Thursday, May 25, 2006

What role does a certificate play in encryption?


Encryption is a mechanism to deliver data without tampering over the network. It also ensures that the data is not accessed by an unauthorized eavesdropper over the network.

What role does a certificate play in encryption?

The primary objective of a certificate is to ensure that the data reaches the person for whom it is intended. Using commonly used technology, it is very easy for someone to impersonate someone else. Certificates prevents us from such eavesdroppers.

What is a certificate?

A certificate is a verification document which guarantees that you are the person whom you claim to be. Let’s take the example of a passport. Passport can be compared to certificate. The passport is one document which guarantees that you are the person whom you claim to be. Why does everyone trusts the passport? Because it is issued by a trusted authority, like the government of any country. The same trusted authority principle applies to the ‘Certificate Authority’ in computing. So a ‘Certificate Authority’ is a trusted entity which issues digital certificates. Many of us must have seen the sign ‘Verisign’ when we do credit card transactions on the web. By displaying Verisign logo, the owner of the site is telling us that the certificate is issued by an authority which is trusted by public in general. OK, so having understood this principle, how does the government ensures that you are the person you are claiming to be before issuing you a passport. In some countries, the governments requires that you provide some form of authentication like school certificates, birth certificates etc, before they can issue a passport. Similarly when you request for a certificate, the certificate authority needs to know the authentication credential before they can issue a certificate. The authentication credentials can be in the form of a user name and password.

How do I configure certificate on my computer?

So after you have provided a validation of your credentials, in the form of login information, the certificate is configured in the browser settings and you can see a small lock icon in the right hand side bottom of the Internet Explorer. When you double click on the lock, you see some information about the certificate, such as, who has issued this certificate, for whom is the certificate meant for, a unique identifier and information on how to encrypt and decrypt files.
Once the certificate is installed in your browser, you can then securely access the financial transactions sites or the emails by using the email client.


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