Summary – A certificate authority (CA) is a company that verifies identities and uses digital certificates to link them to cryptographic key pairs. It is a reputable company that issues digital certificates for websites. Web browsers like Chrome, Safari, and Firefox trust TLS/SSL certificates from certificate authorities once they have verified a website domain and issued the appropriate type of certificate.
Understand the Meaning of Certificate Authority
A certificate authority is an organization, channel or entity which issues digital certificates to websites. These authorities provide the user or the accessing party of the website a fair idea about the security of the website.
It is a dependable third party that handles the end user’s public keys and credentials for data encryption as well as provides digital certificates. To ensuring that the business or user obtains a special certificate for effective identity authentication is the CA’s duty in this procedure.
The SSL (Secure Socket Layers) Certificate is issued to a website by a Certificate Authority which helps the user in getting information regarding the security provided by the website which is being accessed by them.
When a user opens a website he/she has to be careful regarding the security of the website, because malicious hackers and organisations may hack into the insecure website and steal essential information of the user and use it for other unethical activities like stealing credit or debit card information, etc.
Now one must think about how to ensure that the Certificate Authority providing the security certificate is trustworthy or not. Let’s find out.
Various OS (Operating Systems), browsers, mobile devices, etc. are the ones who authorize a Certificate Authority’s authenticity. To get authorized by them and become a member a Certificate Authority must meet their respective criteria, only then the CA is accepted as a member.
The number of CAs authorized by the various government or private organizations is very less and hence the experience i.e. longer the CA has been operational, more is the trust value of the CA. For CAs to be even more trustworthy they need to have a backward compatibility i.e. they should be compatible with the older versions of the browsers and specifically with old mobile models.
Now one must think about what is the use of having a Certificate Authority? So let us see why do we need one.
One of the main uses of the CA is that it provides SSL (Secure Socket Layers) Certificate to various entities that publish or present content online. There are three levels of Certificates issued by the CA which inform the user or visitor of the website about the security level of the website. The three levels are namely –
The security level of any website is decided by the type of certificate given to it by the CA. Various search engines or browsers even provide a higher preference search position to the websites which have a higher security level i.e. the certificate issued by the CA. After gaining knowledge about the use of CA, let us learn about its working procedure.
The infrastructure of a Certificate Authority mainly consists of hardware, software, operational elements, etc. Collectively all these elements are referred to as PKI (Public Key Infrastructure).
The Certificate Authority has a certain guideline for all the important aspects which involve the creation, distribution and digital certificate usage on the web. These guidelines even include the policies regarding certificate expiration and revocation when needed.
The activity of any CA starts with a root certificate; these certificates are the main basis of trust compared to all other certificates issued by the CA. The root certificate is kept under the highest level of security and is stored offline to prevent any potential malicious attack and is kept in an unpowered device except when the certificate is needed.
These root certificates are then used by the authorities to create intermediate certificates that are used for the signing of the digital certificates which are issued by the authority.
Certificate Authorities maintain it the topmost priority to provide a safe and secure online environment for the web users by ensuring their security and protection from malicious hackers. The CAs themselves are under an extensive set of rules which require operational audits. Many of today’s top CA were also rejected due to their incomplete and unsatisfactory performance.
There are mainly two types of Certificate Authority namely the regional and global Certificate Authorities. Today there are about 50 Certificate Authorities in the global market which provide SSL certificates to the websites. According to a W3Techs survey, some of them are given below along with their SSL market share –