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Visual Studio Code Signing Certificate: Everything You Need to Know About it

Visual studio code signing certificate can ensure that software or web app’s integrity remains intact while users install them on their device. Here we will discuss different aspects of the code signing certificate for Visual studio.

Visual Studio has been around for 20 years, with the first version known as Visual Studio 97 and the recent release of Visual Studio 2022. It is an integrated development environment that allows developers to write codes and develop web apps, websites, software, and desktop apps.


Microsoft Visual Studio comes with an excellent user interface to facilitate software development with the ease of editing, debugging, and building the code. In addition, it comes with pre-built IntelliSense, a code editor which helps in code refactoring. You can also leverage the integrated debugger as a source-level debugger for your software development.

Visual Studio Code is simple and intuitive for developers to build web applications, and that is why it is so popular. However, Visual Studio security has become vital for organizations over the years. According to a study on Visual Studio Code extensions, there are several vulnerabilities that attackers can leverage to expose the developer’s code.

This is where a Visual studio code signing certificate can ensure that software or web app’s integrity remains intact while users install them on their device.

How Does Code Signing Work?

The code signing process involves several steps, from the hashing to the task of assigning digital signature to software code. Hash values are essential for the code signing process to maintain code integrity. These are an array of string values that help keep the code anonymous and verify its integrity through matching hash values.

Let’s understand the entire process step-by-step,

Step 1 Applying for certificate.

The code signing process begins with a software publisher or Visual Studio developer generating a private-public key pair. Next, the developer or publisher will submit the public key to a certification authority.

Step 2 Verification of credentials

CA verifies the credentials of applying publisher or developer after proper vetting process and security key authentication. Next, the certification authority will bundle the information regarding the publisher with the public key and create a code signing certificate.

Step 3 Hashing the bundle.

The publisher of the software or Visual Studio developer will use the code signing certificate to code sign the bundle containing the executable file. After the code signing of the executable file, the next step will be to hash the code. Leveraging the hashing algorithms, publishers can hash the files and keep the integrity of the code intact.

Step 4 Signing the hash.

Once the executable file is hashed, it is passed through a signing algorithm using the publisher’s private key. Information about the developer and CA is added to the signature.

Step 5 Bundling files

The code, digital signature, and certificate are bundled together. It is further attached to a public key with which the code can be authenticated before downloading and installing it by a user. The Visual Studio code bundle is now ready for distribution.

Now that we know how code signing works let’s use cases for Visual Studio apps.

How to Sign code on Visual Studio?

Once you have your code signing certificate ready from a reputed CA, here is what you need to do for signing apps and software,

  • Go to the project properties window by right-clicking on “Solution Explorer.”
  • On the signing tab, select “Sign the ClickOnce manifests.”
  • Next, select your certificate from the store or the ones you already have issued from a CA.
  • Specify the address of the timestamp server in “Timestamp server URL.”
  • It will provide details on when the manifest (software or app code) was signed

This is the procedure for signing your Visual Studio apps and software with a code signing certificate. If you have saved the .pfx file from the certificate bundle, you can also directly use it to sign the Visual Studio apps.

  • First, you need to open the Signing page and select “Sign the ClickOnce manifests.”
  • Next, “select from the file” option and upload the .pfx file
  • If it is password protected, you will have to enter the passcode to open the file

It is essential to understand that the .pfx file should not contain chaining certificate information. The best way to avoid such an error for your Visual Studio apps is to use the “Certmgr.msc” command line.

Following a similar process flow, you can also upload a test certificate which will help ensure the security of code during the testing phase.

  • Open the Signing page and click on the “Sign the ClickOnce manifests” check box.
  • Next, you can create a new certificate for tests through the “Create Test Certificate.”
  • If it’s password-protected, you will have to add a passcode for signing.

Features of Visual studio code signing certificate.

  • Physical private security tokenization for private keys
  • The certificate displays complete details of the organization for verification
  • Windows SmartScreen support
  • Supports Microsoft apps and windows apps, desktop apps, and software
  • 2048-bit RSA signature key
  • 256-bit encryptions with support for SHA 2 or higher
  • Monitoring of code integrity
  • Timestamping facility

Now that we know the features of the code signing certificate, let’s discuss how does it work?

What Else is a Visual Studio Code Signing Certificate Used For?

While code signing your Visual Studio application offers several critical advantages for security and integrity, there are other use cases. For example, one of the most significant use cases of code signing certificates can be test code signing.

Test code signing is a good practice as it enables security for your Visual Studio application. Especially if you are a team of developers, it’s essential to ensure that all the avenues of code testing, updates, and deployments across environments are secure. With a test code signing certificate, you can ensure that all the endpoints of the testing environment are secured from malicious attacks.

Apart from the test code signing certificates, they are also helpful when updating the Visual Studio code for newer versions. With each iteration, you need to release security patches for your application, and if your code itself is not secure, the result will be the vulnerable app.

A Visual Studio code signing certificate can help you secure each iteration of the application and maintain integrity. Some of the critical benefits of code signing your Visual Studio apps are,

  • Offers unlimited signing for all the software versions you need to update
  • Provides security to not just the release codes but test code also
  • Encryption-based protection ensures that there is no man in the middle attacks
  • Enables extensive protection for software in 32 and 64-bit Kernel mode
  • Compatibility across Microsoft apps and Windows software

Now that we know some of the use cases of Visual Studio code signing certificates and benefits let’s look at the signing process.

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With more than 800,000 applications and millions of software, Microsoft has been at the forefront of innovative experiences. Visual Studio is the base on which such experiences are built. However, users don’t like the lack of security, which can lead to exposure of their valuable data.

This is where a Visual Studio code signing certificate can help you through secure experiences and complete code integrity. So, start code signing your Visual Studio applications and enhance customer experience.

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About the Author

Pratik Jogi

Pratik Jogi is a cybersecurity visionary with an Electronics & Communications Engineering degree. He holds esteemed certifications like Microsoft MCSE and MVP. With over two decades dedicated to defending the digital frontier, his expertise in Server, Network, and Cyber Security reflects a genuine commitment to secure digital landscapes against emerging threats.