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Digital certificate: the basic concepts

What a digital certificate is, what it is used for and the security guarantees it offers.

What is a digital certificate?

A digital certificate is an electronic document signed by a certification authority that guarantees total security in online transactions. Digital certificates may be used by individuals, companies or public authorities. Depending on the user profile, a different type of digital certificate must be employed.

What is a digital certificate used for?

A digital certificate is used for two main purposes:

  1. To electronically sign online documents with legal validity. The binding commitments made are equivalent to those contracted with a written signature.
  2. To accurately identify oneself in order to carry out transactions over the Internet with full technical and legal guarantees on different platforms and in different applications.

The advantages of digital certification

  • Privacy: a digital certificate confirms the identity of the holder. The information can only have been sent by the person signing the communication.
  • Integrity: the information cannot be altered during transmission by any unauthorised person.
  • Authenticity: a digital certificate guarantees that the document received is the original and that it belongs indisputably to the digital certificate holder. Consequently, it makes it possible to guarantee that the holder is responsible for any commitments made online.
  • Confidentiality: a coded communication can only be read by its intended recipient and cannot be altered.
  • Interoperability: a single digital certificate can be used to authenticate your identity on different platforms and portals.
  • Security: a digital certificate is generated by an accredited and trusted certification service provider. If the certificate is lost or stolen, it can be suspended.
  • Legal validity: this is covered by Law 59/2003 on Electronic Signature, which says in Article 3 “the qualified digital signature shall have the same validity in relation to data confirmed online as a handwritten signature with regard to data confirmed on paper”.
  • Accessibility: electronic information is accessible at all times and its continuing existence over the years is guaranteed.
Update:  24.10.2011