Your Guide to Digital Certificates

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Written By Charlotte Miller

Nowadays, with all the breaches of people’s ids and passwords, it is important to know what digital certificates are and how they can help your online security!

What are Digital Certificates?

A digital certificate is a small file that confirms its owner and that the key used in encrypting information belongs to them.

Why do I need one?

If you are using the internet for work or to chat with friends, chances are you will need access to a website that is secure. This means it has HTTPS:// instead of http:// at the beginning of the address and shows an image of a padlock somewhere on the screen. You can tell whether or not this padlock is locked by clicking on it. If you are unable to view the padlock, then you should not trust the site! However, if you are able to see a padlock lock, then click on it to view what kind of security certificates are being used.

The owner of the website should have already obtained or generated their own set of digital certificates for this website. If you are chatting with a friend, it is possible they have their own digital certificates for the sites they chat on. If the website or chatting service requires higher security (such as banking websites), then each person individually will need to generate and use their own set of certificates to get access.

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How can I get a digital certificate?

If you are using a web browser on your computer, mobile phone, or tablet, most likely it will have come with a pre-installed set of digital certificates. If this is the case, then you may not need to generate new ones unless you would like to add more security to certain sites that require higher security.

A digital certificate can be requested through an individual’s browser and then downloaded to their device. Once the certificate is on the computer it can be added to certain websites that require higher security.

Where can I use my digital certificates?

Most people who use digital certificates simply add them onto sites they wish to chat on or shop on securely. However, if you are in a more security-conscious lifestyle, then you can also use your certificates to email people who require extra security.

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What is the difference between a public key and a private key?

When using digital certificates, there is a key that can be used to encrypt information and another that can decrypt the information. The public key is able to encrypt information while the private key can decrypt it.

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Is it safe to share my information with other people online?

Yes! Digital certificates are encrypted so even if someone got into your certificate store (such as your computer or phone), they still would not be able to read the content of an email because it is encrypted. They would only see that you sent and/or received an email from a certain person at a certain time. In order for someone to decrypt the information, they also need your private key. Therefore, as long as you keep your certificates in a safe place, then it is quite safe to share information with others.

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Digital certificates can be used to share information with other people, but they are mainly used to keep the information encrypted and locked from prying eyes. In order for someone to decrypt your information, they need both your private key and your certificate.