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4.1 Certificate authentication

The most known authentication method of TLS are certificates. The PKIX [PKIX] public key infrastructure is daily used by anyone using a browser today. GnuTLS provides a simple API to use the X.509 certificates [PKIX].

The key exchange algorithms supported by certificate authentication are shown in Table 4.1.

Key exchangeDescription
RSAThe RSA algorithm is used to encrypt a key and send it to the peer. The certificate must allow the key to be used for encryption.
DHE_RSAThe RSA algorithm is used to sign ephemeral Diffie-Hellman parameters which are sent to the peer. The key in the certificate must allow the key to be used for signing. Note that key exchange algorithms which use ephemeral Diffie-Hellman parameters, offer perfect forward secrecy. That means that even if the private key used for signing is compromised, it cannot be used to reveal past session data.
ECDHE_RSAThe RSA algorithm is used to sign ephemeral elliptic curve Diffie-Hellman parameters which are sent to the peer. The key in the certificate must allow the key to be used for signing. It also offers perfect forward secrecy. That means that even if the private key used for signing is compromised, it cannot be used to reveal past session data.
DHE_DSSThe DSA algorithm is used to sign ephemeral Diffie-Hellman parameters which are sent to the peer. The certificate must contain DSA parameters to use this key exchange algorithm. DSA is the algorithm of the Digital Signature Standard (DSS).
ECDHE_ECDSAThe Elliptic curve DSA algorithm is used to sign ephemeral elliptic curve Diffie-Hellman parameters which are sent to the peer. The certificate must contain ECDSA parameters (i.e., EC and marked for signing) to use this key exchange algorithm.

Table 4.1: Supported key exchange algorithms.


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