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Are you looking for digital certificates? Digital certificates has more than one meaning in reference to your website security. This article helps define four types of digital certificates and explains the term digital certificate. Learn what type of digital certificate is best for you here.
Two Meanings of Digital Certificate
The term digital certificate has two meanings. One of the meanings is general and refers to a category of certificates comprising four different types and the other is specific and refers to a specific type of digital certificate. Because one use of the term digital certificate refers to items that are a category and the other to certain, but not all, members within the category, the potential for confusion is great. So, let's clarify the situation.
Digital Certificate: the Overarching Term
Microsoft support defines digital certificate as an overarching term the purpose of which is to make sure that the public key in the certificate actually belongs to the organization or individual to whom the certificate was issued.
The organizations responsible for issuing digital certificates of all types are called Certificate Authorities (CA). They not only issue digital certificates: they also authenticate then and sign them. Depending on the level of certificate, the Certificate Authority must go to greater or lesser lengths to establish the identity of the person or organization requesting the digital certificate. These are the levels of detail:
When verification is not properly undertaken, fraudulent certificates can be issued, as happened in March, 2011 with a reseller for Comodo, a Certification Authority. Although they were quickly revoked, the potential for damage is high, and Comodo has put measures in place to prevent a recurrence.
Microsoft Support specified four types of digital certificates. Here is a description of each:
Digital Certificate: the Specific Type
The term digital certificate is also used to refer to personal certificates, in particular, those issued in order to be able to send secure email. For example, the Webopedia definition of digital certificate say nothing about the use of personal certificates for servers, let alone refer to the existence of any other type of digital certificate, such as server certificates, software publisher certificates, or Certification Authority Certificates.
This is not the only potential source of confusion. VeriSign refers to a validated personal digital certificate for sending S/MIME compliant email as a "Digital ID," whereas an article in Macworld called "Create a digital ID with Adobe Acrobat" is using the term digital ID to refer to a method of signing an Adobe Acrobat document that is not validated.
The take away is that it's important to use care when discussing digital certificates and digital IDs because the terms can mean different things to different people.
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