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What are the Security Risks of Using Self-Signed Code Signing Certificates

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As you may already know, code-signing certificates are used by developers and publishers to bind their software or application with a digital signature. Doing so enables users to identify if the publisher is legit or fraud and let publishers know if there has been code modification after signing.

While it’s recommended to get a code signing certificate from a reputed CA when the software is ready to be published online. Until then, developers and publishers can use the self-signed certificate on under-development or internal-facing software. Unlike certificates from a CA, self-signed certificates are free, and you can generate an unlimited number on your own.

However, sometimes these self-signed certificates end up costing you more if proper precautions haven’t been taken. There are certain security risks associated with them and some of those are mistaken for benefits. Let’s get to know what the risks and dangers of using self-signed certificates are.

Risks of Using Self-Signed Code Signing Certificates

The security risks of using a self-signed code signing certificate even after the development are over and the software is ready to publish can drive potential customers away. They may fear that your software will compromise their data and harm their privacy. Thus, this can damage your brand reputation and the trust they have put in you.

But you can avoid this by knowing what the associated risks are and how you can overcome them. So, let’s get started.

1. Self-signed Certificate Can’t be Revoked

Often interpreted as the benefit of using the self-signed certificate, it cannot be revoked or never expires. This, however, is its biggest weak link, where it is hard to distinguish between a compromised certificate and a non-compromised certificate.

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Such difficulty in identification gives rise to several security issues. First, a certificate offered by a CA can easily be revoked if compromised. This forces organizations to replace the older certificate with the fresh one. But in the case of a self-signed certificate, there’s no such authority available to revoke the certificate.

Hence, the compromised certificate will continue to be used by the software developers. This “set it and forget it” mentality of publishers can sometimes backfire and open the floodgates for hackers to gain special privileges and sensitive information.

2.  Harmful to User Data Safety

Using a self-signed certificate is against the recommendation of industry experts and certificate authorities (CAs). The first reason it’s not recommended is that self-signed software and applications invite unauthorized guests to the party. Meaning it can give free hand to attackers and hackers to steal sensitive user data like credit card details and others.

Another reason why a self-signed certificate is not recommended is the user data as well as app data can also get compromised. This compromised data can wreak havoc on your systems and users’ private lives. Thus, it’s recommended to buy a code signing certificate from a reputed CA or from the best code signing certificate provider or distributor.

3. Losing Out on Potential Clients

The single biggest reason why more organizations opt for buying a code signing certificate is they get to bypass the security warnings that operating systems throw while the app installation wizard opens. If the app is signed with a self-signed certificate, the system will display an “Unknown Publisher” alert or message to users.

This warning message can push users to abandon the installation process and jump to other software with a verified publisher sign. Thus, you’ll lose out on a major chunk of your users and business if you keep using the self-signed certificate.

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However, you can avoid this easily by digitally signing your software with a genuine code signing certificate. There are several best code signing certificate providers such as Sectigo or Comodo. You can also opt for distributors of the same CAs for the cheap code signing certificate.

4. Do Not Follow Standard Security Requirements

Digital security certificates offered by certificate authorities, or their reseller follow the latest security requirements. They incorporate the stringent requirements set by CA/B forums and maintain robust cybersecurity standards.

This includes powerful ciphers and hashing algorithms. However, self-signed certificates are developed internally, and so do not include such standard security requirements.

Thus, using them for public-facing software could be detrimental to your software business and digital identity. They can be used if your software is utilized only for internal-facing software or software under development. Doing so limits your exposure to external vulnerabilities and security threats.

Conclusion

So, these were some of the dangers and security risks of using a self-signed code signing certificate. Since a self-signed certificate is generated internally, the number of use cases for the same are limited as mentioned above.

Using it for public-facing software and applications would ensure your app’s downfall and attract hackers to feast on it. Also, a self-signed certificate is a potential threat to user data safety. Moreover, it does not follow the standard security requirements necessary for the app’s functioning.

Thus, in a self-signed vs code signing certificate, the latter wins with a great margin, and your organization must choose to buy code signing certificates from a reputed provider. That said, see you till the next!

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