Do you know what code signing certificates and SSL certificates do? Many people have heard of them, but not many people know their purpose. They both keep sites safe but do so in different ways. Let’s start with a definition of each certificate.

What is an SSL certificate?

An SSL (Secure Socket Layer) certificate ensures that all the information shared on your domain is secured from security threats. That means that when a user inputs their information on your site, it is safe. SSL certificates use public-key cryptography (asymmetric encryption) to encode all the data to keep it safe from cybercriminals. To do so, SSLs use two keys. One is the public key that can be accessed by every web user to request a secure connection with the site that has an SSL certificate. Another key is the private key that is kept hidden by the server and is used to decode the message received from the user’s browser.

Screenshot: https://thesslmart-446d.kxcdn.com/wp-content/uploads/enabling-SSL-HTTPS.png

This ensures a safe connection between the two communicating parties to keep attackers at bay. Only the individuals with the appropriate encryption/decryption keys can read the data shared between the user and the server.

What is a Code Signing Certificate?

A code signing certificate provides protection just like an SSL certificate, but it does not encrypt the data – rather, it confirms a publisher or a developer’s identity. It tells the users that the program or app is coming from a legitimate source, and no one has fiddled with it since it was first signed.

Users are notified by their firewall or antivirus program when installing a code from an unknown publisher. This code means the program is coming from a malicious source or has been interfered with since the signing process.

Screenshot: https://aboutssl.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/code-signing-certificate-aboutssl-org.jpg

Once a publisher has placed their digital signatures on their app or code, the browsers identify that program and do not warn users because it is safe.

Similarities Between SSL and Code Signing Certificates

The licenses do not do the same thing, but they do share some common features; here they are:

  • Both are digital certificates used by websites or publishers to protect themselves and users from cybercriminals.
  • To issue any of these two certificates, the certification authority checks the validity of the owner of the licenses.
  • Both SSL and code signing certificates utilize asymmetric encryption to provide protection.
  • Consumers see a security alert in the absence of an SSL certificate or a code signing certificate.
  • Both certificates are applied to serve the same purpose – security. They protect their users against cyber criminals.

Code Signing Certificate vs. SSL Certificate Difference.

As already mentioned, SSL certificates and code signing certificates are not identical. Let’s explore the main differences between these two licenses.

1. Usage

Both certificates are used to secure end-users. An SSL certificate is implemented to protect domains and the data shared between a server and the user and is installed by a web owner. In comparison, a code signing certificate is used to place digital signatures on a program developed by a publisher. They are bought and utilized by software developers.

If you are a software publisher and run a website, you can install both certificates to stay safe.

2. Function

SSL certificates are used to establish a safe connection between a server and the user. For example, if a user provides his confidential details (email, password, banking, or credit card details) to a site they will want that information to be safe. A site with a valid SSL certificate is protected against all known cybersecurity threats and so the user’s information will be safe. 

A code signing certificate cannot be utilized to encode data in transit. Instead, it is used by app developers to apply a digital signature to their program. If the code or app gets attacked, users will be notified by a warning that the code is not coming from a legitimate source.

3. Identity validation

A certification authority (CA) confirms the authenticity of the owners of both the SSL and code signing certificates. However, the verification system is different for SSLs and code-signing certificates. Verification for SSls is based on the validation level certificate you have chosen. To issue a DV (Domain Validation) for an SSL certificate, the CA only checks the applicant’s right to use that domain. To grant an OV (Organization Validation) or EV (Extended Validation) for an SSL certificate, the CA performs a complete business investigation. It checks the business’s right to use the domain, physical address, phone verification, and more.

To issue a code signing certificate, the CA confirms your company’s authenticity, existence, and phone number. If an individual developer has requested the certificate, then the CA checks the applicant’s ID issued by the government and completes the process with a phone call.

4. Business Details

In the case of SSL certificates, when a consumer clicks on the padlock sign to know the details about the license and its owner, SSL type and business details are shown to the users. This increases the trust of web users on your site and your firm, too, as it differentiates your business from fake ones. The extent of details, however, depends on the validation level of the license.

A code signing certificate informs users that the code is coming from a legitimate firm or developer and, therefore, that the website is trustworthy.

5. Expiration

An SSL certificate does expire and you need to renew it to keep your site secure. In contrast, a code signing certificate has no expiration if the publisher has utilized timestamping. The software does not show an unknown publisher warning even if the license has passed its duration. But, if you or a hacker has fiddled with the code, it will show an “unknown publisher” error and will not be safe anymore.

6. Warranty

Most SSL certificate providers offer a handsome warranty of the certificate in case of encryption failure. Code signing certificates generally do not provide such a warranty.

Conclusion

Every website should have an SSL or code signing certificate. They both provide security and are identical to each other in some areas but have significant differences too. The main difference is that an SSL certificate protects data in transit and code signing certifications verify that the website coding is safe and has not been tampered with.

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