SSL Certificates 101 – Everything Basic You Need to Know: SEM
You might be wondering why having an SSL certificate is important for your website. Since security is a top priority when doing online activities, having basic knowledge of SSL certificates is crucial.
As of 2021, there are 46 million websites that use SSL certificates, and 95% of websites on Google use Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) which forms the basis of SSL.
We will cover several topics regarding SSL, from its definition to types of SSL certificates. Let’s get started.
What Are SSL and SSL Certificates?
- 1 What Are SSL and SSL Certificates?
- 2 What Are the Benefits of SSL Certificates?
- 3 How Does SSL Work?
- 4 Types of SSL Certificates
- 5 Free SSL Certificates vs. Paid SSL Certificates
- 6 Conclusion
SSL and SSL certificates are two different terms, but they are related. So, let’s talk about each term separately.
SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer, a network security protocol that enables secure communication between a website and users’ web browsers.
SSL was initially invented by Netscape to solve internet security concerns. During its development, Netscape released three SSL versions, namely SSL 1.0, SSL 2.0, and SSL 3.0.
All SSL versions had security flaws. Thus, the upgraded version, Transport Layer Security (TLS), was introduced. Nowadays, people use the term SSL and SSL/TLS interchangeably.
SSL provides three main layers of security when a secure connection is established:
- Data encryption. Sensitive data is completely encrypted, meaning it can neither be deciphered nor stolen.
- Authentication. Accessing data requires authentication between actual or intended users and websites.
- Data integrity. It secures users’ data from being corrupted or modified.
An SSL certificate refers to a digital certificate authenticating a web site’s identity and enabling an SSL encrypted connection. It contains information, such as:
- The domain name.
- The company or webmaster’s contact details.
- The certificate expiration date.
- The public key.
- The private key is not publicly shown.
When a web owner installs an SSL certificate, the padlock icon on the users’ web browser will be activated, indicating that the connection between the website and the web browser is secure. The secure site’s URL will also use the HTTPS protocol instead of HTTP.
SSL certificates are issued by an organization called the Certificate Authority (CA). The CA is also responsible for verifying the legitimacy of websites.
Note that SSL certificates have validity periods, so it is important to stay updated. If you don’t renew your SSL certificate, the connection to your website will no longer be secure.
What Are the Benefits of SSL Certificates?
There are four key advantages of having an SSL certificate.
Protects Cloud-Based Websites
Most web hosting providers offer a free SSL certificate as a security add-on to their hosting services, including shared hosting, VPS hosting, and cloud hosting.
Therefore, even if your site runs on a cloud server, its data is automatically secured without the need to find an SSL certificate that is cloud-compatible.
Increases Customers’ Trust
SSL certificates help build customers’ confidence and trust in a website. As a result, they might feel safer when providing their email address, creating an account, or conducting transactions.
It is also easy to recognize websites with and without an SSL certificate. Secure sites will have the padlock icon in the web browser’s address bar, while non-secure ones will show a Not secure or open padlock icon.
Protects Against Phishing Attacks
The number of cyberattacks during the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly increased, causing major concerns regarding internet security.
Therefore, installing an SSL certificate is crucial to protect your website against common security threats like phishing scams and website cloning.
For example, if your website doesn’t have an SSL certificate, attackers can clone your website and easily lure your customers into providing the attacker with sensitive information.
However, if your customers are targeted for phishing attacks, an SSL certificate can help them determine between your real website vs a clone website.
Secures Online Payments
Credit card numbers, bank accounts, and contact details are standard information customers provide when conducting online transactions.
To protect this information, it is crucial that online businesses use an SSL certificate to ensure secure online payments.
Without an SSL certificate, your business cannot guarantee a secure connection. As a result, customers might hesitate to provide their payment details, ultimately decreasing conversion rates.
How Does SSL Work?
SSL establishes an encrypted connection through a process called an SSL Handshake. There are three keys, known as cryptographic keys, involved in this process: Public Key, Private Key, and Session Key or Master Key.
The following steps cover how an SSL handshake works:
- During the SSL handshake, both parties exchange messages. A web browser sends cipher suites and a compatible SSL/TLS version to the webserver.
- The web server verifies the cipher suites and SSL version. Then, it sends back an SSL certificate file and a public key to the web browser.
- After the web browser validates the SSL certificate, a pre-master key is generated using the public key and is sent back to the webserver.
- The web server uses the private key to decrypt the pre-master key to create a session key that enables a secure connection between two parties.
Types of SSL Certificates
There are many types of SSL certificates available, and all of them offer the same level of encryption. The types of SSL certificates can be grouped into two categories based on validation level and the number of secured domains or subdomains.
The following types of SSL certificates are categorized by their validation level.
Domain Validated SSL Certificates
Domain Validated (DV) SSL certificates have a minimum level of validation as the CA only verifies that a website owner has legitimate ownership of the website.
They are the most cost-effective SSL certificates and are quickly issued, taking less than an hour. This type of certificate is ideal for internal testing sites and blogs.
Organization Validated SSL Certificates
Organization Validated (OV) SSL certificates provide a moderate level of validation. The CA validates the organization’s domain and basic company records to confirm that it is legally registered.
These certificates are only issued to organizations, not individuals.
Extended Validation SSL Certificates
Extended Validated (EV) SSL certificates have the highest level of validation, providing a high level of trust. In addition, it also activates the green address bar in users’ web browsers.
The CA confirms the business domain and ownership, which is similar to verifying OV SSL, to issue the certificate. However, it takes a stricter process and requires specialists to verify the information.
Number of Secured Domains or Subdomains
There are also variations of SSL certificates based on the number of secured domains as follows.
Single-Name SSL Certificates
As its name suggests, these SSL certificates secure a single domain, including all the pages using that domain. It supports all validation levels – DV, OV, and EV.
Wildcard SSL Certificates
You can install a Wildcard SSL certificate on a single domain and its subdomains. However, these types of certificates can only be issued with DV and OV levels of validation.
Multi-Domain SSL Certificates
With multi-domain SSL certificates, you can protect up to 100 different domains. These certificates are ideal for companies running multiple websites, which can also be a great investment in the long run.
Unified Communications Certificates
Unified Communications Certificates allow secure connections to 100 domains and subdomains, just like multi-domain SSL certificates. However, they are only issued for specific organizations utilizing Office Communications and Microsoft Exchange.
Free SSL Certificates vs. Paid SSL Certificates
If you plan to install an SSL certificate on your website, you can choose between a free SSL certificate and a paid SSL certificate.
Keep in mind that free SSL certificates and paid SSL certificates provide the same functions. Still, they have some differences.
Free SSL Certificates
In general, any web owner can use these free digital certificates. However, free SSL certificates are not recommended for certain websites, such as e-Commerce websites, government websites, and company websites.
Free SSL certificates are issued by a non-profit certificate authority company, such as Let’s Encrypt. It uses the minimum level of validation, which is Domain Validation (DV).
Additionally, free SSL certificates only last for 30 to 90 days. The issuer also doesn’t provide support for free SSL certificates, so if you encounter issues, you need to resolve them yourself.
Paid SSL Certificates
Paid SSL certificates have a higher level of validation using Organization Validation (OV) or Extended Validation (EV). That means the CA verifies the domain and the company or business information.
While the validity period of paid SSL certificates is around one to two years, the CA also provides 24/7 support for users.
Therefore, paid SSL certificates are more suitable for enterprise and business websites.
Summing up, SSL certificates significantly impact internet security by creating private and secure online communications. As a result, it is beneficial for both webmasters and users.
Here are some key takeaways of what you learned in this article:
- The terms SSL and SSL certificates are different but still relate to each other.
- Types of SSL certificates are divided into two categories – by validation level and the number of secured domains.
- SSL enables a secure connection through a process called an SSL handshake.
- Free and paid SSL certificates provide the same function, but they are also different in several aspects.
Since SSL certificates are required to enable secure connections, it is crucial that your website uses an SSL certificate.
However, keep in mind that having an SSL certificate doesn’t completely protect your website from cyberattacks. Therefore, you still need to exercise caution and stay vigilant