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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Digital Certificates

In order to make an asymmetric algorithm such as RSA work, you need a way to expose the public key. A public key can be shared manually, but ideally, a CA is used to share a public key that is contained in a digital certificate (also known as a digital ID). A digital certificate is a document that you use to prove your identity in messages or electronic transactions on the Internet. You can obtain a digital certificate from a trusted third party, such as Verisign, or you can set up a locally trusted CA server within your own organization to provide digital certificates. In Microsoft Outlook, you access a CA and generate a digital certificate by selecting the Tools | Options menu item, clicking on the Security tab, and then clicking on the Get Digital ID button.

There are many commercial CAs and many levels of certificates, which differ in cost and levels of trust. To varying degrees, the CA attempts to verify that you are who you claim to be, and, if the CA is convinced of your identity, it will create a document containing the public key that you provide along with other identifying information about you. The CA will then digitally sign that document using its own private key. Of course, nobody other than the CA may ever see the CA's private key, and your private key is never divulged to anyone, including the CA. The resulting signed document is known as a digital certificate, which the CA makes available in a database or directory service to anyone who is interested in dealing with you in either a secure or an authenticated manner. Other parties simply access the database to obtain your digital certificate whenever they need it. Any such party can use the CA's public key to authenticate your digital certificate, and then use the contained public key belonging to you to carry on with whatever encryption or authentication protocol with you that is intended.

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