What Is An SSL Certificate – Securing Your Server

Have you ever noticed how some website URLs begin with http://, while others with https://? Where does this extra ‘s’ come from, and what does it mean? To give you a short answer, the extra ‘s’ means your connection with a particular website is encrypted and secure; meaning you can safely share any data with that website. The technology behind this little ‘s’ is called SSL, which stands for “Secure Sockets Layer”.

As a consumer, you always want your essential information safe and secure when visiting or interacting with any website. Similarly, as a business owner, you’ll want your website to have an SSL to make sure your audience feels secure while entering data on your website. In this article, we are going to cover everything you need to know about SSL certificate, including what it is, how it works, why it’s important for every website, and how you can get it. So, without further ado, let’s dive into it! .


What Is An SSL Certificate?

Let’s set our basics straight and understand what an SSL certificate is. In simple words, SSL certificates are short data files that cryptographically establish an encrypted link or a secure connection between a web server and a web browser. This connection ensures that all information sent between the web server and the browser is kept private and secure. In an insecure website, the information or the data you enter can be intercepted by a hacker. This information can range from bank account details to an email address subscribing to an offer.

In hacker language, this type of “interception” is known as the “man-in-the-middle attack.” Usually, it involves a hacker installing a tiny, undetectable listening application on the server that hosts a website. This malware sits in the background, waiting for a visitor to start entering information on the website. Once the users enter their information, this malware activates, captures the data, and sends it back to the hacker.

When you visit a website that uses SSL encryption, your browser will establish a connection with the webserver, verify the SSL certificate, and then bind your browser to the server. This secure connection ensures that only you and the website can view or access the information you enter. Websites that request personal information from a visitor, such as an email address or payment information, must have an active SSL certificate. Having one indicates that the information you’re gathering is secure, and it assures customers that their privacy is protected.


How Do SSL Certificates Work?

SSL protects user data sent between a user’s browser and website or between two systems, making it impossible to be intercepted by a third party. It scrambles data in transit using encryption methods, preventing hackers from accessing it as it travels across the network. Sensitive information can include data such as names, home addresses, credit card numbers, and other financial details.

The process includes the following steps:

  • Step 1: A browser or web server attempts to connect to a website with an SSL certificate.
  • Step 2: The browser or the server requests the website (or webserver) to identify itself.
  • Step 3: The website sends a copy of its SSL certificate to the browser or server in return.
  • Step 4: The browser or the server checks whether it trusts the SSL certificate. If it passes, the browser signals its approval to the webserver.
  • Step 5: The web server sends a digitally signed acknowledgement in return to begin the SSL encrypted session.
  • Step 6: The encrypted data or information is shared between the browser, server, and the webserver.

Although this might appear as a lengthy process, it takes place in milliseconds. It is also referred to as an ‘SSL handshake.” The easiest way to identify whether a website has an SSL certificate or not is to check its address bar on your browser. If a website has an active SSL certificate, its URL will begin with HTTPS (HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure) instead of simple HTTP – the added “S” is for security. Moreover, if a website has an active SSL certificate, a padlock emblem will appear on its address bar that you can click to view security details. The most trustworthy websites have green padlocks on their address bar. SSL certificates generally include the following information:

  • The domain name issued for the certificate
  • Person, Organization, or device issued for the certificate
  • Certificate Authority
  • Associated Subdomains (if any)
  • Digital Signature of the Certificate Authority
  • Issue and Expiry date of the Certificate
  • The public key (the private key remains confidential)

It’s quite easy to judge an insecure website as well. If a website doesn’t have an active SSL certificate, browsers show warning signs before loading the site for the safety of the users. These warning signs typically include a warning triangle, a line crossed across the URL, an open padlock, or a red padlock.


Why Do You Need An SSL Certificate?

SSL certificates are required for websites to protect user data, prevent attackers from building a false version of the site, validate website ownership, and establish trust with the users. It is critical to keep data secret whenever a website asks users to register, submit personal information, or confidential information such as financial information documents. SSL certificates assist in keeping online interactions secure by assuring consumers that the website they are visiting is safe and legitimate to exchange personal information with.

Many businesses simply want to secure this website with an SSL certificate to get “HTTPS” in their web address. HTTP sites — those without SSL certificates – are often labelled as “not secure” by most browsers. This gives a clear signal to visitors that the site isn’t trustworthy, motivating companies that haven’t switched to HTTPS to do so. Most importantly, Google recommends using an SSL certificate on websites and also considers web security as a ranking factor in the search results. So, believe it or not, having an active SSL certificate gives you a boost in your SEO efforts.

An SSL certificate serves to protect information such as:

  • Login or Signup Credentials
  • Bank Account Information or Credit Card transactions
  • Personally Identifiable Information, such as a home address, full name, date of birth, phone number, etc.
  • Medical Records
  • Legal Documents
  • Proprietary Information or Contracts


Types Of SSL Certificate:

SSL certificates fall under the umbrella of Encryption, Validation, and Domain Name. There are multiple types of SSL certificates with different validation levels. The six common ones include:

1- Extended Validation Certificates (EV SSL)

Extended Validation (EV) SSL certificates cost relatively higher in comparison to all other types of SSL certificates. However, they are extremely helpful in proving the authenticity of your website in the address bar and also offer the highest level of security. EV SSL displays the HTTPS in the URL, shows a padlock, and most importantly, highlights your business name and location in the address bar. All this helps browsers and search engines to verify the authenticity and security of the website.

To get an EV SSL, you’ll need to show that you have permission to use the domain you’re submitting. This assures customers that you are lawfully gathering the information required to complete particular tasks, such as a credit card number or financial details for an online transaction. Although any organization can obtain an EV SSL certificate, it should be a top priority for those that require identity assurance.

4- Wildcard SSL Certificates

Wildcard SSL Certificates are classified under the category of “domain and subdomain number.” Wildcard SSLs ensure that if you acquire a certificate for one domain, you can use it for subdomains as well. For example, if you acquired a Wildcard for business.com, you can also use it for mail.business.com and blog.business.com. This is less expensive than getting a separate SSL certificate for each sub-domain.

5- Multi-Domain SSL Certificates (MDC)

Unified Communications Certificates (UCCs), also known as Multi-domain SSL certificates (MDC), allow several domain names to reside on the same certificate. UCCs were originally designed to connect a single server and browser, but they’ve subsequently grown to accommodate up to 100 domain names owned by the same company. UCC Certificates are certified by an organization, and it displays a padlock in a browser when someone accesses your website. You can use the Subject Alternative Name (SAN) option to change the names in any manner you like. For instance, you can apply this certificate to www.business.com, www.business.co.uk, mail.example.com, or checkout.watches.com.


How To Obtain An SSL Certificate?

The first step is to figure out what kind of certificate you’ll need. For example, if you’re hosting content on various platforms (on distinct domains/subdomains), you might need different SSL certificates for each domain/sub-domain. For the most part, a regular SSL certificate will suffice. You can even go for wildcard or multi-domain SSL certificates. However, if your company is in a regulated field, such as banking or insurance, it’s important to check with your IT team to determine whether you’re following specific industry SSL certificate standards.

The price of your SSL certificate will vary depending on the type of certificate you want, along with its validity period. Most basic SSL certificates are valid for one to two years by default, but if you need a longer-term solution, you can check more complex certificates with extended validity periods. There are multiple platforms that offer free SSL certifications as well (more on this later). Acquiring an SSL certification involves the following steps:

  • Step 1: Set up your server and ensure your WHOIS record is up to date and matches the information you’re submitting to the Certificate Authority (Make sure it shows the correct company name, phone number, address, etc.)
  • Step 2: Generate a Certificate Signing Request (CSR) on your server. You can take help from your hosting company for this step.
  • Step 3: Submit this information to the Certificate Authority to validate your company details and domain.
  • Step 4: Install the certificate they provide after the process is completed.

Once you’ve got the certificate, you’ll need to configure it on your web host’s servers or on your own servers if you’re hosting the website yourself. How quickly you receive your certificate is determined by the type of certificate you want and the certificate provider. The time it takes to complete each step of validation varies as well. A basic Domain Validation SSL certificate can be provided in minutes; however, Extended Validation SSL certificates might take up to a week to process.


What Happens When An SSL Certificate Expires?

SSL certificates have an expiration date; they do not last forever. According to the Certificate Authority/Browser Forum, which functions as the de facto regulatory authority for the SSL industry, the average lifespan of an SSL certificate should last a maximum of 27 months. In old times, SSL certificates could be issued for up to five years; however, now, they are limited to two years along with a potential three-month extension.

The reason why SSL certificates expire is that with any type of authentication, information must be re-validated on a regular basis to ensure that it is still valid. On the internet, things change rapidly as companies and websites are purchased and sold. When SSL certificates change ownership, the information they contain changes as well. The expiration period exists to guarantee that the data used to authenticate servers and organizations is as up to date as possible.

If you let a certificate expire, it becomes invalid, and you won’t be able to conduct secure transactions on your website anymore. Moreover, when the SSL certificate of a website expires, the website becomes inaccessible. When a user lands on a website, the browser runs a quick SSL check within milliseconds. If the SSL certificate has expired, the user will receive a message – “This site is not secure. Proceed with Caution.” Before your SSL certificate expires, the Certification Authority (CA) will remind you to renew it. Normally, most certificate authorities send expiration alerts at specified intervals, generally starting at 90 days.


Bonus: How To Get A Free SSL Certificate

The process of obtaining a free SSL certificate is almost the same as obtaining any other SSL certificate. The first step is to verify your website information and then generate the certificate signing request (CSR). After this, submit your request to the Certificate Authority to validate your domain. Lastly, install the certificate on your website.

There are multiple authorities that offer free-of-cost SSL certificates for businesses or blogs which do not require the transfer of sensitive financial information. These certificates offer a low level of encryption; however, they get the job done. These include:

  • Hubspot
  • Let’s Encrypt
  • Comodo
  • Cloudflare
  • SSL for Free

And many more.


Manage Your SSL With Experts:

Cybersecurity threats are evolving. However, knowing what to look for in SSL certificates and how to tell a secure site from a possibly harmful one can help internet users avoid fraud and safeguard their personal information from hackers. So, the next time you visit a website, make sure to check its encryption status and see if your data is secure. On the flip side, if you’re a business owner who doesn’t have an SSL certificate, make sure to set this as a part of your next goal to protect your customer data.

Understanding tech lingo and digital security are not for everyone, and we understand that. Here at Pure SEO, we stand proud as the best SEO and Digital Marketing Agency in New Zealand, offering top-notch services worldwide. When we conduct SEO Audit for a website, the very first thing we check is the validity status of the SSL certificate. We also offer support to companies and individuals who want to learn more about SSL certificates to secure their customer privacy. https://pureseo.com/seo Schedule a call with one of our tech experts to understand which type of SSL certificate would work best for your business and how to obtain it. This WordPress hosting for schools could also be the new thing when it comes to how to make a website protected. 



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