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Understanding Role of Code Signing Certificates in Mobile Application Security

Understanding Role of Code Signing Certificates in Mobile Application Security

Mobile Applications have met with wide acceptance globally, thanks to their easy installation, streamlined interface, great user experience, and the ability to download them  easily via online and offline stores. They lower the technical barriers and offer a simple and enjoyable user experience.

Mobile application has become a giant business in the last few years,  and is still growing,  opening multiple doors of opportunities for software developers. Customers spend a fairly good amount of money on mobile applications because although there is no dearth of  free applications out there, they come with a trial period. In 2012, it is estimated that consumers spent approx. 14 billion dollars on downloading mobile applications. A number as big as that indicates a rapid evolution of  mobile applications in the technology arena ,  and with this evolution are  increasing security risks, which make mobile devices vulnerable to online fraud.

A  recently released report says more than 28% of android apps and 34% of apple apps are based on the user tracking function, which puts the user data in even greater danger. Why?  Because, instead of making a malware program, it is easy for hackers to hijack the application and steal the data of the user. All they need to do is  change a few lines of code and  inject malware to steal user’s information.

Self-Signed Certificate
Many storefronts and websites recognize the gravity of  such attacks and  take proper steps for application security. Most of them rely on digital signatures to verify the  identity and reliability of application developers. However, that is not enough.  Many websites and online stores will show you a ‘self signed certificate’ to indicate software’s security as such certificates are signed and authenticated by a person himself and not by trusted authorities.  This is where a  code signing certificate comes in the picture.

Code Signing Certificate
Code Signing Certificate plays a vital role in checking reliability of a  third party application provider.  It assures customers about the code integrity; that the developer who built a particular application is legitimate and the  code has not been changed since it was signed.

How Does Code Signing Work?
Code Signing Certificate provides surety of each piece of code and manifests the identity. Below is the process of the Code Signing Certificate.

  • A Certificate authority validates software developer’s identity and authenticity.
  • Certificate authority then issues a developer ID which is used to sign a code.
  • The developer then utilizes code with the developer ID and signs files and sends them to certificate authority.
  • Finally, the re-signed and authenticated content is ready for distribution.

 Time Stamping
 A code that is being signed by a Code Signing certificate is reliable for a certain period and after that you have to renew it. In case if it is not renewed then your certificate will become worthless. To avoid such situation, Time stamping feature is necessary for a Code Signing Certificate. When you sign a code, a hash of your code is sent to a certificate authority for time stamping. Time stamping is essential when you allocate signed documents and assures that the code will not lapse when the certificate expires. If you ignore time stamping, then you have to resign your code and re-send out to customers. A warning “Unknown date and time” will come out when the file has not been time stamped.

Conclusion: Code Signing is essential for mobile device manufacturers, network platforms and software developers. These three are connected with each other in the mobile application market. Code Signing certificate helps developers in increasing downloads and thereby earning more revenue with distributing high volume of software.

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