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Types of Code Signing Certificates Explained

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Code signing is an important part of software distribution. Hence you need to ensure that your software code is signed using a legitimate code signing certificate. Here is what you need to know about it!

In the world of never-ending cyberattacks, the most sincere thing to do is safeguard your business first. Do everything to secure every single bit of information, as anything can be leveraged against you. The same is the case with your software or driver code. If you are an individual or business that produces system software, it is imperative for you to safeguard its authenticity. This is where the concept of a code signing certificate comes in.

Any code produced by you can be compromised by hackers for their best interest, and a code signing certificate can save you from the loss.

The very question that your mind must be juggling with would be, what is a code signing certificate? Well, it is an entity that can save your business reputation and revenue. There is a lot to know about code signing certificates. Read ahead to find out!

What is a Code Signing Certificate?

Before we know about code signing certificates, let’s see what code signing is.

Code signing is a process that ensures that the software received by the end user is not tampered with or changed in any way. A code signing certificate is a way to do it.

A code signing certificate is an X.509 certificate that is used to place a digital signature on an executable software file or driver to ensure that it is legitimate and comes from an authenticated source.

A Code Signing Certificate, no matter which one, is issued by a certificate authority (CA). A certificate authority is an entity that is trusted to carefully check the details of the organizations and individuals before issuing the code signing certificate. Some of the prime names of CAs are Sectigo, Certera, COMODO, etc.

Types of Code Signing Certificates

Well, when it comes to the types of code signing certificates, there are not many but two types of certificates.

OV Code Signing Certificate

Organization Validation is a standard type of code signing certificate that is usually chosen by organizations to sign their software codes. Here are some distinguishable aspects of it!

  • Unlike EV code signing certificates that provide instant Microsoft SmartScreen reputation, the OV code signing certificate allows you to build a reputation as the users download the software.
  • The OV code signing certificate is stored on the purchaser’s machine in an encrypted form. However, you do not get the private key in this.
  • With an OV code signing certificate, you can only sign software in the user mode, not the kernel mode.

The OV code signing certificates can be issued to individuals and firms. The issuing CA does not mention the name of the purchaser on it.

EV Code Signing Certificate

The EV code signing certificate is an enhanced version of the standard code signing certificate where the CA follows a strict vetting of the organization before issuing the certificates.

  • The EV code signing certificate is not issued to any individual but only to a company manufacturing the driver or software.
  • The EV code signing certificate cannot be used like the OV certificate. It requires two-factor authentication, as the private key required to sign the certificate is stored on a hardware token in an encrypted form.
  • With the EV code signing certificate, you get Microsoft’s Smartscreen reputation. It means that your users will never get the unknown publisher warning, no matter what.
  • The EV code signing certificate is used to sign both system or kernel codes as well as user mode software.

The EV code signing certificate has the name of the company it has been issued to. Moreover, CAs carefully check the company’s information as per the guidelines set by CA/Browser Forum.

Note: The EV code signing certificate is the best to procure. If you wish to grow your software business faster, invest in an EV certificate. It will not only provide you reputation in the market but will also help in skyrocketing your business revenue.

How to get these Code Signing Certificates?

The process to get a code signing certificate is easy from the buyer’s end. Here are the steps to get a cheap code signing certificate.

  • Purchase: The first step is to purchase the certificate from the certificate authority.
  • Identity verification: Once you purchase the certificate, the process of your identity verification begins. You may have to provide notarized documents of your business, financial documents, and even identification forms to the CA to prove your identity.
  • Receive and install: Once you have been identified as a legitimate entity by the CA, you will receive the code signing certificate in your email. You need to download the certificate to your PC and install it in the Keystore of your PC.
  • Sign the code signing certificate: When the certificate is installed on the PC, you can begin signing the software codes.

How to check the code signing certificate?

If you’re a user and want to check if the downloaded file is code signed, here are the steps!

  • Go to the file and right-click on it.
  • Choose the properties option.
  • Look for the digital signature tab and click on it to check the details of the certificate.

What are the Benefits of a Code Signing Certificate?

As we are aware of the types of code signing certificates and how to get them, let’s understand why we need them. There are several reasons and their respective benefits for code signing certificates.

  • Code authenticity: No matter which code signing certificate you use to sign the software code, a code signed by a certificate ensures authenticity. It means that the software comes from a legitimate source.
  • Boosts reputation: It is pretty obvious that if your software code is signed using an EV code signing certificate, it will gain Microsoft SmartScreen’s reputation. Users will know about your brand’s legitimacy, and it will build trust for your brand among the audience.
  • Boosts revenue: When you are distributing your software signed by an EV code signing certificate, your brand will automatically witness a reputation boost that will directly tune other users to use your software. In turn, this will boost your company’s revenue.

What is the Cost of Code Signing Certificates?

Yes, these certificates do not come free; there is a code signing certificate cost that you have to pay based on the duration of the membership. The Code Signing Certificate cost also varies based on the type of certificate authority. Here is the pricing of various certificate authorities.

 

Certificate AuthorityOV CertificateEV Certificate
Sectigo$49.99 per year$199.99 per year
COMODO$49.99 per year$199.99 per year

 

Do Code Signing Certificates Expire?

Yes, the code signing certificates are not an evergreen piece of tools. They do expire after a fixed interval of time. This interval can vary from 1-3 years based on the type of subscription you have opted for.

Beware that your code signing certificate will not be valid after it expires. Hence, make sure that you renew it beforehand. It is advised that you renew your code signing certificate 90 days before the expiration date.

If you timestamp an executable file with a code signing certificate, it will be valid even after the certificate has expired. Timestamping can save you a lot of hassle, money, and customers in case your code signing certificate expires.

Conclusion

Hence, these are the types of code signing certificates. If you ask us, it is ideal to go for the EV code signing certificate for your brand software products. It is more secure, provides a private key in an external token, and has Microsoft’s SmartScreen reputation. Rest, one needs to ensure that the certificate is valid and has not expired. On top of that, make sure that you timestamp the software for maximum benefits.

Checkout: Benefits of Setting up A Personal Server

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