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Chapter 9. Securing Your Internet Transa... > What Are Digital Certificates?

What Are Digital Certificates?

A digital certificate is supposed to be the computerized equivalent of a passport. It proves a person's identity online and provides a means of legally valid signatures in some cases. In today's society, you might have many forms of identification, including a passport, driver's license, membership card, or similar type of ID card. Just as you can have many ID cards for many different purposes, you can have many digital certificates to serve you. A certificate is used to identify a person or a thing. It is a digital document, which is really a file stored on a computer that can be used to identify a person, server, or company. A server that is running a Web site usually has a digital certificate for your Web browser to authenticate the server and verify its identity. The digital certificate also contains the server's public key for use in establishing encryption.

The concept of digital certificates has been around since before the earliest days of the Internet. VeriSign made an early attempt at issuing digital certificates, thus marking its place as an identity authority on the Internet. Early on, VeriSign was primarily concerned with issuing certificates to identify Web servers for use in SSL connections. Since then, certificates have spread into use by government, businesses, and netizens (citizens of the Internet community).


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