Search Knowledge Base: What is a Digital Certificate? Digital certificates are electronic credentials that bind the identity of the certificate owner to a pair of electronic encryption keys, (one public and one private), that can be used to encrypt and sign information digitally. The main purpose of the digital certificate is to ensure that the public key contained in the certificate belongs to the entity to which the certificate was issued, in other words, to verify that a person sending a message is who he or she claims to be, and to then provide the message receiver with the means to encode a reply back to the sender. Encryption techniques using public and private keys require a public-key infrastructure (PKI) to support the distribution and identification of public keys. Messages can be encrypted with either the public or the private key and then decrypted with the other key. Without certificates, one could send data encrypted with the private key and the public key would be used to decrypt the data, but there would be no assurance that the data was originated by anyone in particular. All the receiver would know is that a valid key pair was used. In essence, a Certificate Authority or CA then is a commonly trusted third party that is relied upon to verify the matching of public keys to identity, e-mail name, or other such information. The Certificate Authority (CA) packages together in the one certificate the public keys, information about the encryption algorithms used, the owner or subject data, the digital signature of a Certificate Authority that has verified the subject data itself, and a date range during which the certificate can be considered valid. Digital Certificates can be used for a variety of electronic transactions including e-mail, electronic commerce, groupware and electronic funds transfers. The most widely accepted format for Digital Certificates is defined by the CCITT X.509 international standard Need more help?