What is Code Signing Certificate & How Does it Work?

Cyberspace is flooded with new applications, software, latest updates, plug-ins being released now and then. No doubt, they are here to make our lives easier. With a simple click, you can download the required software onto your systems.

But as an end-user and as a software publisher, there is only one thing that bothers you- the authenticity and integrity of the software. It is essential for you as a code publisher to trust your software they download and install.

Customers must know that the downloaded software indeed comes from you and not from any spurious source that has tried to tamper with the code and has put the users at risk by embedding malware into the software.

Here is where the role of a Code Signing Certificate comes into play. The Code Signing Certificate brings in an effective solution to these problems.

Once your application or software is signed, your customers will know that you are the original publisher of the code and that no tampering of the code is done since you signed it.

According to Digital Signature Market Report 2020 (Source: https://www.marketsandmarkets.com/Market-Reports/digital-signature-market-177504698.html ), the digital signature market is projected to grow from USD 2.8 billion in 2020 to USD 14.1 billion by 2026, at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 31.0% during the forecast period.

(Source: https://www.marketsandmarkets.com/Market-Reports/digital-signature-market-177504698.html )

Now that we have seen how the world over Digital Signature Market is expanding, let us dive deep into getting the proper perspective into understanding Code Signing.

  • What is Code Signing?

Code Signing is essentially a process by which developers attach a digital signature to their executable files or codes or software. This guarantees that the downloaded software is not modified after being signed and authenticates the software’s publisher.

If any third party does any modification of the code, then the user downloads the software, and the system checks the signature. It will immediately warn the user that the software may be unsafe and thus saves the user from any potential malware breaches.

You can see the use of code signing in many places like Apple software, Microsoft Office VBA objects and macros, Windows Software updates and applications, and literally on any executable files available today.

How Does Code Signing Certificate Protect Your Code, Software, or Application?

Let us now focus on how Code Signing Certificate protects your code or applications that work with various platforms like Mac OSX, Microsoft Windows.

What are the key steps involved in this process? It becomes easier to understand this process if we do it both from the developer’s perspective and the user’s perspective.

Here are the steps involved that the developer has to take to get the code signed:

  • Firstly developers, organizations, or individuals, require to purchase a Code Signing Certificate from a reputed Certificate Authority(CA) depending on your budget and requirements.
  • Next, depending upon whether you are an organization or an individual, it takes a few days to go through a rigorous verification process that the CA puts in place to verify your identity.
  • Once your validation is completed, the Code signing certificate gets issued to you, and now, install it onto the platform you are using.
  • The actual signing process of the code or executable files now occurs by placing a digital signature with the code.
  • The digital signing procedure consists of using a one-way hash function to hash the executable codes, which are then encrypted with the private key primarily generated by the developer. Here it is always advisable to time stamp your digital signature.
  • This helps keep your digital signature valid even if your code signing certificate expires. It reflects that your code or software was signed during the validity period of the code signing certificate.
  • Thus, the hash is bundled with the code signing certificate containing the developer’s public key and identity along with the executable code. Now, your software or application is ready for distribution to the users with code-signed certificate verification.

At the user front, the following verification steps take place when software or application is downloaded:

  • When a signed application is downloaded onto the user’s system, it looks for the root certificate, which determines the authenticity of the code signing certificate or, in other words, determines that the certificate-issuing authority is recognized or the one it trusts.
  • Suppose the root certificate does not contain a trustworthy signing authority. In that case, the user’s system presents a warning for the user not to trust the code signing certificate used to sign the application.
  • Next, the system uses the public key in the signing certificate to decrypt the hash or the digital signature. The hash value so generated is compared to the hash value created by the downloaded code or application.
  • If the hash values generated are the same, then the signed software is not corrupt or tampered with and is safe to download. Thus, a code signing certificate verifies and protects the software’s integrity and validates the developer’s identity.
  • Functions Performed By Code Signing Certificate

(Source: https://www.ssl2buy.com/wiki/what-is-code-signing-certificate-how-does-it-work )

  • A Code Signing Certificate essentially performs the following functions:
  • Code signing verifies the authenticity of a software or an application by attaching a digital signature to it.
  • It also proves that the signed code or application has not been tampered with and that its integrity is intact since it was signed.
  • It helps you avoid the warning messages prompted by Windows of “Unknown Publisher Warning.”
  • Builds trust with the users as it is issued by Certificate Authority and provides security that your signed application or code is safe for downloading.
  • It gives developers the convenience of signing the future updates of their application or code with the same key as their signed apps. The updates will be enjoying the same trust by the users and are therefore safe to be downloaded.
  • The signing certificate also helps software developers in tracking the number of downloads happening for their signed software.
  • Types Of Code Signing Certificates To Explore

There are mainly two code signing certificates for signing executable files or applications, Standard Code Signing Certificates and EV Code Signing Certificates.

Applications using the standard code signing certificates continue to trigger the Microsoft Smart Screen warnings until they report higher downloads and lower bug reports and increase their trust and reputation among users.

EV Code Signing Certificates does not trigger Windows ‘Unknown Publisher warnings”, as this signing certificate is issued after a rigorous process of identity verification. Choose the signing certificates for your code according to your requirements and spending plans.

In Conclusion,

We can say that investing in a Code Signing Certificate should be the topmost priority for any developer or programmer as you must defend your software against any bad players trying to breach the trust between you and your end-user.

Digitally signing your code gives your users confidence and sets them free from all fears of downloading unauthorized software that might create havoc by downloading malware into their systems.

It also authenticates your identity and helps you grow your user base and builds up your reputation. So, invest in a Code Signing Certificate today and put a stamp of trust on your software.