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Web Security, Privacy & Commerce, 2nd Edition by Gene Spafford, Simson Garfinkel

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Chapter 21. Client-Side Digital Certificates

In the previous chapter, we looked at the use of digital certificates by organizations. In this chapter, we’ll look at how digital certificates can certify the identity of individuals. We’ll also walk through the VeriSign Digital ID Center, the first certification authority to offer public services on the Web.

Client Certificates

A client certificate is a digital certificate designed to certify the identity of an individual. As with certificates for web sites, client certificates bind a particular name to a particular secret key. They are issued by certification authorities. Client certificates have many uses and benefits:

  • Digital certificates can eliminate the need to remember usernames and passwords. You simply sign your digital signature whenever you enter a restricted space (provided that the server accepts your digital signature).

  • Instead of deploying a large distributed database, organizations can simply use an authorization digital certificate issued by a particular CA as proof that the individual is authorized to access the resource. (Many organizations use the existence of a valid certificate from a CA as authorization in itself. This works, but it is costly because you then need a different CA for every service that you wish to be able to authorize separately.)

  • Because authenticating your identity with a digital certificate requires access to a secret key, it is harder for groups of individuals to share a single digital ID than ...

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