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Lesson 8Public and private CAs
ObjectiveDescribe the difference between public and private CAs.

Public versus. Private Certificate Authorities in ecommerce

In the domain of e-commerce, ensuring secure and encrypted transactions is paramount. This security is often facilitated through the use of digital certificates, issued and validated by Certificate Authorities (CAs). These CAs can be broadly classified into two categories: Public and Private. Diving deep into the operational and functional nuances of each, we can draw discerning distinctions between the two.
  1. Purpose and Scope:
    • Public Certificate Authorities (Public CAs):Public CAs are established entities that issue digital certificates for public-facing web servers and services. They cater to a vast audience and their primary objective is to vouch for the identity of public internet domains and ensure encrypted communications between browsers and servers.
    • Private Certificate Authorities (Private CAs):Private CAs are typically designed for internal organizational use. They issue certificates for internal servers, users, devices, and applications within an enterprise. Their primary aim is to bolster internal trust and provide authentication within the boundaries of an organization.
  2. Trustworthiness and Recognition:
    • Public CAs:Due to their extensive vetting processes and wide reach, certificates issued by established Public CAs are inherently trusted by most web browsers and operating systems. Users visiting e-commerce sites with such certificates are not presented with any security warnings, ensuring smooth user experience.
    • Private CAs:Certificates issued by a Private CA are not recognized by standard web browsers or operating systems by default. Devices or users need to be configured explicitly to trust these certificates. If a general user accesses an e-commerce platform secured by a private CA without the necessary configurations, they'll encounter security warnings.
  3. Cost and Investment:
    • Public CAs:Engaging with a Public CA often entails recurring costs. E-commerce platforms have to purchase or renew certificates periodically, and prices can vary based on the type, validation level, and duration of the certificate.
    • Private CAs:While setting up a Private CA entails initial setup and operational costs, organizations have more control over the subsequent costs of issuing individual certificates. It could be more cost-effective in the long run, especially for large organizations that require numerous internal certificates.
  4. Flexibility and Control:
    • Public CAs:Their operational procedures and certificate issuance are standardized and offer limited flexibility. The vetting process, certificate attributes, and lifecycle are mostly predefined.
    • Private CAs:Enterprises have a greater degree of flexibility. They can define their vetting processes, customize certificate attributes, and control the lifecycle of certificates to meet specific organizational needs.
  5. Security and Risk Profile:
    • Public CAs:Given their prominence and the trust placed in them, they are high-value targets for cyber adversaries. A breach can have wide-reaching implications, affecting numerous e-commerce platforms and end-users.
    • Private CAs:The risks are often contained within an organization. While a compromise is concerning, its impact is usually limited to the confines of the enterprise.

Public and Private CAs serve distinct purposes in the realm of e-commerce and digital security. While Public CAs are indispensable for securing public-facing e-commerce platforms and ensuring wide-scale user trust, Private CAs offer organizations flexibility and control over their internal authentication mechanisms. Choosing between the two hinges on understanding the specific needs, risk appetite, and operational scope of the e-commerce entity in question.

You can choose from two different types of CAs to sign your certificates: public and private. VeriSign is the primary example of a public CA. However, you have the opportunity to use your own certificate server. Microsoft Certificate Server and Netscape Certificate Server are just two examples of in-house options.

Public Certificate Server

Using a public certificate server
Benefits Drawbacks
You can demonstrate your identity to the public.
You generally receive insurance coverage when you purchase a digital certificate.
A public digital certificate purchased from a reputable CA instantly increases public trust.
You have to trust the security used by these CAs.
Purchasing a certificate is costly.

Private Certificate Server

Using a private certificate server
Quick start-up: You can create your own key and get up and running right away.
Relatively low cost: Because IIS 4.0 and Certificate Server, for example, are free, you can create your own trust system for no extracost.
You have local control over trust issues; you only have to worry about your own server being compromised.
The chief drawback is that only users in your local intranet will trust your certificate. This will remain the case unless you become part of alarger trust system.

Public and private digital certificates are both useful. A public digital certificate is ideal for an e-commerce setting. A private digital certificate is useful for an intranet setting.
In the next lesson, you will learn more about certificate issues.

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