A digital certificate serves as a computer user’s credentials that let another party verify his/her identity to facilitate a secure online transaction. In essence, a digital certificate acts as proof of someone’s identity. For enterprises, digital certificates serve as a numerical value or a public key cryptography that can be used to encrypt data to enable transactions over the Web via a secure connection without fear of compromise.
You can think of a digital certificate as a driver’s license or any proof of identification to validate your identity.
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What Kind of Security do Digital Certificates Offer?
Since digital certificates act as a verification step for sending mostly confidential data, there is a need to protect their integrity at all times. The question is: What benefits do digital certificates offer users? Here are some of them:
1. Data Confidentiality
Users can rely on digital certificates to check if the individual or organization they are communicating with is indeed who they claim to be. Without the public key, the other party cannot access the document or message a sender sends using his/her digital certificate. That assures the sender that no confidential data would leak or get lost or stolen.
2. Data Integrity
Digital certificates ensure that the information sent is free of deliberate changes or tampering during transmission to the intended recipient. That way, everything agreed upon, for instance, in a signed contract cannot be changed once signed.
3. Access Management
The use of digital certificates ensures that only the parties involved in a transaction would have access to documents and other files.
4. Transaction Receipts
The beauty of using a digital certificate lies in non-repudiation. This means that it ensures that both the sender and the receiver cannot deny sending or receiving messages related to the exchange.
What is the Difference between a Digital Certificate and a Digital Signature?
Both digital certificates and digital signatures rely on public key cryptography, which offers both authentication and encryption. However, digital signatures are often obtained using algorithms for data signing. The resulting information confirms that a public key holder signed a document. Generating a digital signature requires using a one-way cryptographic hash, which randomizes data bits to create a value that can only be read by someone with the right key. If the signature’s hash remains unchanged from when its owner used it, it serves as a go signal for the recipient to treat the signed document as legal and binding.
Digital certificates, on the other hand, require two verified digital signatures (the sender’s and the recipient’s) before documents or files that use them can be considered authentic. That said, digital signatures and digital certificates work hand in hand.
The Internet was not inherently secure. And so, over time, cybercriminals continuously devised ways to exploit the technology’s users for their gain. Digital certificates came to the fore as a means for organizations to communicate and engage in transactions safely online.