What is an SSL Certificate?
Ever wondered how your sensitive information remains safe and secure when you shop online or log into your favorite social media platform? The answer lies in the magic of SSL certificates! They play a crucial role in website security, and understanding them is essential for anyone running a website. Let’s dive into the world of SSL certificates and uncover their secrets, starting with “what is an SSL certificate?”
SSL Certificates are a security technology that encrypts data in transit, providing trust to websites and therefore better search engine rankings.
You can easily recognize SSL-protected websites by looking for the padlock icon before the URL. Or you can check whether the URL starts with “https”, which indicates the use of an SSL certificate, instead of “http”.
Different types of SSL certificates offer different levels of validation, domain coverage, and use cases.
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Understanding SSL Certificates
An SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate is a small data file that establishes a secure connection between a browser and the servers it communicates with. In essence, it scrambles the data in transit, ensuring that no one can read or tamper with it. SSL certificates usually contain information like the domain name, its owner, the certificate authority (CA) that issued the certificate, and the certificate’s expiration date.
SSL certificates are a standard security technology that ensures sensitive data, such as login credentials and personal information, remains safe from cyber-attacks and unauthorized access. The most secure type of TLS/SSL certificate is the Extended Validation (EV) certificate, which offers the highest level of assurance and is ideal for websites that handle financial transactions or collect sensitive user information.
The Role of Certificate Authorities
Certificate Authorities (CAs) are entities responsible for issuing SSL certificates and verifying the legitimacy of a website. They play a pivotal role in ensuring that the public key included in a website is validated. CAs check the certificate requester’s information, such as site ownership, name, location, and more, to ensure it meets established industry standards.
Browsers trust SSL certificates from reliable CAs because they maintain a list of trusted organizations and only accept certificates issued by those entities. This trust is essential in providing users with confidence in the security of their online transactions and the authenticity of the website they are visiting.
How SSL Encryption Works
SSL encryption relies on two “keys” – a public key and a private key – to decrypt scrambled data. The website operator holds the private key, while the public key becomes part of the website and is verified by the certificate authority. These keys form the backbone of the SSL encryption process, ensuring data security during transmission.
An SSL handshake is a back-and-forth communication between a browser and a website, used to establish a secure connection using these public and private keys. This secure connection ensures that sensitive information like login credentials, personal data, and financial transactions remain encrypted and safe from prying eyes.
Importance of SSL Certificates for Websites
SSL certificates are essential for any website that requires users to enter personal information or handle sensitive data. Even if your website doesn’t process sensitive information, having an SSL certificate is highly recommended to avoid search engine penalties and browser warnings.
The benefits of SSL certificates include data security, user trust, and improved search engine rankings.
SSL certificates play a crucial role in protecting sensitive information from cyber-attacks and unauthorized access by establishing a secure connection. This secure connection scrambles data in transit using encryption algorithms, ensuring that only authorized parties can access and understand the transmitted data.
However, it is important to note that SSL certificates are not a complete solution for protecting against all cyber attacks. They are just one layer of defense in the complex landscape of online security, but they play a vital role in safeguarding sensitive data during transmission.
Having an SSL certificate on your website is vital for building user trust. A secure connection gives users confidence that the website is legitimate and safe to use, as it safeguards their sensitive information during online transactions. The padlock symbol displayed in the browser’s address bar is a visual indicator that the website is secure and has taken extra measures to protect user data.
This trust is essential for retaining users and encouraging them to interact with your website, whether it’s making a purchase, signing up for a newsletter, or simply browsing your content. SSL certificates play a significant role in ensuring the credibility of a website, ultimately fostering user trust and loyalty.
Search Engine Ranking
An SSL certificate can positively impact your website’s search engine ranking, as search engines prioritize secure websites to provide a safe browsing experience for users. HTTPS, the secure version of HTTP, encrypts web traffic for websites with SSL certificates, and browsers usually label HTTP sites without SSL certificates as “not secure”.
If a website lacks an SSL certificate, it could be perceived as not caring about user safety, which could lead to a lower search ranking and less traffic. As a result, having an SSL certificate is essential for maintaining and improving your website’s search engine ranking and visibility.
Various Types of SSL Certificates
There are different types of SSL certificates available based on validation levels, domain coverage, and specific use cases. The three main types are Domain Validation (DV) certificates, Organization Validation (OV) certificates, and Extended Validation (EV) certificates.
Understanding the differences between these certificates is crucial for choosing the right SSL certificate for your website’s specific needs and security requirements.
Domain Validation (DV) Certificates
Domain Validation (DV) SSL certificates provide basic encryption and lower assurance, making them ideal for blogs or informational websites that don’t collect data or process online payments. Acquiring a DV SSL certificate is a simple process that only requires the applicant to prove domain ownership by responding to an email or phone call.
DV SSL certificates are an affordable option for websites with low-security requirements, offering basic encryption at a lower cost than other SSL certificates. The cost of a DV SSL certificate typically ranges from $0–$99 per year.
Organization Validation (OV) Certificates
Organization Validation (OV) SSL certificates require a thorough validation process and display the website owner’s information in the address bar, making them suitable for commercial or public-facing websites. Applicants must pass nine validation checks in order to obtain an OV SSL certificate. This verification process ensures that the owner and domain of the website are validated.
OV SSL certificates are recommended for businesses that don’t handle financial or e-commerce transactions on their website, and their cost ranges between $100–$999 annually.
Extended Validation (EV) Certificates
Extended Validation (EV) SSL certificates offer the highest level of assurance and are ideal for corporations, financial entities, and e-commerce websites. Obtaining an EV SSL certificate involves a standardized verification process and can take a week or more, as the applicant must pass 16 validation checks for legal identity and physical location.
When a user visits a website with an EV SSL certificate, they’ll see a green browser bar and extra corporate information behind the padlock, providing premium security and distinguishing the website from malicious sites.
Although EV SSL certificates are more expensive than other types, their stringent verification process and high level of assurance make them a worthwhile investment for high-profile businesses.
Acquiring and Installing an SSL Certificate
To obtain an SSL certificate, you must first decide what type of certificate you need, find a Certificate Issuer, get the certificate, and then set it up on your web host or server. SSL certificates can be obtained directly from Certificate Authorities (CAs). This is often a quick and easy process.
Once you have the SSL certificate, you’ll need to configure it on your web host or server to establish a secure connection between your website and its visitors. The specific steps for configuring an SSL certificate on a web host or server will depend on the type of certificate and the web host or server in question.
It’s essential to follow the instructions provided by your Certificate Authority and web host or server to ensure proper installation and configuration.
Managing SSL Certificates for Multiple Domains
Securing multiple domains and subdomains can be achieved using Wildcard and Multi-Domain SSL certificates. Wildcard SSL certificates enable you to secure an unlimited number of subdomains, while Multi-Domain SSL certificates are a great choice if you need to secure multiple domains and use them on multiple servers. Multi-Domain SSL certificates are also known as SAN certificates.
Using Wildcard and Multi-Domain SSL certificates offers cost-effective solutions for securing multiple domains and subdomains. However, there can be drawbacks to using these certificates, such as potential performance issues if too many different sites are included.
Recognizing SSL-Protected Websites
Identifying if a website is SSL-protected is simple by checking the browser’s address bar. A padlock icon in the address bar indicates that the website has an SSL certificate and offers a secure connection. This symbol assures users that the website is taking necessary precautions to protect their sensitive information.
In addition to the padlock symbol, you can also look for “https” in the browser’s address bar. HTTPS, or Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure, is the secure version of HTTP, meaning its traffic is encrypted by SSL. Websites with SSL certificates will display “https” instead of “http” in their URL, providing another visual indicator of a secure connection.
SSL vs. TLS: Understanding the Difference
Although SSL certificates are commonly mentioned, it’s important to note that TLS (Transport Layer Security) is actually the successor to SSL and is currently on version 1.3. DigiCert uses the terms SSL and TLS synonymously. This applies when referring to certificates or describing how data is secured in transit.
The latest version of TLS, TLS 1.3, includes a key feature called “forward secrecy,” which means each communication session has its own unique key. This ensures that even if someone manages to break the encryption, only one session will be affected, providing an additional layer of security in the ongoing evolution of secure communication protocols.
SSL certificates play an indispensable role in securing our online interactions and protecting sensitive information. Understanding the different types of SSL certificates, their validation processes, and their benefits is crucial for anyone running a website. By choosing the right SSL certificate for your needs, you can ensure the safety and security of your users’ data, build trust, and improve your website’s search engine ranking. Stay informed about SSL certificates and embrace the secure future they help create for our ever-evolving digital world.
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.
Frequently Asked Questions
Below are the most frequently asked questions.
What is the purpose of an SSL certificate?
SSL certificates are used to secure online communication and provide authentication of a website’s identity. They ensure that data passed between a website and user remains encrypted, safeguarding any personal information being exchanged.
An SSL certificate is an essential part of keeping your online communications safe and secure.
Is it necessary to have an SSL certificate?
Yes, it is necessary to have an SSL certificate for your website. It helps keep user data secure, verify ownership of the website, prevent attackers from creating a fake version of the site, and convey trust to users.
Encryption and authentication are also possible because of the public-private key pairing facilitated by SSL certificates.
What happens if you don't have an SSL certificate?
Not having an SSL certificate can compromise the security of your website, put your visitors and customers at risk of having their data stolen, and even hurt your website’s SEO ranking.
Without encryption, you’re leaving your website open to all sorts of potential threats, making it much less trustworthy for visitors.
Author: Tibor Moes
Founder & Chief Editor at SoftwareLab
Tibor is a Dutch engineer and entrepreneur. He has tested security software since 2014.
Over the years, he has tested most of the best antivirus software for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS, as well as many VPN providers.
He uses Norton to protect his devices, CyberGhost for his privacy, and Dashlane for his passwords.
This website is hosted on a Digital Ocean server via Cloudways and is built with DIVI on WordPress.