install the certificate issued to you on the Keychain or the Keystore and use it to sign the code and executables. While you are at it, make sure to stop looking for the cheapest code signing certificate and start looking for one that is issued by a reputed CA and comes with the timestamping feature.

A Word about Timestamping

When you decide to buy a code signing certificate, picking one that comes with the timestamping feature is always a viable solution. Basically, this refers to a strip of code that remains on the executable or the code that is digitally signed. It attaches the date and time along with the signature and as most systems validate this, the application will pass the test even if the code signing certificate expires. So, once you sign with a valid code signing certificate with a timestamp, you are literally done.

Final Takeaway

As we have discussed, a code signing certificate brings along a plethora of benefits. However, while choosing one you need to stop looking for the cheapest code signing certificate and pick one that comes from a reputed seller. This is very important because mainstream operating systems only recognize the ones that come from well-known CAs. Finally, pick one that comes with the timestamping feature because it ensures that the code does not expire even if the code signing certificate does.

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1 thought on “What Is Code Signing Certificate and How Does It Work?

  1. Code signing certificates is the thing which has made our application much more safer place, never download applications from third party vendors.

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