Code signing provides individual and corporate software developers with a way to safeguard their executable files. It’s a process to digitally sign your software and other executable formats from a trusted CA (Certificate Authority) like Sectigo or Comodo.
Doing so helps keep your software’s code integrity intact and gives users surety that the code hasn’t been modified or altered. Another benefit of a code signing certificate is it can easily bypass the platform’s Application Reputation Filter Warning messages. This further improves the trust and confidence of users in your software products.
A digital code signing certificate from reputed CAs or their distributors means a seal of guarantee that the software is not tampered with and is safe for download, installation, and use. However, certain issues may arise with your code signing process.
In this article, we’ll delve into some of the code signing best practices to avert common issues. The following best practices will help you keep the security and integrity of your code signing certificates. So, without further ado, let’s get into it:
Best Practices to Secure Your Code Signing Certificate
If you already have a code signing certificate, following these best practices will help secure your private keys. Even if you don’t have one but plan to obtain it in the future from reputed CAs, then also this list of code signing best practices would be helpful.
1. Limit Access to Private Keys
The first thing you want to take care of is allowing access to private keys only to authorized personnel. Restricting access to your private keys will help you avert critical security threats and save your software from getting compromised by cybercriminals.
With the stolen credentials, hackers may sign malicious code and sell it on the dark web or make it available on the internet in the guise of genuine software. Doing so will earn them huge profits and also allow them to breach and steal user data.
To prevent such a thing from happening and safeguard your code signing certificate keys, you need to limit the number of users who have access to it. You want to ensure that only authorized persons can access it through trusted computers and devices.
2. Store Your Keys to Safe and Centralized Space
Another best practice you want to follow is using safe & centralized storage for private keys. The centralized location ensures no unauthorized person can make a copy of your private keys.
Moreover, utilize only certain devices to store private keys of the code signing certificate which should be under your constant watch. You can also lock hardware devices away in a safe space when not in use. This eliminates any attempts to steal the keys and hamper the security of the code signing process.
3. Use Strong Password and Cryptographic Hardware
The next best code signing practice to follow for protecting the private keys of your executables is using a strong 16-character password and cryptographic hardware. A hard-to-guess password is primarily necessary when transporting your keys from one device to another or over an email.
The password combination should be randomly generated and must include numbers, special characters, and upper & lower case letters. This will make your password combination not only strong but hard to crack for any human or automated brute force programs.
Avoid using names, birthdays, or locations in passwords as they are easy to crack by hackers. Moreover, using cryptographic hardware can further provide strength to your private key protection plan.
The hardware uses the latest encryption algorithms to secure your code signing certificate keys and ensures no unauthorized person can access it. Such devices do not allow private keys to be exported and do require multi-factor authentication when export is necessary.
4. Thoroughly Check the Code for Bugs
This step applies even before you obtain the code signing certificate for your software application. You need to ascertain that your software is safe and does not have any bugs or viruses that can potentially harm or infect your users’ devices.
Prompt your team to thoroughly review the software code for any errors before you apply for a code signing certificate. If not removed, it could result in the revocation of your certificate and harm your reputation too. Further, due to the stringent validation requirements, you might face trouble to get a new certificate.
Thus, a thorough QA testing is necessary for removing all the bugs and issues to prevent your enterprise from dealing with certificate revocation problems. By following this code signing best practice, you can verify the safety of your code and make sure it’s free from any virus before getting a certificate.
5. Audit & Revoke the Compromised Certificate
Last but not least is auditing your code signing best practices to ensure your certificates and private keys are not infected or affected by malicious actors. Doing so is especially critical for your software delivery pipeline. Further, it’ll help mitigate the risks of attacks from cyber criminals waiting for the opportune moment.
While on the audit, if you notice your private keys have been compromised, you should immediately report them to your CAs. If hackers have found the backdoor somehow and used your private keys to sign their malicious code, it should be brought to the attention of CAs for revoking your certificate.
Furthermore, time-stamp your code signing certificate and select a revocation date before the compromise date to show that your signed code is not impacted. Doing so will further increase your chances of safeguarding your executable files and user safety as well.
These were some best code signing certificate practices every software organization must follow in order to protect the integrity of their executables. However, these best practices should go beyond just improving the security efforts and reducing vulnerability.
The first thing you want to do is limit access to private keys and only allow access to authorized persons. Next is to store your keys in a safe space with a strong 16-character password in cryptographic hardware. Thoroughly check your code before applying for the code signing certificate and audit frequently to check for compromised keys.
Following all these code signing best practices will set you on the path of securing your software products. Good Luck!