PKI and Certificates

A Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) is a system that helps facilitate secure communications through the use of digital certificates. Reflection for Secure IT supports the use of a PKI for both host and user authentication.

Like public key authentication, certificate authentication uses public/private key pairs to verify the host identity. However, with certificate authentication, public keys are contained within digital certificates, and in this case, two key pairs are used. For example, for server authentication, the host holds one private key and the CA holds a second. The host obtains a certificate from the CA. This certificate contains identifying information about the host, a copy of the host public key, and a digital signature created using the CA's private key. This certificate is sent to the client during the authentication process. To verify the integrity of the information coming from the host, the client must have a copy of the CA's public key, which is contained in the CA root certificate. There is no need for the client to have a copy of the host public key.

Certificate authentication solves some of the problems presented by public key authentication. For example, for host public key authentication, the system administrator must either distribute host keys for every server to each client's known hosts store, or count on client users to confirm the host identity correctly when they connect to an unknown host. When certificates are used for host authentication, a single CA root certificate can be used to authenticate multiple hosts. In many cases the required certificate is already available in the Windows certificate store.

Similarly, when public keys are used for client authentication, each client public key must be uploaded to the server and the server must be configured to recognize that key. When certificate authentication is used, a single CA root certificate can be used to authenticate multiple client users.

Related Topics

Certificate Authentication (PKI)

Reflection Certificate Manager