What is a Digital Certificate?

digital certificate

Digital Certificates allow individual users, companies or organizations to access and exchange information. It acts as a password in the form of an electronic signal that allows access to public key infrastructure (PKI). PKI is a set of procedures and rules to govern information transfers over a network. It’s used every time you buy something online, send a secure email, or input information on a website form.

This key infrastructure governs all types of secure data transfers on the internet. It uses encryption to keep the transferred data secure.

This process governs all types of secure communications and transfers over networks and the internet today. It involves deep encryption for security purposes. The process requires validation throughout the process to ensure accuracy and safety. One of the common usages for digital certificates involves websites using SSL connectivity.

What is a Digital Certificate?

These important security measures are also called public key certificates and identity certificate. Regardless of what you call them, they all work the same. In essence, a digital certificate allows access to PKI security applications. Online security is one of the most important topics of conversation and innovation in the world today. Cybercrime is exploding around the world, so these authentication measures need to stand up to these risks.

What are Digital Certificates Used For?

Certificates act as a link between a private key and the public key. For example, this operation lets a site process a user’s purchase. There are many other uses for digital certificates. Browsers and servers also use PKI to accurately and securely display websites over SSL connections.

For example, if you’ve ever navigated to a website and noticed the URL was HTTPS and not HTTP, public key infrastructure is in place. The main goal of these certificates is to make sure hackers can’t change websites to collect people’s data.

How To Get a Digital Certificate

The vast majority of digital certificates come from third-party certificate authorities. These entities have established trust in their capability to issue SSL certificates for web browsers and make sure all the data and packet transfers remain uncorrupted.

In some cases, a business entity or organization is able to create their own digital certificates or identity certificates based on internal PKI systems. This usually occurs when all transfers of information happen internally. In other words, a massive organization that operates on a single inclusive network can create digital certificates that do not extend into the public Internet or shared systems outside themselves.

Digital Certificate vs. Digital Signature

Although digital certificates have other names, the word “certificate” remains in all of them. A digital signature is something else entirely. Public key infrastructure deals with these signatures, however, they act more like genuine personal signatures than anything related to the secure transfer of data.

While the certificate acts as a key that allows usage of the PKI, a signature identifies the public key and the related data as owned or managed by a particular person. Just like you would sign a contract or order form in the real world, a digital signature signs a virtual piece of information or documentation. It involves extensive encryption for security purposes.

The information remains secure based on this one-way algorithm until the sender who created the digital signature allows their public key to unlock it.

Types of Digital Certificates

The importance of encryption, security, and enforceable communication using specific certified PKI’s is essential for the appropriate flow data between entities, web browsers, and servers.

It exists in almost every type of network or Internet technology used today. In order to provide all of these benefits, multiple types of digital certificates exist. They all allow Internet browsers and servers to validate and authenticate the data used to serve and display functional websites accurately. This involves both SSL and TLS protocols.

The three main varieties of public key certificates are:

Domain Validated

Certificates of this type (DV SSL) represents the lowest form of security associated with domain names. They do not involve any information about the individual, company, or other entity on one end of the certificate. All they do is show that the person or group has a legal right to the domain.

Organization Validated

An extra layer of assurance exists with this type (OV SLL) of digital certificate. Besides ensuring that the individual or entity has the right to use the domain, it also shows who they are in order to validate ownership. This can help prevent some security problems if there are questions about the entity that is operating the domain name itself.

Extended Validation

The most secure form of a digital certificate (EV SSL) as it pertains to domains involves the certificate authority in the authentication process. In order for the exchange of data or server communication to occur, the individual or entity must clearly demonstrate their right to use a domain, who they are, and be able to verify this information to prove authorized domain use for all purposes.

A site’s digital certificates are specifically used for website creation, communication, and access security, they do exist in the software and app development industry. A type called “code signing certificates” validate programs by sharing public keys to sign the software itself as well as any updates and patches that come along afterward. This can help protect programs from unauthorized meddling.


Online and program security matters more every year as cybercriminals and hackers become more sophisticated and sneaky with their attempts to access information, networks, websites, and communication systems. One avenue of defense against these attacks includes the use of digital certificates.

When an individual, company, organization, or other entity has a unique certificate to prove their right to use a PKI, it lessens the chance of unauthorized connections and transfers. A trusted certificate authority validates these identification types allows the entity to access the public key to perform various activities necessary for their online or digital projects. From the SSL that securely encrypts most websites today to the small startup who wants to protect their future app upgrades, digital certificates provide the answer.

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