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Digital Signatures and Certificates

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Encryption – Process of converting electronic data into another form, called ciphertext, which cannot be easily understood by anyone except the authorized parties. This assures data security. 
Decryption– Process of translating code to data. 

  • The message is encrypted at the sender’s side using various encryption algorithms and decrypted at the receiver’s end with the help of the decryption algorithms.
  • When some message is to be kept secure like username, password, etc., encryption and decryption techniques are used to assure data security.

Types of Encryption 

  1. Symmetric Encryption– Data is encrypted using a key and the decryption is also done using the same key.
  2. Asymmetric Encryption-Asymmetric Cryptography is also known as public-key cryptography. It uses public and private keys to encrypt and decrypt data. One key in the pair which can be shared with everyone is called the public key. The other key in the pair which is kept secret and is only known by the owner is called the private key. Either of the keys can be used to encrypt a message; the opposite key from the one used to encrypt the message is used for decryption.

Public key– Key which is known to everyone. Ex-public key of A is 7, this information is known to everyone. 
Private key– Key which is only known to the person who’s private key it is. 

Authentication-Authentication is any process by which a system verifies the identity of a user who wishes to access it. 
Non- repudiation– Non-repudiation means to ensure that a transferred message has been sent and received by the parties claiming to have sent and received the message. Non-repudiation is a way to guarantee that the sender of a message cannot later deny having sent the message and that the recipient cannot deny having received the message. 
Integrity– to ensure that the message was not altered during the transmission. 
Message digest -The representation of text in the form of a single string of digits, created using a formula called a one way hash function. Encrypting a message digest with a private key creates a digital signature which is an electronic means of authentication.. 

Digital Signature

A digital signature is a mathematical technique used to validate the authenticity and integrity of a message, software, or digital document. 

  1. Key Generation Algorithms: Digital signature is electronic signatures, which assure that the message was sent by a particular sender. While performing digital transactions authenticity and integrity should be assured, otherwise, the data can be altered or someone can also act as if he was the sender and expect a reply.
  2. Signing Algorithms: To create a digital signature, signing algorithms like email programs create a one-way hash of the electronic data which is to be signed. The signing algorithm then encrypts the hash value using the private key (signature key). This encrypted hash along with other information like the hashing algorithm is the digital signature. This digital signature is appended with the data and sent to the verifier. The reason for encrypting the hash instead of the entire message or document is that a hash function converts any arbitrary input into a much shorter fixed-length value. This saves time as now instead of signing a long message a shorter hash value has to be signed and moreover hashing is much faster than signing.
  3. Signature Verification Algorithms : Verifier receives Digital Signature along with the data. It then uses Verification algorithm to process on the digital signature and the public key (verification key) and generates some value. It also applies the same hash function on the received data and generates a hash value. Then the hash value and the output of the verification algorithm are compared. If they both are equal, then the digital signature is valid else it is invalid.

The steps followed in creating digital signature are : 

  1. Message digest is computed by applying hash function on the message and then message digest is encrypted using private key of sender to form the digital signature. (digital signature = encryption (private key of sender, message digest) and message digest = message digest algorithm(message)).
  2. Digital signature is then transmitted with the message.(message + digital signature is transmitted)
  3. Receiver decrypts the digital signature using the public key of sender.(This assures authenticity, as only sender has his private key so only sender can encrypt using his private key which can thus be decrypted by sender’s public key).
  4. The receiver now has the message digest.
  5. The receiver can compute the message digest from the message (actual message is sent with the digital signature).
  6. The message digest computed by receiver and the message digest (got by decryption on digital signature) need to be same for ensuring integrity.

Message digest is computed using one-way hash function, i.e. a hash function in which computation of hash value of a message is easy but computation of the message from hash value of the message is very difficult. 


Benefits of Digital Signatures

  • Legal documents and contracts: Digital signatures are legally binding. This makes them ideal for any legal document that requires a signature authenticated by one or more parties and guarantees that the record has not been altered.
  • Sales contracts: Digital signing of contracts and sales contracts authenticates the identity of the seller and the buyer, and both parties can be sure that the signatures are legally binding and that the terms of the agreement have not been changed.
  • Financial Documents: Finance departments digitally sign invoices so customers can trust that the payment request is from the right seller, not from a bad actor trying to trick the buyer into sending payments to a fraudulent account.
  • Health Data: In the healthcare industry, privacy is paramount for both patient records and research data. Digital signatures ensure that this confidential information was not modified when it was transmitted between the consenting parties.
  • Federal, state, and local government agencies have stricter policies and regulations than many private sector companies. From approving permits to stamping them on a timesheet, digital signatures can optimize productivity by ensuring the right person is involved with the proper approvals.
  • Shipping Documents: Helps manufacturers avoid costly shipping errors by ensuring cargo manifests or bills of lading are always correct. However, physical papers are cumbersome, not always easily accessible during transport, and can be lost. By digitally signing shipping documents, the sender and recipient can quickly access a file, check that the signature is up to date, and ensure that no tampering has occurred.

Drawbacks of Digital Signatures

  • Dependence on Key Management: Digital signatures rely on the secure management of cryptographic keys. This means that the sender must keep their private key safe and secure from unauthorized access, while the recipient must verify the sender’s public key to ensure its authenticity. Any failure in key management can compromise the security of the digital signature.
  • Complexity: Digital signatures require a complex process of key generation, signing, and verification. This can make them difficult to implement and use for non-technical users.
  • Compatibility: Different digital signature algorithms and formats may not be compatible with each other, making it difficult to exchange signed messages across different systems and applications.
  • Legal Recognition: Although digital signatures have legal recognition in many countries, their legal status may not be clear in all jurisdictions. This can limit their usefulness in legal or regulatory contexts.
  • Revocation: In case of key compromise or other security issues, digital signatures must be revoked to prevent their misuse. However, the revocation process can be complex and may not be effective in all cases.
  • Cost: Digital signatures may involve additional costs for key management, certificate issuance, and other related services, which can make them expensive for some users or organizations.
  • Limited Scope: Digital signatures provide authentication and integrity protection for a message, but they do not provide confidentiality or protection against other types of attacks, such as denial-of-service attacks or malware.

Digital Certificate

Digital certificate is issued by a trusted third party which proves sender’s identity to the receiver and receiver’s identity to the sender. 
A digital certificate is a certificate issued by a Certificate Authority (CA) to verify the identity of the certificate holder. The CA issues an encrypted digital certificate containing the applicant’s public key and a variety of other identification information. Digital certificate is used to attach public key with a particular individual or an entity. 

Digital certificate contains:- The authenticity

  1. Name of certificate holder.
  2. Serial number which is used to uniquely identify a certificate, the individual or the entity identified by the certificate
  3. Expiration dates.
  4. Copy of certificate holder’s public key.(used for decrypting messages and digital signatures)
  5. Digital Signature of the certificate issuing authority.

Digital certificate is also sent with the digital signature and the message. 

Digital certificate vs digital signature : 
Digital signature is used to verify authenticity, integrity, non-repudiation ,i.e. it is assuring that the message is sent by the known user and not modified, while digital certificate is used to verify the identity of the user, maybe sender or receiver. Thus, digital signature and certificate are different kind of things but both are used for security. Most websites use digital certificate to enhance trust of their users

Feature Digital Signature Digital Certificate
Basics / Definition Digital signature is like a fingerprint or an attachment to a digital document that ensures its authenticity and integrity. Digital certificate is a file that ensures holder’s identity and provides security.
Process / Steps Hashed value of original message is encrypted with sender’s secret key to generate the digital signature. It is generated by CA (Certifying Authority) that involves four steps: Key Generation, Registration, Verification, Creation.
Security Services Authenticity of Sender, integrity of the document and non-repudiation. It provides security and authenticity of certificate holder.
Standard It follows Digital Signature Standard (DSS). It follows X.509 Standard Format


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Last Updated : 17 May, 2023
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