Code Signing vs SSL Certificates: Key Differences

Before we discuss the differences between the two, let’s first understand what’s common between a Code Signing Certificate and an SSL certificate. Simply put, both are two kinds of authentication processes used for different purposes. Code signing certificate is used for securing software while SSL certificate is used for securing internet communication. But the issuing authority of certificates can be same for both kinds. 

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In both the cases, a pair of public and private keys are used to encrypt or hash the software or the communication path. The root Certificate Authority (CA) assigns a public key to a digital certificate after validating the authenticity of the requesting party which is a developer in code signing or a website in case of SSL.

The Next-Gen Machine Identity Management Report 2021

A man-in—the-middle attack is quite common in unsecured website traffic but similar concept does exist in the distribution of the software as well. A malicious distributor can tamper the software and insert a malware into it which users can download and install on their computers. Code signing is especially used to prevent such scenario in case of software distribution.

Key differences between Code Signing Certificates and SSL Certificates

While the end purpose of both kinds of certificates is to protect the users from cybercrime, there are few more differences between the two apart from the ones discussed already.

Certificate location

As discussed above, SSL is used for securing websites and Code signing is for securing downloadable software, applications, drivers, or scripts, the location where these certificates are stored vary. SSL certificates are stored in web servers hosting the website while code signed certificates are stored in the software itself through hashing mechanism. If you are using a website to distribute your own developed software, then you will need both kinds of certificates.

CA Verification Process

A Certificate Authority (CA) has different means to verify the applicants of these two kinds of certificates. For SSL certificates, the CA verifies if the applicant is truly the owner of the website domain for which they want the certificate. Hence, they would send a verification email to the admin email address like [email protected] with a verification link which you need to click on.

For code signing certificates, the CA registers your business details, address and contact information. Developers might need to submit a notarized form with their valid photo-id and have to undergo a phone call verification process.

Certificate Installation

When the verification process is done, the CA issues a digital certificate in both the cases. The code signing certificate can be used as a digital certificate in your software or a piece of code. This will prompt when the buyers are trying to install that software in their computers.

For SSL certificates, the CA attaches public key to the website’s URL, enables HTTPS and displays a padlock sign in the address bar. When the user clicks on that padlock sign, the certificate would be displayed showing a valid identity of the issuer as well as the website owner.

Code Signing vs SSL Certificates

After Expiry

This is one of the situations you don’t want to get into, especially if you are in an online business. After the SSL certificate expires, it shows a “not secure” message on the address bar of your website viewers. This thwarts most of the traffic to transact with you online.

For code signing certificate, a similar security warning which you get while installing the software would prompt with an unknown publisher name until you renew your certificate.

Certificate Lifecycle Automation

While there are many points in your online tech business where you need to deal with digital certificate management, the numbers that you need to manage are growing rapidly. It is becoming increasingly difficult and outdated to perform certificate management tasks manually. Businesses have suffered huge monetary losses due to outage of service or a dent in their reputation, all caused by the expiry of certificates and not taking timely measures.

Hence, an automated Certificate Lifecycle Management solution is what you need that takes care of entire steps in an end-to-end solution like issuance, auto-enroll, renewal, revoke and so on. Apart from this, purchasing a ready-made Public Key Infrastructure solution that comes as a part of CLM can relieve you from the hassles of setting up your own. Most of the admin tasks related to certificates can be managed automatically without a dedicated personnel or team required to keep a watch on them all the time.

With an automated Certificate Management solution in place, you would leave no gap in the continuity of your service. Leaving the backend processes to a specialized vendor would allow you to focus solely on the core business and hence, grow it immensely.

Do you want to manage your machine identities better?

About the Author

Shoeb Ahmed

Shoeb is an Author and a Senior Marketer at AppViewX. His passion lies in communicating the organization's core values and offerings to the larger audience.

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