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glossary of SSL-related terms

Certificate ( aka Digital Certificate)

A data record used for authenticating network entities such as a server or a client. A certificate contains X.509 information pieces about its owner (called the subject) and the signing Certificate Authority (called the issuer), plus the owner’s public key and the signature made by the CA. Network entities verify these signatures using CA certificates.

Certificate ( aka Certification) Authority (CA)

A trusted third party whose purpose is to sign certificates for network entities it has authenticated using secure means. Other network entities can check the signature to verify that a CA has authenticated the bearer of a certificate.

Certificate Signing Request (CSR)

An unsigned certificate for submission to a Certification Authority, which signs it with the Private Key of their CA Certificate . Once the CSR is signed, it becomes a real certificate.


An algorithm or system for data encryption. Examples are DES, IDEA, RC4, etc.

Configuration Directive

Most Apache configuration directives are in the HTTPD.CONF file.

Digital Signature

An encrypted text block that validates a certificate or other file. A Certificate Authority creates a signature by generating a hash of the Public Key embedded in a Certificate , then encrypting the hash with its own Private Key. Only the CA’s public key can decrypt the signature, verifying that the CA has authenticated the network entity that owns the Certificate. See also, Hash Function and Message Digest.

Distinguished Name

A DN is a series of name-value pairs, such as uid=doe, that uniquely identifies the certificate subject.

Fully-Qualified Domain-Name (FQDN)

A hostname and a domain name that can resolve to an IP address (for example, h18000.www1.hp.com).

Hash Function

A fixed-length value created mathematically to identify data uniquely.

Message Digest

A hash of a message, which can be used to verify that the contents of the message have not been altered in transit. This principal is employed in digital signatures.


An Open Source toolkit for enabling OpenSSL on Apache web server; see http://www.modssl.org.


The Open Source toolkit for SSL/TLS; see http://www.openssl.org/.

Pass Phrase

The word or phrase that protects private key files. It prevents unauthorized users from encrypting them. Usually it’s just the secret encryption/decryption key used for Ciphers.

PEM (Privacy Enhanced Mail)

A standard, predating S/MIME, for encrypting e-mail and authenticating senders.

Private Key

The secret key in a Public Key Cryptography system, used to decrypt incoming messages and sign outgoing ones.

Public Key

The publically available key in a Public Key Cryptography system, used to encrypt messages bound for its owner and to decrypt signatures made by its owner.

Public Key Cryptography

The study and application of asymmetric encryption systems, which use one key for encryption and another for decryption. A corresponding pair of such keys constitutes a key pair. Also called Asymmetric Crypography.

Secure Sockets Layer (SSL)

A protocol created by Netscape Communications Corporation for general communication authentication and encryption over TCP/IP networks. The most popular usage is HTTP S - HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP) using SSL.


The original SSL/TLS implementation library developed by Eric A. Young.

Symmetric Cryptography

The study and application of Ciphers that use a single secret key for both encryption and decryption operations.

Transport Layer Security (TLS)

The successor protocol to SSL, created by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) for general communication authentication and encryption over TCP/IP networks. TLS version 1 and is nearly identical with SSL version 3.


The most widely used standard for digital certificates. It is recommended by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU-T) and is used for SSL/TLS authentication.