Digital Certificate

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What Does Digital Certificate Mean?

A digital certificate authenticates the Web credentials of the sender and lets the recipient of an encrypted message know that the data is from a trusted source (or a sender who claims to be one). A digital certificate is issued by a certification authority (CA).

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Digital certificates are used with self-signatures and message encryption.

Digital certificates are also known as public key certificates or identity certificates.

Techopedia Explains Digital Certificate

A person (sender), who is sending an encrypted message may obtain a digital certificate from a CA to ensure authenticity. The CA issues the digital certificate with the applicant’s public key, along with other information such as holder name, serial number, date of expiration and a digital CA signature. It also issues its own public key in the public domain via the Web.

When a Web message is transmitted, a digital certificate serves as an encrypted attachment containing the public key and other relevant identifying data. When the recipient receives the message, the digital certificate is decoded using the CA’s public key. Using various information residing in the digital certificate, the recipient can send an encrypted reply back to the sender.

Digital certificates verify website authenticity and legitimacy. A browser may display an unsafe digital certificate alert but still permit user entry. This warning signals that the website is a threat and security risk.

The most common digital certificate standard is X.509.

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Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert
Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert

Margaret is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical business audience. Over the past twenty years, her IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.