SSL Certificate Types: The 3 Standards to Know

By Tibor Moes / Updated: June 2023

SSL Certificate Types: The 3 Standards to Know (2023)<br />

SSL Certificate Types

Picture this: You’re in a room with a stranger, and you want to share a secret with them. But how do you know they won’t spill the beans? You need a friend who can vouch for them, right? That’s essentially what SSL certificates do online – they’re the trustworthy friends who vouch for websites’ credibility.

Summary

SSL Certificates are like digital passports for websites, proving their identity and helping to secure data exchanges, to give users confidence that their information is safe.

Type 1 – Extended Validation (EV) SSL Certificates: The Big Brother of SSL certificates. It’s not just about proving you’re a legitimate website, it’s about showing you’ve undergone a comprehensive identity verification process. Think of it as an upgraded VIP passport.

Type 2 – Wildcard SSL Certificates: The Swiss Army Knife of SSL certificates. One certificate to secure your main domain and all of its subdomains. It’s like having a passport that allows you to visit numerous countries without needing additional visas.

Type 3 – Multi-Domain SSL Certificates: The Master Key of SSL certificates. This type allows you to secure multiple different domain names with one certificate. Imagine a single key that can unlock multiple doors, simplifying security management.

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SSL Certificate Types In-depth

Extended Validation (EV) SSL Certificates

Let’s imagine for a moment that you’re planning a trip to an exclusive island nation. You can’t just show up at the border with your regular passport and expect to breeze through customs. No, this particular place requires a more thorough background check and documentation, perhaps even a personal interview. Once cleared, you’re given a special gold-embossed passport that signals you’ve been fully vetted and are worthy of entry into this elite locale.

Similarly, in the vast digital ocean of the internet, where websites are like islands, an Extended Validation (EV) SSL certificate is akin to that gold-embossed passport. It’s not just any ordinary certificate — it’s an assurance that a website has gone through a stringent, in-depth validation process. It’s about giving you, the user, absolute confidence in the website’s legitimacy.

Just as the exclusive island nation makes sure that the bearers of their gold-embossed passports are of high caliber, the issuing bodies of EV SSL certificates conduct a comprehensive identity check of the requesting entity. This includes verification of the applicant’s physical, legal, and operational existence, as well as the authority of the individual requesting the certificate.

Why does all this matter? Well, in a world teeming with cyber threats, it’s easy for a malicious actor to set up a seemingly legitimate website to steal your data. An EV SSL certificate is the internet’s way of saying, “This website has been thoroughly vetted and is legitimate. You can trust it.”

And it’s not just about security. EV SSL certificates also give businesses a green signal, literally. When a website is secured with an EV SSL certificate, it displays a green padlock and the company’s name in the address bar. This visual cue offers an immediate trust boost, which can be especially important for businesses, such as online stores or financial service providers, where customers need to feel confident before inputting sensitive information.

In a nutshell, if SSL certificates were a family, the Extended Validation SSL certificate would be the big brother — the most trusted, reliable, and protective member. It’s the gold standard for website security and an essential tool in the fight against online fraud. So, the next time you’re surfing the web, keep an eye out for that green padlock — it’s your assurance that you’re dealing with a website that cares deeply about your security and trust.

 Wildcard SSL Certificates

Let’s imagine you’re going on an exciting globe-trotting adventure. Now, wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was one universal visa that could gain you entry into any country you wished to visit? No more lengthy visa applications or paperwork for each individual country, just one all-encompassing visa for your entire journey.

In the digital world, a Wildcard SSL certificate acts much like this imagined universal visa. It’s a flexible and efficient tool that simplifies the job of securing websites. It’s like having a Swiss Army Knife in your web security toolkit – versatile, practical, and always ready to tackle the task at hand.

Here’s how it works. You might have a main website, say, ‘yourawesomebusiness.com’. But, your awesome business also has a blog, a shop, and a support page, each living at their own subdomain like ‘blog.yourawesomebusiness.com’, ‘shop.yourawesomebusiness.com’, and ‘support.yourawesomebusiness.com’. Now, you could get individual SSL certificates for each of these subdomains. But that’s a lot of keys to carry around, metaphorically speaking.

Enter the Wildcard SSL certificate, your universal key. With one Wildcard SSL certificate, you can secure your main domain and all its subdomains. Whether you have one subdomain or a hundred, a Wildcard SSL certificate has you covered. It’s like a family visa for your main domain and all its ‘children’.

Not only does this make the process of securing your website and subdomains much more efficient, but it also makes managing your SSL certificates simpler. One certificate, one expiration date, one renewal process. It’s like decluttering your digital security closet.

But remember, while the Wildcard SSL certificate is undoubtedly a powerful tool, it might not always be the best fit for every scenario. For larger businesses with multiple, distinct domains, other types of SSL certificates might serve better.

Think of Wildcard SSL certificates like a Swiss Army Knife: extremely handy in most situations, but sometimes, you might need a more specialized tool. Yet, for smaller businesses or those with numerous subdomains, the versatility and simplicity of Wildcard SSL certificates can be a perfect fit. So, in your online adventure, knowing that you have this kind of ‘universal visa’ makes navigating the digital world a whole lot safer.

Multi-Domain SSL Certificates

Let’s conjure up a mental image of a janitor’s key ring. It’s usually a hefty hoop filled with keys, each one corresponding to a different room or building. Now, suppose instead of carrying around all those keys, our janitor could consolidate them into one master key. This master key could unlock any door he needed to access. How much simpler and lighter his job would be!

In the realm of website security, Multi-Domain SSL certificates function a lot like that imagined master key. They offer a streamlined solution to secure multiple distinct domain names. Whether these domains are owned by one company or multiple entities, a Multi-Domain SSL certificate can lock them down.

Here’s a quick peek at how it works. Let’s say you’re running three different websites: ‘mytechblog.com’, ‘mycoffeeshop.net’, and ‘mypetstore.org’. Each of these websites is distinct and would typically require its own SSL certificate. That means three separate purchases, three sets of validation checks, and three different certificates to manage and renew. That’s quite a handful, isn’t it?

A Multi-Domain SSL certificate comes to the rescue by bundling these disparate domains under a single certificate. That means one purchase, one validation process, and just one certificate to keep track of. It’s like carrying a master key that can unlock multiple doors, making your digital security management tasks a breeze.

But, as with all keys, there are times and places where it’s appropriate to use your master key. Multi-Domain SSL certificates are ideal for businesses operating multiple websites or services under different domain names. They are also very useful for Microsoft Exchange and Office Communications environments, which use multiple domain names.

Just remember, like a master key, the power of a Multi-Domain SSL certificate should be wielded responsibly. Each additional domain that gets added to the certificate means there’s one more door that could potentially be left open if the master key gets lost, or in digital terms, if the certificate gets compromised.

In a nutshell, a Multi-Domain SSL certificate is a robust, flexible solution for managing security across multiple websites or services. It’s like having a master key for the online world, ensuring that no matter which door you need to open, you’re always prepared. This way, you can focus more on what you do best – running your websites – and let the Multi-Domain SSL certificate worry about keeping them secure.

Conclusions

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How to stay safe online:

  • Practice Strong Password Hygiene: Use a unique and complex password for each account. A password manager can help generate and store them. In addition, enable two-factor authentication (2FA) whenever available.
  • Invest in Your Safety: Buying the best antivirus for Windows 11 is key for your online security. A high-quality antivirus like Norton, McAfee, or Bitdefender will safeguard your PC from various online threats, including malware, ransomware, and spyware.
  • Be Wary of Phishing Attempts: Be cautious when receiving suspicious communications that ask for personal information. Legitimate businesses will never ask for sensitive details via email or text. Before clicking on any links, ensure the sender's authenticity.
  • Stay Informed. We cover a wide range of cybersecurity topics on our blog. And there are several credible sources offering threat reports and recommendations, such as NIST, CISA, FBI, ENISA, Symantec, Verizon, Cisco, Crowdstrike, and many more.

Happy surfing!

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are the most frequently asked questions.

Why do I need an SSL certificate?

An SSL certificate encrypts data sent between a website and its users, ensuring it can’t be intercepted and read by malicious actors. It also verifies the identity of the website, giving users confidence that they’re interacting with the legitimate site, not an imposter. In short, SSL certificates are crucial for online privacy and trust.

Can I use a Wildcard SSL certificate for multiple distinct domains?

No, Wildcard SSL certificates are designed to secure one domain and an unlimited number of its subdomains. If you need to secure multiple distinct domains (e.g., ‘mybusiness.com’ and ‘myotherbusiness.net’), you would need a Multi-Domain SSL certificate.

Does the green padlock in my browser address bar mean the website is safe?

The green padlock indicates that the website has an SSL certificate and that your connection to the site is encrypted. While this is a good sign, it doesn’t necessarily mean the website is safe or trustworthy. It’s still crucial to be cautious, especially when providing sensitive information online.

Author: Tibor Moes

Author: Tibor Moes

Founder & Chief Editor at SoftwareLab

Tibor has tested 39 antivirus programs and 30 VPN services, and holds a Cybersecurity Graduate Certificate from Stanford University.

He uses Norton to protect his devices, CyberGhost for his privacy, and Dashlane for his passwords.

You can find him on LinkedIn or contact him here.