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Configure and Troubleshoot Security for Windows Internet Explorer 7 (part 4) - Digital Certificates

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3/11/2011 9:04:38 AM

Digital Certificates

Digital certificates are used to establish strong security in an information system. Digital certificates provide four services to the user. They include integrity validation, strong authentication, nonrepudiation (these three together make up a digital signature), and confidentiality.

Note

A Note About Digital Certificates Digital certificates are based on the International Organization for Standardization’s (ISO’s) X.509 standard and are the vehicle used to commute or relay trust in any Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) environment. Digital certificates add the element of trust to the functionality of asymmetric key cryptography.


When you visit a website that uses HTTPS (HTTP over Secure Sockets Layer—SSL), the first thing the web server does is send you its digital certificate. Your browser validates several components of the certificate, and if all checks out, you use the certificate to establish the encrypted SSL channel. Several of these validation checks can be configured on the Advanced tab of Internet Options. A relatively common certificate error occurs when the name on the certificate does not match the name of the web server you are attempting to connect to, as shown in Figure 9.

Figure 9. A certificate warning is presented when one or more of the certificate validation checks fails.


Another validation check that is performed is to see if you trust the Certificate Authority (CA) that issued the certificate. If you don’t trust the issuing CA of the certificate, a certificate warning is presented that allows you to view the problematic certificate, stop your connection attempt, or proceed.

Exam Alert

There is usually another check box labeled Always Trust Content From on the warning that allows you to trust content from the currently untrusted website. This option actually imports the certificate into a special certificate store called the Trusted Root Certification Authorities. So if you don’t want to see this warning from this site again, import the certificate into the Trusted Root Certification Authorities store. You can access this store from the Content tab of the Internet Options by clicking the Certificates button, as shown in Figure 10.

Figure 10. A Trusted Root Certification Authorities store is a list of all certificate authorities that you trust.


Alert

From the Content tab of the Internet Options, you can import the website’s digital certificate into the Trusted Root Certification Authorities store. IE caches the certificate status when it first receives the certificate from the website.

If you want to ensure that you do not receive the warning again after you complete the import, you need to close and then reopen Internet Explorer. Now when you access the HTTPS website, IE checks the status of the certificate and recognizes that the source of the certificate is trusted. No more warnings.


Clear the Browsing History, Cached Content, Cookies, Forms Data, and Saved Passwords

To improve performance and make your browsing experience easier and more feature rich, IE7 stores lots of data about your browsing activities. If you share the computer, or if the computer gets infected with malware or, even worse, is compromised by the bad guys, this information might wind up in undesirable hands. To protect against this happening, you might want to regularly purge your system of this data. IE7 makes this an easy thing to do.

Caution

Deleting Cached Content When you delete this content, you lose potentially useful information that simplifies your getting around the Internet and information that gets automatically fed to websites. This information could include websites that you visit regularly, username, password, credit card information, forms data, and more.

Deleting this content could be problematic for some users. You may need to re-enter that information the next time you visit the website, assuming you know the information.

Understand the type of stored data you use in your browsing habits and requirements, and then decide whether you really want to delete this data.


On the General tab of Internet Options, under Browsing history, click the Delete button. This brings up the Delete Browsing History dialog box, as shown in Figure 11.

Figure 11. The Delete Browsing History dialog box allows you to delete all or parts of the stored data in IE7.

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