Most developers rarely think about internet security and privacy despite an increased risk of malware attacks. As a result, they put their published code and content at risk of being compromised. With almost everything computerized, code signing certificates guarantee that a code has not been tampered with. 

The code signing process is an important security measure for both an individual developer and organizations to protect their networks by authenticating a code or script to confirm identity. Here are five essential things about code signing certificates you must know.

What is code signing?

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Code signing entails protecting a code by signing digitally executable scripts to verify its identity and originality. It allows the developer or author to share content with confidence without fearing third-party tampering. Developers use code signing as a stamp of authentication to show owner identity.

The certificate is an effective means of protecting your personal information from attackers. It indicates that certain content or software is legitimate and can be trusted. Developers use these certificates to provide identity through digital signatures for executable files before publishing on the internet. 

What is the significance of a code signing certificate?

There are several reasons to use a code signing certificate, including authentication, trust, and security. You need to prevent third-party tampering when distributing a code or content on the internet. The certificate indicates that a file is authentic and does not contain malware, protecting the application from third-party interference.

This code signing certificate minimizes popup warning errors from browsers whenever users are accessing a network. It also provides integrity of the software to ensure the download hasn’t been tampered with. If you don’t sign your software, it stays vulnerable to attacks. The authentication tells the user that the software has not been tampered with and convinces them to install an application. It builds mutual trust between the vendor and customer that improves user experience.

How does code signing work?

A code signing certificate is all about encryption as a security protocol. It works on the public key infrastructure, an encryption technique similar to the SSL/TLS certificates. The PKI contains public and private keys used to encrypt a code and show ownership. These digital certificates secure networks using public-key cryptography technology.

After creating content or a code, a developer has to sign the digital certificate using a public key from the code signing certificate. Once a user encounters the signed code, their system decrypts the signature using a public key. The process involves matching the hash used to sign the application against the hash on the downloaded software.

Users will only access a network and download content if their system software trusts the root certificate and the hashes match. In case the hashes don’t match, the browser will send popup alerts warning the user against unsafe browsing. It will also interrupt any download if the system does not trust the route certificate.

What happens when the code signing certificate expires?

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Many developers handling certificate management tasks have experienced the issue of the expiry of code signing certificates. The certificates don’t have an infinite lifespan and will last after a certain period, usually four months.  When the code signing certificate expires, no software or application with this code will be trusted by a browser.

The expiry limits your ability to create new signatures until you re-purchase, revalidate, and reinstall the certificate. Start by purchasing or renewing your certificate from the CA, then get it validated to verify your legitimacy. After that, install your code signing certificate, and you are good to go.

The only exception is to timestamped your code. If you timestamp, the code will be trusted indefinitely even when the certificate expires. Some networks such as Microsoft Authenticode provides timestamps that protect the code when the certificate expires.

The good news is your old signature will remain valid and will require reissuing the certificate once it expires. However, ensure you renew the code signing certificate before it expires to avoid the re-validation process.

What are the types of code signing certificates? 

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There are several types of code signing certificates with varying validation requirements. These are standard code signing certificates and extended validated (EV) code. Standard code signing certificates are issued with a standard vetting process with protection responsibility placed on the developer. If you have newly launched software, it will be a good choice.

 The certificate is provided quickly, and a private key is kept together with the public key. They include Organization Validation (OV) as certificates used to validate organizations and Individual Validation (IV) used for individual developers. 

On the other hand, the extended validation certificate is used to verify the identity of a developer. The publisher has to provide all the documents to provide their identity and avoid any unauthorized usage. Compared to the regular code signing, the extended version offers more security features and reduces third-party interference.

Bottom line

There is no better way to secure your software than to sign it with a certificate digitally. It helps maintain content authenticity and your integrity to the user. Code signing protects developers and users from malware in an environment full of malicious attacks. Through encryption, the certificates protect the code and enhance a developer’s reputation with the user. 

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