4.4.4. Choosing the Signing Key Type and Length

A signing key is used by a subsystem to verify and "seal" something. CAs use a CA signing certificate to sign certificates or CRLs that it issues; OCSPs use signing certificates to verify their responses to certificate status requests; all subsystems use log file signing certificates to sign their audit logs.
The signing key must be cryptographically strong to provide protection and security for its signing operations. Certificate System supports six signing algorithms, by default, two in the MD family, four in the SHA family, and one for ECC encryption:
  • MD2withRSA
  • MD5withRSA
  • SHA1withRSA
  • SHA256withRSA
  • SHA512withRSA
  • SHA1withEC
SHA1withRSA is the default signing algorithm for CAs for RSA certificates. SHA1withEC is the default signing algorithm for CAs for ECC certificates.


Certificate System does not include a module natively to enable ECC, but it is possible to load and use a third-party PKCS #11 module with ECC-enabled. This is covered in Section 9.3, “Installing an Instance with ECC Enabled”.
Along with a key type, each key has a specific bit length. Longer keys are considered cryptographically stronger than shorter keys. However, longer keys require more time for signing operations.
The default RSA key length in the configuration wizard is 2048 bits; for certificates that provide access to highly sensitive data or services, consider increasing the length to 4096 bits. ECC keys are much stronger than RSA keys, so the recommended length for ECC keys is 256 bits, which is equivalent in strength to a 2048-bit RSA key.