How Do Digital Certificates Work?

Updated on January 5, 2023 | by Alex Smith

What is a Digital Certificate?

A digital certificate is a way to confirm one’s identity to another. Mostly, a third-party organization which is known as the CA (certificate authority), they are responsible for confirming or binding the identity of a digital certificate owner. The certificate authority creates the digital certificate through certificate automation system on their server.

This digital certificate is used to establish a secure communication between two parties who are unknown to each other or have lack of trust between them. With the help of a digital certificate, one can assure that the person who you want to establish communication with is the person only who he claims to be.

The main objective of using the digital certificate is to build some trust between two parties who want to communicate with each other securely. For example, most e-commerce websites use digital certificates to assure customers or buyers that they are who they claim to be. 

Another example, business enterprises use the digital certificate to communicate with another business enterprise through email. The digital certificate here works as a client certificate to prove one’s identity to another.

How Do Digital Certificates Work?

To show you how the digital certificate works, this article uses an example to explain it to you in a simpler way. Certificate automation in the computer server makes the process easy for both the parties as well.

Harry and Shane are two business owners who want to establish some kind of communication between each other. The steps below are to make sure that Shane has a digital certificate that Harry can use to start communicating with Shane. To start a communication suing Shane’s digital certificate, Harry uses the following steps: 

  1. Harrys sends a request for Shane’s digital certificate to a certificate repository, which is a part of CA (certificate authority).
  2. When Harry receives Shane’s certificate, it verifies that with the help of a web browser by checking the digital signature of the certificate authority using the public key of the certificate authority. After that Harry uses Shane’s public key which has been supplied by the certificate to encrypt the message which he sent to Shane.
  3. Then Shane receives the encrypted message by Harry, for which he uses his own private key to decrypt the message. Here you need to remember that no one except for Harry will be able to decrypt this message because Harry’s private key is not shared with anyone else.

So, this is one of the ways in which the digital certificate works. For this example, the mode of communication is through email. So that the message is encrypted and it will only be decrypted by the person from whom it was originally sent for. This way the communication between Harry and Shane is secured and genuine.

There are some well-known certificate authorities through which you can do the above-mentioned steps or you can acquire your digital certificate from. These certificate authorities are as follows:

  • VeriSign
  • Thawte
  • DigiCert 
  • Network Solutions, LLC

So, hope now you know how the digital certificates work and how to use them as well.

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