What is a Certificate Based Authentication Error?
Authentication is the process by which a server validates a client’s request. In more simple words, it’s the way that the system you’re interacting with keeps track of everyone. When you authenticate with a server, you’re proving your identity so that you and the server can exchange information and services. In some cases, authentication is a trust issue, as you exchange sensitive services or data with the server. In other instances, it’s just a means of keeping everyone separate. Our computers and devices go through authentication processes many many times a day throughout normal use.
Certificates are a technology developed in order to help streamline the authentication process. Much like you would present credentials in order to prove your identity to an authority in real life, your computer presents digital certificates to servers in order to authenticate itself. This process is one of many options to authenticate: just like you could show your drivers license or passport or even your library card to someone, your computer can use certificates or other forms of identification to complete the authentication process.
In order to see a “certificate based authentication failed” message, your computer must choose certificates as the proper method of identifying itself and the servers it communicates with. Then, there must be a breakdown in communication: an invalid or corrupted certificate, a blocked firewall, or a duplicate entry that confuses the system. By fixing these problems or choosing a different method of authentication, you can dispel your error message and go about with your business.
Identify the Scope of the Problem
The first thing you’ll need to do when confronted with this error message is to figure out how much trouble you’re really in. If you’re having difficulty connecting to your online banking system or e-mail from your home computer, you’ll want to check your favorite search engine and see if everyone else is having the same error. If everyone else is getting the error on the same websites all of a sudden, all you need to do is wait — the issue is with your bank or e-mail provider. They’ll have a solution to the problem within a few hours. You can give them a call if you have urgent business or to see if they have a temporary fix you can use in the meantime.
If the problem extends over multiple sites or nobody else is reporting it, it’s likely your web browser is interfering with the process of exchanging certificates. While the exact options vary from browser to browser, all modern web browsers have various security options hiding away in a menu. Under ‘Tools > Options”, “Settings > Show Advanced Settings” or “Internet Options” there are a variety of changes you can make to how your web browser handles security and certificates. In many cases, simply lowering your security slider will fix the issue.
If you are the operator of the server where you’re experiencing the error, the fix may not be this simple. First, try making sure that certificate-based authentication isn’t competing with another method. Many errors have been caused when two systems try to control the same process at once, confusing your system and making it think that it can’t find the right certificate even when it can. Try to break down your problem and troubleshoot the cause by testing various points along your implementation. Can other servers see the certificates? Where exactly do the logs say that things are going wrong? Are the files hidden or locked for some reason? If everything else fails, consider switching to another form of authentication. While certificates can be convenient and easy at times, if they’re not vital to your system you might save a lot of hassle by using something else entirely.