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Next: 3.3.6 How are certificates Up: 3.3 Key Management Previous: 3.3.4 Should a public

3.3.5 What are certificates?

  Certificates are digital documents attesting to the binding of a public key to an individual or other entity. They allow verification of the claim that a given public key does in fact belong to a given individual. Certificates help prevent someone from using a phony key to impersonate someone else.

In their simplest form, certificates contain a public key and a name. As commonly used, they also contain the expiration date of the key, the name of the certifying authority that issued the certificate, the serial number of the certificate, and perhaps other information. Most importantly, it contains the digital signature of the certificate issuer. The most widely accepted format for certificates is defined by the CCITT X.509 international standard; thus certificates can be read or written by any application complying with X.509. Further refinements are found in the PKCS set of standards (see Question 3.8.9), and the PEM standard (see Question 3.8.7).

A certificate is issued by a certifying authority (see Question 3.3.7) and signed with the certifying authority's private key.

Denis Arnaud