Overview of SSL certificates

Read this section to understand SSL certificates in general.

What is a certificate?

A certificate is a digital signature that identifies the server as some named entity. Certificates can be signed by a certificate authority (CA) that vouches for the identity of the server, or they can be self-signed. Verisign or Thawte are examples of CAs. A self-signed certificate is one where the CA is the same entity that the certificate claims to identify.

Server-side certificates

Every server that is intended to provide SSL communication, whether it is an application server or an HCL® Marketing Software application such as the Campaign listener, needs to serve up a certificate.

Client side truststores

When the client receives the server certificate, it is up to the client to determine whether to trust the certificate. A client trusts a server certificate automatically if the certificate exists in the client truststore. A truststore is a database of trusted certificates.

Modern browsers have a truststore loaded with the common certificates endorsed by CAs. This is why you are not prompted when entering the secured site at major merchant web sites - they use certificates signed by a CA. But, when you log in to an HCL application that serves up a self-signed certificate, you sees the prompt.

Browsers check that the host name of the server matches the subject name in the certificate (the subject name is the Common Name used in the Distinguished Name, which you supply when you request a certificate). The browser might issue a warning if these two names do not match.

When a browser accesses an HCL application secured with a certificate it does not recognize (for example, a self-signed certificate), a dialog window opens, asking if the user wants to continue. If the user chooses to install the certificate to the local truststore, the prompt does not appear again.