Security is a fundamental right for every Internet user. Unfortunately, not every website or online business is able to provide that basic right?
The reason? There are millions, if not billions of visitors that a website caters to. It is not possible to ensure that their systems are safe and secure before granting them access into the system.
It is here that an SSL certificate makes a difference. It places itself on the website end providing a secure way of exchanging information over the Internet for both the parties.
Gartner says, “SSL acceleration and SSL digital certificates will be a key first step to Web services security.”
In today’s scenario where petabytes of personal information and millions of eCommerce transactions are transacted across the Internet, the need for an SSL certificate is significant.
So, What is an SSL certificate?
An SSL certificate is a digital file. It is not any printed paper or certificate as the name suggests. It is available as a turnkey software or ready-to-download software that can be configured on your website’s backend. Usually, it weighs in kilobytes and does the job of encrypting information with the help of an algorithm.
What sets apart an SSL certificate from any anti-virus or static security program is that it has a pair of keys i.e., private and public keys which implements the security system. The private key is created before or after the certificate is created. It takes the form a text file and is used to create the Certificate Signing Request (CSR). it is also the key that encrypts information before it can reach the user side. The public key for an SSL certificate, on the other hand, is used to decrypt the data that is coming in encrypted form from the client server side.
Apart from the private and public keys, the SSL certificate would also contain some information like the name of the organization, their web URL, email address, etc. It would also contain the details of the Certificate Authority that has issued the SSL certificate. Additionally, the certificate would mention details like the certificate serial number and its validity period.
Who is a Certificate Authority?
The guys who issue the SSL certificate to organizations or website owners are referred to as a Certificate Authority. They are entrusted with the heavy responsibility of:
- Verifying the genuinity of the applicant,
- Ensuring that they have operational existence,
- Verifying their right to own and use the domain for which the certificate is applied for, and Ultimately issuing the SSL certificate after proper due diligence.
Some popular Certificate CAs include Comodo, Digicert, GlobalSign, Thawte, etc.
SSL Certificate Validation
This perhaps the trickiest part of an SSL certificate. SSL certificates have various levels of validation. Think of them to be the various pricing plans that you pick from for your online services.
They are generally classified into:
- Domain Validation
- Organization validation or business validation
- Extended Validation
Why is the level of validation of your SSL certificate important?
SSL certificates not only ensure that your website is secure, but also help in establishing the legitimacy of your website and its ownership. The level of validation indicates the level of trust that your website has.
Here is how each level of validation helps with that.
- Domain validation – verifies and establishes the legitimacy of the domain ownership.
- Organization validation or business validation – Mentions the validated business information like ownership and location in the certificate.
- Extended validation – High-assurance validation that mentions business owner name, location, green address bar.
So, is it right to classify SSL certificates based on validation alone? Not exactly. In fact, if one is to do so, they will be falling short of the meatiest decisive factor in buying an SSL certificate.
The last and most critical decisive factor in picking an SSL certificate is the type of SSL certificate. Ignoring the various brand names and sub-brand names that Certificate Authorities give for their SSL certificates, there are basically few common types of SSL certificates.
Single-name SSL certificate
The basic type of SSL certificate issued to cover a single domain name or server.
Wildcard SSL certificate
An SSL certificate that secures a single domain and all its first-level subdomains with a special character like an asterisk (*).
SAN/Unified Communications (UC) or Multi-Domain Certificates
Subject Alternative Names or UC or multi-domain SSL certificates are used to secure multiple domains hosted on a single IP address.
Factors to talk about when buying an SSL certificate
You don’t buy an SSL certificate off the rack like buying a carton of milk. There are so many factors to consider before you can even have a list of qualified choices. Here are some factors that will help you pick the right one and the best one at that.
Speed of Issue
If you are opting for an advanced SSL certificate like the Extended Validation certificate, it takes time to conduct background checks before the certificate can be used. The speed of checking and issuance is solely dependent on the CA. Faster the speed of issuance, better it will be for your website.
Along with your SSL certificate you are also supposed to get trust seals. Trust seals are basically symbols, logos or icons that will show that your website is verified, secured, encrypted or is an authorized one.
Encrypting your website does not end with buying the SSL certificate. In fact, it just half the work is done. You have to configure it in your website backend which calls for extensive technical knowledge or customer support. Also, you need someone to bank on when there is a glitch caused by the SSL certificate.
Make sure you buy SSL certificates from a security brand that is well known and recognized by most users. A discrete or lesser known brand may not succeed at convincing your visitors of your website’s security quotient.
Be informed that the warranty is used to cover any loss that your customers might incur as a result of any fraudulent activity. In the event of any security mishap, the CA will reimburse the losses suffered by the customer. So it is safe to opt for a CA that provides the maximum warranty amount.
SSL certificates help encrypt websites and the information that is exchanged between them and their visitors. What you read until now is a quick snapshot of what an SSL certificate is, how it works and what makes it special. By now, you must be convinced of the need to have an SSL certificate for your website. Make sure you get one ASAP.