Why Use an EV Code Signing Certificate for Software Security?

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By eliminating security warnings through the use of an EV code signing certificate, you can increase the likelihood of users downloading your application…

Concerned about the security warnings typically generated by Microsoft when attempting to run new software on Windows? Using an EV code signing certificate may help you resolve this issue.

As a new developer or an up-and-coming organization, it’s unlikely that you already have a large customer base or a well-established publisher reputation. As a result, it’s likely that end-users attempting to download and run your application are greeted with an “Unknown Publisher” warning like the one below:

code signing error

A reputable developer is less likely to trigger alerts with their code than a new programmer for whose reputation the jury is still out. Though building a reputation takes time, its importance can’t be overstated. That’s because your reputation is directly related to the warnings displayed to your end-users and the number of software downloads. Understandably, some users may be discouraged from running your software on their systems after encountering these security alerts.

Using EV code signing certificates to sign your code:

  • Authenticates the software publisher,
  • Verifies code integrity, and is
  • Builds trust with the Microsoft SmartScreen filter, as well as all major browsers and operating systems.

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How Does EV Code Signing Certificate Operate?

Although they’re both digital certificates, a code signing certificate is not the same as an SSL/TLS certificate. Code signing certificates allow you to digitally sign and secures software applications, whereas SSL/TLS certificates authenticate servers and secure website connections. How exactly does code signing establish the publisher’s identity and ensure an attacker hasn’t modified the code? Let’s find out!

To understand how code signing works, we need to consider what happens at the developer’s end and what happens at the users’ end. The signature is applied to the application by the code author, and it is verified by the user before it gets downloaded and executed. This protects users from running a counterfeit application modified by hackers attempting to corrupt their systems or steal their data.

An Overview of EV Code Signing Process

Here’s a quick look at code signing from the developer’s end of the process:

  • The developer purchases an EV code signing certificate from a reputable certificate authority (CA). If you’re inclined to opt for a self-signed certificate, note that it won’t work outside of your internal network.
  • Once the due diligence is done by the CA, and the developer receives their EV code signing certificate, they can now proceed to sign their code using the private key known only to them.
  • A one-way hash of the executable is generated and then encrypted using the private key. The certificate and the signed hash are attached to the executable before the software is released into the market.

ev code signing process

An Overview of EV Code Signing Verification Process

Here’s a quick look at the signing verification process from the users’ side of things:

  • The encrypted hash is decrypted using the public key. The user obtains the key from the attached certificate that was shared along with the executable.
  • The downloaded executable is hashed again to see if it matches the hash value obtained in the previous step.
  • If both the hash values are a match, the file hasn’t been modified since the developer last signed it. If not, the file has been tampered with and is not safe to execute.

ev code signing verification process


Why Should You Choose an EV Code Signing Certificate?

You may be wondering what the differences are between an EV code signing certificate vs a regular code signing certificate. Some of the benefits of using EV code signing certificates include:

  • The ability to bypass the Microsoft SmartScreen filter. This is applicable even for new developers and improves your chances of achieving higher download rates.
  • Being subjected to a rigorous vetting by the CA. This is done in accordance with the guidelines laid out by the CA/Browser forum and Microsoft, ensures the authentication of the publisher’s identity and correct implementation of file integrity checks.
  • Greater compatibility across different platforms. EV code signing certificate extends support for various file formats (.dll, .exe, etc.) across multiple platforms.
  • Enhanced security to prevent unauthorized use of your digital certificate. The private key for the EV code signing certificate is stored on external hardware that requires two-factor authentication (2FA) for authorization to use.
  • The ability to timestamp your code to inform users about unauthorized changes. EV code signing certificate comes with the option to timestamp the code to extend its validity and trust even after the certificate expires. This is because the timestamp allows the code to be trusted indefinitely.

In Conclusion

For a publisher with a well-established reputation, a code signing certificate still holds value. It enables you to protect your users by assuring them of your file’s integrity. This prevents attackers with malicious intent from modifying the code.

For developers who’re just starting out, it does that and more. It provides a secure experience for their customers and assists the developers in mitigating security alerts that may deter users from downloading their applications in the first place.

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