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Definition: Digital Certificate
A digital certificate may be defined as an identity card that is used by a computer to securely communicate with another over the internet. It often is an attachment to an email validating the identity of the sender of the mail as being correct.
This can be used to sign any content which then prevents identity theft. Typically a digital certificate is issues by Certification Authority and the certificate contains information about the issuer as well.
The main parts of a digital certificate are
Serial Number: This is necessary for unique identification of a certificate
Validity Period: The date from and the date to which the certificate is valid
The Public Key: The key with which the encryption is performed which then can be decrypted only by using the Private Key
Subject/Owner: The owner of the certificate
Issuer: The issuer of the certificate
Signature of the Issuer: This is to verify the authenticity of the issuer
One of the most widely used examples of digital certificates is in e-commerce sites and their payment gateways. They often use what are known as Web Sites starting with HTTPS indicating greater security. The owner of the website generally makes a certificate request to a CA to authenticate it. The CA in turn checks from the registrar of the domain and validates that the information present in the request is the same as what is present with the registrar.
In case the information match, then an authentication certificate is issued indicating that the website is secure and the user of the site sees HTTPS instead of the usual HTTP at the starting of the address. Then the user may carry out the transaction with greater security.