28
Apr
2021

Code Signing Certificate is Essential for Software Integrity

Code Signing Certificate Helps in Authenticating the Origin of Software

The use of technology has improved the way we live. But it has also led to an increase in cybercrime, and businesses and internet users have to bear the brunt of it. Not only are websites facing a threat of data breach, but users are also faced with a risk of downloading malware. A spike has been noticed in the number of fraudulent transactions being done through smartphones.

According to a survey by Kaspersky, the year 2020 saw 5,683,694 malicious installation packages along with 20,708 new mobile ransomware Trojans and 156,710 new mobile banking Trojans. The fear of fraudulent downloads has always made users apprehensive when we download any software. There is a need to secure the software to download it without the fear of malware. It is where a code signing certificate can be of immense help.

Understanding a Code Signing Certificate

The code signing process uses a digital signature to sign software applications, scripts, executables, etc. It ensures that the underlying code has not been tampered with and verifies the software developer. Apart from the signature, it has the name of the software developer and the timestamp as well.

The certificate has information that can help verify the entity’s identity, which is essentially the software developer. A Certificate Authority issues the code signing certificate after proper authentication based on the type of certificate chosen. The certificates must be signed using the secure Public-key Infrastructure (PKI).

How does a Code Signing Certificate work?

The code signing technology uses the PKI technology that is also used in SSL/ TLS certificates. It involves two cryptographic keys – a combination of private and public keys to encrypt the underlying code. The developer must ensure that the code is hashed, and the private key will be used to encrypt the hash. A digital signature is also added that would contain the timestamp.

When the user tries to download the software, the public key is used to decrypt the signature. The root certificate is looked for that can be trusted to recognize whether the signature can be trusted. The hash on the downloaded software is compared with the hash that is used to sign the software. If the system can trust the root certificate and both the hashes match, the software is safe to be downloaded.

  • Types of Code Signing Certificate
  • There are mainly two types of certificates: viz.
  • Regular Code Signing certificate (or Organisation Validation Code Signing certificate)
  • Extended Validation Code Signing Certificate
  • The regular code signing certificate provides basic-level validation of the software developer. The CA requires the entity to meet few basic requirements, including that the business must be in operations when the certificate is issued.

An Extended Validation code generation certificate involves comprehensive validation of the entity that has requested the certificate. The developers must adhere to stringent requirements and comply with the FIPS (Federal Information Processing Standards) 140 Level-2 or equivalent. As an additional level of security, the CA also issues a hardware token.

Benefits of Code Signing Certificate

Identifies the source of the code

One of the critical issues that users face is the authenticity of the software provider. Before downloading software, the user must be confident about the source of the software. A code signing certificate allows the user to confirm the developer’s identity and confirm that they are downloading genuine software.

Prevents security warnings

We are all aware of the security warning that comes up when we try to download software from dubious sources. The use of a code signing certificate helps to remove the security warnings. It also helps to confirm the name of the publisher who had developed the software.

The use of timestamping

These certificates have a definite validity period. Once it expires, you cannot sign new software with it, and the existing signatures will become invalid. The use of timestamping helps to inform whether the code was signed within the validity period.

Confirms the integrity of the software

The process of code signing helps to determine whether the code is trustworthy. It allows users to ascertain whether anyone has tampered with the code. The code signing certificate can help users confirm that the software is safe, and they can also check the source of the software. Developers can mark their brand and prevent any malicious changes to the code.

Best Practices for Code Signing Certificate

Prevent sharing of certificates

It would help if you used separate certificates for your software. You may also use respective developers for different development teams. It will help you to keep track of the changes made by the groups. It will also mitigate the risk of the password getting misplaced.

Use timestamping as a best practice.

It is essential that you mark when the code signing was done. If the certificate expires, it could affect the integrity of the underlying code. The use of timestamping can validate whether the certificate was still valid when the code was signed.

An indispensable quality control mechanism

It may not be necessary to use code signing for all your builds. But, it can be used as a best practice to sign the applications for each build. The development team can also ensure that no untested modules are sent to the production environment.

Procure from a reputed CA

One of the points you must consider is that you must choose from among the renowned CAs. The certificates are primarily compatible with all browsers.

Conclusion

The increase in the number of malicious downloads over the internet has made users check the software developer before downloading. The code signing process helps to authenticate the origin of the software and enthuses a sense of trust in the users’ minds. Using a code signing certificate can help software developers ensure that the users can safely download the software.

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