What Is an X.509 Certificate, and How Does It Work?

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What is X 509 Certificate

We live in a time where data theft and security breaches are rampant. Protecting our sensitive information in this digital world has become paramount now.

IBM studies state that the average cyber attack results in losses of $4.45 million, and around  4000 new cyber attacks occur daily. This equates to 1 attack in every 14 seconds and becomes a concern topic for everyone. These numbers are alarming and call for an immediate solution.

Luckily, our cybersecurity experts have figured out the solution called the X.509 certificate. It is a digital certificate that securely associates cryptographic key pairs with identities such as individuals, organizations, or websites. Many companies worldwide already use digital certificates, which could reach 20.4 billion by 2024.

So, you might be wondering. What is the X.509 certificate, and how does it work? We’ve got all your answers and explained everything in detail to give you a clear idea about this digital certificate.

Let’s start this info ride of X.509 certificates.

What is an X.509 Certificate?

We all knew the importance of certification. It helps you to establish the authenticity of your skillset or brand. Similarly, the X.509 certificate is a digital document that authenticates the website and encrypts the browser and server communication.

It is used in cryptography and as a digital passport to assure that the information exchanged between parties over the internet is secure and trustworthy.

These certificates are widely employed in various online transactions, including accessing secure websites, encrypting emails, and establishing virtual private networks (VPNs).

The Key Components of X.509 Certificate & How Does it Work?

Now, see what are the major components of X.509 certificates and how this certification works in safeguarding your identity in the digital world.  Let’s take a look.

Public Key:

A cryptographic key providing data security is fundamental to the X.509 certificate. Here, the certificate carries a number mathematically related to the private key and is usually embedded.

Identity Information:

Contains data about the certificate holder’s details, including their name, company, and e-mail address. The data is beneficial for verification, like an entity claiming to authenticate a certificate.

Certificate Authority (CA) Signature:

The certificates are digitally signed by a trusted third party known as a Certificate Authority (CA) to avoid manipulation. Hence, they stay original and authentic. The CA stamps its digital signature on a certificate, thus endorsing the latter’s issuance by a trustworthy entity.

Validity Period:

Each X.509 certificate also has a “not after” field that specifies the period during which the certificate remains valid. The issuer determines the timing; the period usually lasts several weeks to many years.

Issuer Information:

The issuer is an organization that the government recognizes, and most often, it is a renting authority or a bank. Through these inputs, the CA can identify the certificate holder and build a strong relationship of trust with the said CA.

Certificate Revocation Information:

X.509 certificates may include some devices to prevent a compromise, like Certificate Revocation Lists (CRLs) or Online Certificate Status Protocol (OCSP) responses, which certificate is no longer valid if it has been compromised. Through these processes, parties establish various checkpoints to determine an instance of a certificate or its trust ability.

Benefits of X.509 Certificate in Cybersecurity

X.509 certificates bolster cybersecurity, offering robust authentication and encryption solutions. So, let’s explore the top benefits of x.509 certificates with their common use cases and applications.

A. Authentication:

X.509 certificates are the most essential part of cyber-recognition authentication. They verify the identity of entities involved in digital transactions. Creating these certificates facilitates robust authentication procedures in which users can interact confidently. The authorization requirements ensure they only deal with authentic and authoritative parties online.

Let’s understand this with the example of an online banking portal:

While a user types in the website URL in their browser, the browser automatically runs several X.509 certificate validity tests. Suppose the certificate is declared correctly and signed by a well-known Certificate Authority (CA). Consequently, a security alert, such as the padlock icon or the green address bar, might be displayed instead, indicating that the website is safe.

Recommended: Understanding The Difference: Authentication vs. Authorization

With this authentication step, users are sure that the trusted destination is receiving their confidential information, whether login details or finance data, thus, preventing scammers, spoofing, or impersonation.

B. Encryption:

Encryption is fundamental to maintaining the confidentiality of data transmitted over the internet. X.509 certificates play a pivotal role in encryption by facilitating the secure exchange of cryptographic keys to encrypt and decrypt data, thereby safeguarding it from unauthorized access.

Take the case of HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure):

HTTPS safeguards the connection between browser clients and serving servers. When the users visit the website, place the SSL server and their browser on a TLS-EC handshake process. When this digital handshake starts, the server will serve the X.509 certificate, which contains the public key required to set the connection securely.

Following this, the browser compresses the data, such as login details and payment information, and then uses the public key to encrypt it, which is then transmitted to the server.

Therefore, these encryptions ensure that no sensitive data gets revealed to any third party who may be snooping around the communications channel.

C. Integrity:

Data integrity is paramount to prevent unauthorized tampering or modification of information during transmission.  X.509 certificates ensure end-to-end data validation by verifying that the data is received. It keeps the exchanged data between the parties unchanged and unaltered throughout the communication.

Let’s understand this with the email communication done via S/MIME (Secure/Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions)

S/MIME enables the secure exchange of digitally signed messages. When a sender signs an email using their private key, the recipient’s email client can verify the signature using the sender’s public key contained in their X.509 certificate.

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If the signature is valid, it serves as irrefutable proof that the email content has not been altered since it was signed, thereby ensuring the integrity and authenticity of the message.

The Top Protocols Supporting X.509 Certificates

However, X.509 certificates are used in all the major internet protocols today. Here, we have also curated the names that support this certification and secure your web browsing activities.

HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure):

Secure HTTP protocol is used for inter and intracommunication of data in Cyberspace. SSL/TLS (Secure Sockets Layer/Transport Layer Security) ensures encrypted communications between web browsers and servers. Along with this, it assists in the authentication of the server and, as a result, establishes a secure connection.

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S/MIME (Secure/Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions):

A protocol underlying the encryption, authentication, and integrity of messages. It hinges on adopting X.509 certificates and digital signatures to encrypt the email sender and authenticate the email, resulting in the email being confidential.

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LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol):

LDAP helps search and maintain a particular organization’s directory services, including user authentication and authorization. It supports digital certificates (X.509 certs). Thus, LDAP clients get securely authenticated and communicate with LDAP servers.

VPN (Virtual Private Network) Protocols (e.g., SSL VPN, IPsec):

Many VPN protocols, such as SSL VPN, tend to apply X.509 certificates to the authentication and encryption process. X.509 certification bodies are distinguished by their ability to authenticate VPN servers and clients, as a result of which the intranet traffic over public networks is secured and the confidentiality of data is ensured.

Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA/WPA2):

The WPA and WPA2 protocols of Wi-Fi Protected Access, which are used in enterprise-type Wi-Fi networks, exploit X.509 certificates for authentication. X.509 certificates confirm Wi-Fi clients and access points, improve network security, and prevent unauthorized access.

PKIX (Public Key Infrastructure using X.509):

PKIX is a standard that defines a structure for organizing a PKI and operations protocols of X.509 Certificates, a subset of a PKI. It is a collection of ways in which certificates are issued, validated, revoked, and managed in a PKI environment. This ensures the integrity and trustworthiness of certificates within an X.509 PKI architecture.

How to Get an X.509 Certificate?

Acquiring X.509 certificates comes with several steps. It begins with choosing the reputable Certificate Authority (CA) issuing X.509 certificates and generating a certificate signing request for submission.

CA will review the request through various methods, such as domain validation, organization validation, or extended validation. Once validated, the CA digitally signs the X.509 certificate, attesting to its authenticity and integrity.

After receiving the X.509 certificate from the CA, install it on the server or device where it will be used. Configure the server software, such as web or email servers, to utilize the certificate for secure communication.

Get Your X.509 Certificate From Trusted CA!

At Certera.com, we offer a seamless process for obtaining X.509 certificates backed by robust validation procedures and exceptional customer support. Visit now and secure all online transactions and communications with X.509 certificates.

Janki Mehta

Janki Mehta

Janki Mehta is a passionate Cyber-Security Enthusiast who keenly monitors the latest developments in the Web/Cyber Security industry. She puts her knowledge into practice and helps web users by arming them with the necessary security measures to stay safe in the digital world.