Ah, yes, the (internet) age-old question: What is a CA certificate authority and how do I pick the best one for my business and website?
To answer the first half of that question, we’ll explore what a CA certificate authority is and what they do. After that, we’ll tell you about some of the things to keep in mind and flags to look out for when choosing a certificate authority to issue your SSL/TLS certificates.
What Is a CA Certificate Authority?
A CA certificate authority, in reality, is a repetitious term for a certificate authority, or what’s known as a CA. So, when you say “CA certificate authority,” you’re technically saying “certificate authority certificate authority.” But we digress…
A certificate authority is a third-party organization that play essential roles on the internet and its public key infrastructure. This type of entity issues digital certificates for individuals and organizations to use to assert identity and to secure their websites, software, email, and documents through authentication and encryption.
These include X.509 digital certificates such as:
- SSL/TLS certificates,
- code signing certificates,
- device certificates,
- S/MIME or email signing certificates, and
- document signing certificates.
In a nutshell, digital certificates are data files that contain information about the entity that issues the certificate as well as organization or person that requests it. It also includes other information such as:
- certificate issuance and expiration dates,
- the type of certificate issued,
- contact information about the entity, and
- the certificate’s public key.
Most publicly trusted CAs, such as Sectigo (formerly Comodo CA) participate I something known as the CA/Browser Forum (CA/B Forum), which serves as the governing body for the industry. As such, they must meet and adhere to certain standards and policies outlined by the forum.
Types of Certificate Authorities
There are two main categories of certificate authorities: root CAs and intermediate CAs. A root CA issues root certificates, which are highly sensitive and typically protected by the CA to ensure its integrity, and the latter issues intermediate certificates. That’s because these certificates are created for different purposes.
A root CA can be used to generate an intermediate certificate, but they should never be used to issue a server certificate (sometimes called a “leaf certificate”) because it leaves the root certificate at risk. That’s why an intermediate certificate, which can be used to issue a server certificate, serves as a buffer between a root certificate and a server certificate.
What Does a Certificate Authority Do?
As we mentioned earlier, a CA certificate authority issues all types of X509 digital certificates. But before they issue a certificate, though, they first need to verify information about the domain and/or organization requesting the certificate. With SSL/TLS certificates, for example, there are three main levels of validation: domain validation (DV), organization validation (OV), and extended validation (EV).
The first is the most basic form of validation and involves an automated process through which the CA verifies the domain (by sending the requester a link in an email). The second is more in-depth validation that involves the CA’s staff manually reviewing and verifying information relating to the requester and their organization. The third, by far, is the most in-depth validation process that requires the CA to verify additional information about the organization.
So, in addition to issuing digital certificates, CAs also verify the legitimacy or a website and the individual or organization requesting the certificate. As a result, web browsers like Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari, Microsoft Internet Explorer and Edge trust certificates that are issued by CAs.
How Do I Choose a CA Certificate Authority?
When choosing between different CAs, there are several things you’ll want to consider. For example, you’ll want to choose one that’s reliable and has a great reputation in the industry. For example, Sectigo is the world’s premier certificate authority and has been around for more than two decades (formerly as Comodo CA). At SectigoStore.com, we’re a Sectigo Platinum Partner, which helps us get the best and lowest prices on Sectigo and Sectigo sub-brand digital certificates!
When choosing a CA certificate authority, you’ll want to find one that fits your budget, but that shouldn’t be your only consideration. Other important considerations include:
- warranties — warranties can range from $10,000 to $1.75 million!
- customer service or technical support — some CAs offer support in different ways, including email, phone, and web chat. Choose a CA that offers all of them!
- trust seals — a trust seal helps you to establish greater trust with site visitors and customers. Choose a CA that offers the right website trust seal to meet your needs.
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