Certificate: As it relates to Wi-Fi network security, a certificate is a digital identifier used to authenticate a machine or user to a network. Both may be required for some authentication methods. A certificate contains information about who owns the certificate, certificate issuer, a unique serial number or other unique identification, expiration dates, and encrypted information that can be used to verify the information held within the certificate. Such authentication is more secure than a username/password combination.
Certificate authority: A certificate authority (CA) is an authority (security server) in a network, or a third-party entity, that issues and manages security credentials and public keys for message encryption and decryption. As part of a public key infrastructure (PKI), a CA checks with a registration authority (RA) to verify information provided by the requestor of a digital certificate. If the RA verifies the requestor's information, the CA can then issue a certificate.
What does all of this mean to me as a home or small-office user?
Certificates are most commonly employed in corporate environments or other large institutions possessing a large network infrastructure. Home or small-office users typically use manually configured pre-shared keys or passphrases, instead of certificates, to authenticate and associate with access points (APs) or broadband Wi-Fi routers. APs and routers then connect to the Internet via a DSL, cable or other types of modems.
This applies to: