Code Signing Vs. SSL Certificate: Differences Explained

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The difference between Code Signing Certificate Vs. SSL certificate explained

Understanding Code Signing Certificate Vs. SSL Certificates For Better Clarity

The cybersecurity fraternity commonly discusses the topic of Code Signing Certificate vs. SSL certificate. To give you a clear understanding, we have prepared this blog, explaining both terms in a detailed manner.

SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) and Code Signing Certificates are both types of digital certificates. They both play key roles in establishing trust and security in online communications. SSL certificates secure website communications by encrypting the connection between a user’s web browser and a website, while a Code Signing certificate verifies the software publisher’s identity and guarantees that the code has not been tampered with.

Both these certificates use the X.509 standard for public key infrastructure (PKI) to authenticate the certificate holder’s identity and ensure the certificate’s integrity. X.509 is a widely-used digital certificate standard. It is responsible for specifying the certificate’s format and content and for issuing, renewing, and revoking certificates

Now, before we understand Code Signing Certificate vs. SSL, let’s understand both terms in a detailed manner.

What is a Code Signing Certificate?

A Code Signing certificate authenticates the software publisher’s identity and guarantees that the code has not been tampered with. A Code Signing certificate’s primary purpose is to verify that the software publisher is who they claim to be and to confirm that the code has not undergone any modifications since its signature.

When a user receives a digitally signed piece of code, their computer uses the public key from the Code Signing certificate to verify the signature and ensure that the software publisher indeed signed it. This helps protect users from downloading and running malicious code that could harm their computers or steal their personal information.

Code Signing certificates are issued by a trusted third-party certificate authority (CA) like Comodo and Sectigo. The certificate usually contains information about the software publisher, such as their name and address, as well as the public key used to verify the signature. The issuer can revoke Code Signing certificates in case of any security breach, and they have a specific validity period.

Code signing is the process of digitally signing executable files, scripts, drivers, and other types of code. Typically, the process involves using a code signing certificate, which contains a private key that is used to create a digital signature for the code. The code embeds the public key from the certificate and the digital signature, enabling users’ computers to verify it.

Typically, people use code signing for software distribution over the Internet. It can be mobile apps, browser extensions, and desktop software. In addition to this, organizations use it for code distribution within their network, such as software or macros used by employees. Verifying the code’s integrity and publisher improves the trust in the code and its publisher.

How Code Signing Certificate Works?

Code signing works by using a combination of public key cryptography and digital signatures. Perform the following steps to obtain a code signing certificate.

Obtain a code signing certificate

The software publisher must first obtain a code signing certificate from a trusted third-party CA.

Sign the code

The software publisher uses the private key from the code signing certificate to create a digital signature for the code. To accomplish this, you run a hashing algorithm on the code, generating a unique ‘fingerprint’ of the code. The software publisher then encrypts the fingerprint using the private key from the code signing certificate.

Embed the signature and public key into the code

The code embeds the digital signature, public key from the code signing certificate, and other metadata. The code contains the date and time it was signed.

Distribute the code

The software publisher distributes the signed code to users, usually done through a website or app store.

Verify the signature

When a user receives the signed code, their computer uses the public key from the code signing certificate. To verify the digital signature, this process typically involves running the same hashing algorithm on the code to generate a new fingerprint and then decrypting the signature using the public key. If the fingerprint generated by the user’s computer matches the one in the signature, the code verifies as authentic and has not undergone any tampering.

Now that we understand what Code Signing Certificates are let us move a step ahead with the SSL vs. Code Signing Certificates and shed some light on SSL Certificates.

Read also about What is Microsoft Windows Code Signing Certificate?

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What is an SSL/TLS Certificate?

An SSL/TLS certificate, also known as a digital certificate, helps authenticate a website’s identity and builds a safe connection between the client and its server. It establishes a security system using SSL certificate chain that encrypts the connection between the website visitor and server, ensuring that no third party can access the information and data shared between the two parties. With a secured certificate, websites can confidently request sensitive information required to complete actions from their visitors. It can be sharing credit card information, address, email, social security number, images, etc.

An SSL certificate prevents cybercriminals from accessing the information shared between the client and server. Websites with a padlock adjacent to the URL address have secured an SSL certificate. From the day of its inception, we have seen a lot of new iterations of SSL certificates. The reason is that hackers have been devising ways of bypassing the security systems set by the SSL certificate.

How Does SSL Certificate Work?

SSL Certificate works by encrypting the data in transit between the client and the browser. Here is how it does:

Obtaining the SSL Certificate

The website owner must first obtain an SSL certificate from a trusted third-party certificate authority (CA) like Comodo, Sectigo, and Certera. The certificate contains a public key and information about the website owner, such as their domain name and organization name.

Install the certificate on the web server

The website owner then installs the certificate on the web server. Typically, the server must configure to use the certificate’s public key for encrypting communications in this process.

Establish a secure connection

When a user visits the website, their web browser initiates a ‘handshake’ process with the web server. During this process, the web browser and the web server exchange information and verify each other’s authenticity with the help of an SSL certificate. Once the authenticity confirms, the web browser and the web server use the SSL certificate’s public key to establish a secure and encrypted connection.

Send and receive secure data

The website owner can now send and receive sensitive information in an encrypted format. It can be anything like login credentials and credit card numbers; no third party can access it.

Now we know how code signing and SSL work. So let us start comparing Code Signing Certificate vs. SSL.

Read also about A Beginner’s Guide to Understanding SSL File Extensions

Code Signing Certificate vs. SSL Certificate

Let us list down the various parameters on which we will compare Code Signing Certificate vs. SSL Certificate. First, let us discuss Code Signing Certificate.

The Features of Code Signing Certificate

Functionalities

The primary function of a Code Signing certificate is to authenticate the software publisher’s identity and make sure the integrity of the code is intact. As discussed earlier, it uses a combination of public key cryptography and digital signature and establishes the identity of the software owner, and also assures the users that the code is safe for use.

Usage

Organizations use Code Signing Certificates in a variety of applications, including…

Software distribution: Developers commonly use Code Signing certificates to digitally sign software, applications, executable files, and other types of code.

Internal Code Distribution: An organization distributes internal code within itself, such as scripts or macros used by employees. By signing the code, the organization can ensure that the code is coming from a trusted source.

Firmware: It is also a common practice to use it for signing firmware updates to ensure that the firmware originates from a legitimate source.

Device drivers: Developers sign device drivers with it to ensure authenticity.

Plugins and Add-ons: Developers use code signing to maintain legitimacy for Plugins and Add-ons in various software and browsers.

Types of Code Signing Certificates

Essentially, there are two types of Code Signing Certificates: Standard Code Signing Certificates and Extended Validation (EV) Code Signing Certificates.

Standard Code Signing Certificates

The most commonly used Code Signing Certificates sign executable software and applications available on the Internet.

EV Code Signing Certificates

Extended Validation Code Signing Certificates authenticate the identity of the software publisher and are advanced Code Signing Certificates. Unlike the standard one, it provides additional security features, such as hardware-based key storage and real-time monitoring of the certificate status. Moreover, this certificate undergoes a more rigorous vetting process than standard or individual Code Signing Certificates.

Code Signing Validation Process

The CA will verify the information provided in the application by checking public records or getting in touch with the software publisher directly. This ensures that the software publisher is a trusted entity, and so is its code. The CA will issue the Code Signing Certificate as soon as the information provided in the application has been verified.

Issuance Time for Code Sign Certificates

The certificate authority (CA) issues the certificate and determines the issuance time of a Code Signing certificate, which can vary based on the type of certificate being issued. However, most certificate authorities (CA) can issue Code Signing certificates in a relatively short period, usually within a few days to a week.

The CA can verify all the information provided by the software publisher and the code to be signed, which enables the issuance of standard Code Signing certificates in as little as 24 hours.

For EV Code Signing certificates, the issuance time can take longer. It is because the CA needs to perform additional checks and verifications, such as checking public records and contacting the software publisher directly. Its issuance can take up to several weeks, as the CA needs to ensure that the software publisher is a legitimate entity and that the code is legitimate.

Warranty

When it comes to Code Signing, Code Signing Certificates do not usually come with warranties, but a few reputed CAs do offer them.

Cost of Code Signing Certificates

The certificate authority (CA) issuing the certificate, the type of certificate being issued, and the length of the validity period determine the cost of a Code Signing certificate.

Standard Code Signing Certificates are generally less expensive than EV Code Signing Certificates because EV Code Signing Certificates require a more rigorous vetting process.

The cost for a standard Code Signing certificate can range from a few ten dollars to a few hundred dollars per year, based on the CA and the length of the validity period. EV Code Signing Certificates are generally more expensive and can range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars per year. It again comes down to the CA and the length of the validity period.

Installation Process for Code Sign Certificates

The installation process for a Code Signing certificate depends on the certificate type, the code-signing software in use, and the computer’s operating system where the certificate will be installed. This is what happens in the installation process of a Code Signing Certificate:

The software publisher imports the certificate file into the operating system’s certificate store. On Windows, you can do this using the Certificates MMC snap-in; on Mac, you can do it using the Keychain Access utility. The software publisher must associate the private key with the certificate to sign the code using the private key. The next process is to configure the software according to the Code Signing Certificate. Once the software publisher installs and configures the Code Signing certificate, they can use the software to sign the code.

Now, let us discuss the parameters of the SSL certificate.

The Feature of SSL Certificate

SSL by Functionalities

The main functionality of SSL is to establish a secure and encrypted connection between a user’s web browser and a website by combining public key cryptography and digital certificates. 

Uses of SSL Certificates

SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) establishes secure and encrypted connections between a user’s web browser and a website, serving a primary purpose. It finds application in various scenarios, including:

Web browsing: SSL establishes secure connections between web browsers and websites. It can be online stores, banking websites, and other sites that demand the exchange of sensitive information.

Email: SSL also secures connections between email clients and email servers. Checking emails can be done using POP3S and IMAPS applications. Thus, it protects the emails from being intercepted.

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs): SSL is used to establish a secure connection between a user’s computer and a remote VPN server. It allows the user to access a private network from a remote location securely.

File transfers: SSL establishes secure connections between two computers, allowing the user to transfer files between them securely.

Types of SSL Certificates

There are three types of SSL certificates.

Domain Validated (DV) SSL Certificates

These certificates are issued based on domain ownership validation and are typically the cheapest and fastest certificates to get.

Organization Validated (OV) SSL Certificates

These certificates are issued after the validation of domain ownership and the organization’s legal existence. Compared to DV, they provide a higher level of trust.

Extended Validation (EV) SSL Certificates

Once the domain ownership, legal existence of the organization, and additional identity and security checks are validated, the issuing authority provides these certificates, which offer the highest level of trust among SSL Certificates.

Validation Process for SSL/TLS Certificates

The validation process for SSL certificates is done on the basis of two things: the type of certificate being issued and the CA that issues the certificate. The CA first verifies the information provided in the application by checking the public records and contacts the website owner directly. This ensures that the website owner is a legitimate entity and that the website is legitimate.

Once the information provided in the application has been verified, the CA will issue the SSL certificate.

Issuance Time of SSL by Types

For Domain Validated (DV) SSL certificates, the issuance time can be as short as a few minutes once the CA has verified the domain ownership. To do this, one can email the administrative contact email specified in the WHOIS record or place a file with a specific name in the website’s root directory.

For Organization Validated (OV) and Extended Validation (EV) SSL certificates, the issuance time can take longer, as the CA needs to perform additional checks and verifications, such as checking public records and contacting the website owner directly. The issuance time for OV and EV SSL certificates can take up to several days, as the CA needs to ensure that the website owner is a legitimate entity and that the website is legitimate.

Warranty

Warranties for SSL certificates depend on the CA and the type of certificate, but most CAs provide a warranty that covers certain types of losses that may occur as a result of a mistake made by the CA during the issuance of the certificate.

Cost of SSL Certificates

Domain Validated (DV) SSL certificates are generally the least expensive. They can cost anywhere from a few to tens of dollars per year.

Organization Validated (OV) SSL certificates are on the expensive side and cost more than DV certificates. They can range somewhere between a few tens of dollars to a few hundred dollars per year.

Extended Validation (EV) SSL Extended Validation (EV) SSL Certificates are generally the most expensive and might go up to several thousand dollars per year.

The cost of certificates is actually dependent on the CA and the length of the validity period.

Installation Process of SSL Certificates

The installation process for an SSL certificate can vary on the basis of the certificate type, the web server software being used, and the server’s operating system. Installing an SSL certificate may vary based on the certificate type, the web server software used, and the server’s operating system.

The SSL certificate installation involves copying the certificate file to the appropriate server location and configuring the web server software to use the certificate. The web server software used determines the configuration process. The certificate is associated with the private key, and the website owner needs to check the status of the SSL certificate to ensure its correct installation. A valid status confirms the correct installation of the certificate.

Code Signing and SSL Certificate Features Comparison

This is how SSL Certificates differ from Code Signing. You can refer to the table for a better understanding:

FeaturesCheap Code Signing CertificateCheap SSL Certificate
What it does?It hashes the scripts and signature of the publisherIt encrypts the communication between two machines (browser and server)
CSR Key Length2048 Bit CSR Key Length3072 Bit CSR Key Length
SHA AlgorithmPowered by SHA-2 AlgorithmPowered by SHA-2 Algorithm
What Type of Validation Required?Individual / Organization authenticationBasic Validation Via Email
Time for IssuanceIt takes 1 to 3 Business DaysDV takes 10 minutes, OV takes 1 to 3 Days, and EV takes 1 to 5 Days.
UsageEncrypt Websites with HTTPS
  • Downloadable software
  • devices
  • windows drivers
  • web applications
  • executables
  • scripts
Types
  • Domain validated (DV)
  • Organization validated (OV)
  • Extended validated (EV)
  • Organization validated (OV)
  • Extended validated (EV)
Mobile & Web Browsers Compatibility100%100%
Warranty  $10000 to $1.75 MillionNo warranty
Refund Policy100% Money Back Assurance for 30 Days100% Money Back Assurance for 30 Days
Pricing
  • Regular or OV Code signing certificate $199.99/yr
  • EV Code signing certificate $244.99/yr
  • DV SSL $2.99/yr
  • OV SSL $21.99/yr
  • EV SSL $59.99/yr
  • Wildcard SSL $19.99/yr
  • Multi-domain SSL $10.99/yr

Summarising

Code Signing and SSL certificates can coexist to create a safe space for Internet users by providing different layers of security. For example, suppose a user wants to download a software application from a website that has both a Code Signing certificate and an SSL certificate. In that case, people can rest assured that the software is legitimate and that the website has a secure connection.

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Janki Mehta

Janki Mehta

Janki Mehta is a Cyber-Security Enthusiast who constantly updates herself with new advancements in the Web/Cyber Security niche. Along with theoretical knowledge, she also implements her practical expertise in day-to-day tasks and helps others to protect themselves from threats.