Article

Anna Shipman
Anna Shipman 7 November 2022
Categories Technology

Best Practices to Protect Code Signing Certificates

As a software developer or agency, you should ensure the safety of the code signing certificate. Know what the best practices are to protect your code signing certificates.

Software products and applications that connect us virtually have turned our lives upside down. These software and applications have millions of code lines running through their veins, making it hard to ensure their safe transmission from one place to another.

A small mishap in code can prove to be a boon for hackers and malicious actors. They can easily find a backdoor in your software and compromise the whole system and the safety of the users. However, code signing is known to safeguard the users by helping them identify if the software comes from a legit source or not.

Moreover, it helps users detect if the software has been modified or includes malicious codes after it was signed by a Certificate Authority. Thus, a code signing certificate becomes inseparable when publishing a software product online.

But how can you ensure the safety of the code signing certificate? What are the best practices to protect the code signing certificates? Before we get into it, let’s understand why it’s important:

Why are Protecting Code Signing Certificates Important?

Certificate authorities like Sectigo or Comodo issue a certificate with public and private keys. There is a reason to keep a private key, well, private because if they are compromised, the certificate suffers a great deal of security and also endangers the safety of your software and users' systems.

The most vital job of certificate managers is to support the safety and integrity of private keys and other encryption assets. Failing to do so, organizations risk losing the trust and value in the eyes of their users. Therefore, it becomes essential for you to protect the private keys of your code signing certificate to sustain the same confidence of users.

EV code signing certificate is best suited for the job as it entails extensive validation and verification from the CA. But it will be costly, and a less expensive option is to buy from cheap code signing certificate providers and distributors.

What are the Best Practices to Protect the Code Signing Certificate?

1. Controlling and Minimizing Access to Private Keys

As mentioned, private keys form an integral part of the code signing certificate, making it a prime target for hackers to compromise. It can allow them to sign any code and software and show it as legitimate.

Moreover, the compromised private keys of the code signing certificates are sold on the dark web and the internet. This shows how high the demand for private keys is for illegal use. But you can avoid getting into this scenario by following the code signing certificate best practices such as:

  • Minimizing the access to the devices and computers used for storing the private keys
  • Controlling access to such sensitive information to only authorized personnel
  • Using physical security controls to protect the private keys

2. Timestamping the Code

Another best practice for protecting your OV or EV code signing certificate is timestamping your code. It’s a small piece of data that is a part of the digital signature included when signing your executables or other files. The timestamping process uses the timestamp server provided by the CA to keep the software signing record.

This assures clients and users that the software code has a valid certificate. Moreover, it verifies your software even after it expires or is revoked.

3. Develop a Safe Culture

The next code signing certificate best practice is to avoid creating bad habits and develop a safe and understanding organizational culture. Using the code signing certificate keys within the organization effectively is an essential need.

However, if such needs aren’t met and behavior patterns of maintaining the security break, then employing and enforcing any security practice would be useless. Thus, focus on developing a positive culture where people understand the importance of software and code signing certificates. Doing so can improve the security of your organization as a whole.

4. Use Cryptographic Hardware to Protect Private Keys

Another best practice for protecting your code signing certificate is using cryptographic hardware. Hardware devices protected with cryptographic hash provide you with better protection of your code signing certificate’s private keys. It comes with the latest encryption algorithms to safeguard private keys from falling into the wrong hands.

Here’s what you can do to protect the private key of your code signing certificate:

  • Use an EV code signing certificate which requires a private key to be generated and stored on a hardware device.
  • Apart from that, you can use FIPS 140 level-2 certified products.

5. Avoid Using One Private Key for Multiple Signing

Regardless of how safe cryptography or software code is, there’s always a small risk of something going wrong. Even modern measures to protect the software involve a certain level of risk.

Furthermore, a compromised or lost private key can revoke the certificate and invalidate your digital signature. Thus, a best practice would be to take a diversified approach to not use one private key for signing all codes and software products. The best way here would be to change it once in a while so you can avoid such a conflict.

Conclusion

Private key plays a pivotal role in the integration and implementation of the code signing certificates. So, protecting those crucial keys should be the top priority, and to do so, you must incorporate code signing certificate best practices.

Don’t take the security of your certificates and private keys granted; give your organization an extra security boost. Using the above best practices, you can surely save yourself from exposure and implement the code signing certificate correctly. 

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