In the tech world, cyber security has become increasingly hot news. With users skyrocketing every day and the increasing complexity of software, it has become compulsory to make sure that your software or application is secure when you launch them into the wild. So as a cyber security professional, regardless of what programming platform or language you’re working on, there are some important security practices that you should consider doing throughout the entire lifecycle of DevOps. One such practice is using a Code Signing Certificate for your software.
If your software is safe, your end-user will never encounter any problems. However, if it is not safe, it might cause major security issues. Usually, an application or software comes with an unknown publisher warning if it is without a code signing certificate. Given the current digital security, the user might want to withdraw the decision to opt for your software.
The obvious solution is getting a Code Signing Certificate. However, before we get onto the importance of the certificate, let us walk you through what is an unknown publisher warning and why the terror of users is justified.
What is an Unknown Publisher Security Warning?
A warning pops up when a user tries to install software that an unknown creator or publisher has created. It is called an unknown publisher security warning.
Upon coming across unverified software, your browser or operating system will automatically raise an alert. It will display a bright yellow colored dialogue box with the word unknown printed against the publisher.
Wondering how the browser or PC knows about the legitimacy of the software?
Difference Between Unsafe and Safe Software
When a user looks at a file, they cannot tell if it is legit. Moreover, today’s hackers are quite smart. They name the software in such a way that the user will believe that it is the suitable software they want. Hence, the error message is the only way you can differentiate between legitimate and corrupt software.
Different browser firms like Microsoft and Google make their services in such a way that they will protect users from illegal software. One of the best examples of the service is Microsoft Windows Defender.
Users who download or purchase software will likely assume that it will be secure and safe. But when an unknown publisher’s warning pops up on the screen, they realize it is not the case. Therefore, it is crucial for them to only install software that comes from a verified publisher and never one that is unknown.
Well, an Unknown Publisher Warning is your system’s way of telling ‘Stranger Danger!’
An unknown publisher is an application or software creator whose identity cannot be verified by operating systems like Windows or macOS or web browsers like Google Chrome. They vary from a verified publisher who takes additional steps to make sure that browsers and devices can trust their apps and software.
The difference between safe and unsafe software is inviting a friend and a stranger into your home. One is someone familiar and trusted, and the other can be a potential threat. Therefore, trust and identity play a crucial part in people’s personal and digital security.
When users give untrusted software and applications access to their device, it becomes prone to get attacked by cybercriminals. The malicious software can be used for:
- Theft of credentials
- Installation of malware onto devices
- Control devices as part of a botnet
- Robbing personal information that can be used for carrying out cyber crimes
So what do you do to keep your users from getting hacked? The simple answer has a Code Signing Certificate for your software. Now, let us discuss it and its importance.
What is a Code Signing Certificate?
A Code Signing Certificate is a digitally signed document that states a particular software/application/executable file is safe and trustworthy. It helps the software developers or code publishers gain the trust of operating systems, browsers, and finally, the users as it digitally signs the firmware or software.
A software publisher installs the code signing certificate on their system. When they develop a new application or software to be published, they create it on the same system and use the installed certificate to apply a ‘digital signature.’
Let us not get into all the technical and complex mumbo-jumbo on the functioning of digital signatures, but the key takeaway here is that digital signatures make it easy for the user to know:
- The verified identity of the software publisher
- If the software has been tampered with since its creation
The digital signature is proof that the device’s OS or browser can recognize when an executable file has been modified or not since its development. Suppose a hacker or any third party makes an attempt to modify the code of a digitally signed software or application. In that case, the user’s operating system will instantly know that something is wrong, stops the application from running, and displays an unknown publisher security warning.
All of this might leave you wondering why the code signing certificate removes the unknown publisher warning.
Why Does Code Signing Certificate Remove Unknown Publisher Warning?
The difference between the code of an unknown publisher and a legitimate publisher all comes down to the latter’s code creator going through a crucial and rigorous background check that thoroughly verifies their legitimacy.
Typically, the Certificate Authorities (CA) authenticates the identity of the code signing source and generates a public key to a code signing certificate. The certificate, in turn, validates the code sign with a legit root certificate. The code sign does the following:
- Offers code authentication
- Provides cryptographic protection
- Software/code author validation
After issuance of the certificate, it will:
- Validate Code Integrity– Code signing offers an integrity check of the code with the help of a hash function. For signing the code, the hash function you use at the source must match the hash function at the destination of the end-users, giving proof of code integrity.
- Issue Company Reputation and Authenticity: When you use the code signing process for validating your software, code and/or executable programs, it doesn’t risk third-party intrusion. Thus, the certificate will keep the reputation of your company intact.
- Secure User Experience: The code signing process helps establish mutual trust amongst the parties, i.e., the code publisher and the end-user, thereby ensuring a safe user experience.
- Seamless Integration with Multiple platforms: Today, major platforms like Windows, Android, Apple iOS, Linux, JAVA, Adobe AIR etc., exhibit compatibility with the Code signing process. So the users won’t face any issues during installation.
So how does one receive the certificate? Well, let’s answer that:
What is the Process of Getting Code Signing Certificates?
There are three steps to getting a code signing certificate from Certificate Authorities. They are:
- Generating the Certificate Signing Request
For a generation of CSR securely without facing any issues, you must use certain browsers. It can be Internet Explorer 11, Safari–Mac, or Mozilla Firefox ESR. These browsers are preferred as they contain features that facilitate convenient CSR and private key generation.
- Completion of Validation
It won’t take a lot of time of yours if you have opted for a standard validation process. However, if you want an EV Code Signing Certificate, you must go through four important processes to validate your identity. Those four processes are:
– Authentication of an organization.
– Locality presence.
– Verification of Telephone number.
– Final verification call.
– Authentication of an Organization
When you complete all four steps for an EV certificate, you are good to go to the final step.
- Downloading the issued code signing certificate
This is the final step. After undergoing all the verification steps mentioned above, the CA will send an email that contains a collection link for the issued code signing certificate. You can download the certificate from there.
A verified publisher is a person or entity who goes through a series of rigorous processes to get a Code Signing Certificate to ensure that the user’s PC or browser can trust their application or software. On the other hand, an unverified publisher does not go through any of the steps. So, naturally, a code signing certificate removes the ‘unknown publisher’ warning.
Now you know how to deal with the unknown publisher security error, it will be easy for you to publish your software code.
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