What is a root signing certificate?

Signed certificates are an essential part of the secure sockets layer (SSL) protocol that is used to encrypt communications online. The certificates provide a way to authenticate the identity of a website, business or other digital entity. They ensure that all communications are being transmitted and received securely by a known institution. Root signing certificates are issued by a certificate authority. They allow a business to sign certificates independently. This makes it unnecessary to go through a certification authority when generating new certificates for a website or business.

Trusted Root Certificates

Most websites and businesses acquire a digital certificate by supplying information and fees to a certificate authority. The certificate is valid for a certain period of time. Anyone who establishes an SSL connection to the website will be able to verify the identity of the business because of the signature of the authority on the certificate. Certificates that come directly from a certificate authority have no higher-level issuer. These certificates are self-signed and are known as root certificates. A root certificate allows the owner to sign any number of other certificates for any purpose.

Why Businesses Need Root Signing Certificates

The most common reason that businesses acquire a root signing certificate is because of convenience. A business that must issue dozens or hundreds of certificates could have a large amount of overhead if every certificate needs to be authenticated by a certificate authority. Having a trusted root certificate means that a company or an individual can sign any number of certificates. It is also convenient for customers since the root certificate authentication will be included with most web browsers automatically allowing the company to create an authenticated network of websites, products and services.

Common Uses

Root signing certificates are used in a variety of ways. They are used primarily in ecommerce to validate a website and to ensure that personal data is strongly encrypted before being transmitted across the Internet. They are also used within large corporations to create secure and authenticated connections with clients or employees outside of the company. Some certificates are embedded in cloud-based applications and programs designed for use with mobile devices.


Although most root signing certificates are issued by a certificate authority, there are simple techniques that will allow any user to generate a self-signed root certificate. A root certificate that is not associated with a valid authority will generate warnings in web browsers and other applications. This is done to prevent malicious individuals from creating false root certificates in order to trick users into revealing personal information by pretending to be a trusted website or service.

Acquiring A Certificate

Organizations that are seeking a trusted root signing certificate that has been issued through a recognized certificate authority must meet some very stringent requirements. This is done to maintain the integrity of the system and the public key infrastructure that is used. Every authority has a unique set of qualifications although some requirements are very common. These include insurance, a high corporate worth and a certification practices statement. It is also normally necessary to have a computer system that is compliant with the Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) in order to generate and maintain the certificates.

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