The Web is a wonderful place that offers virtually endless possibilities for e-commerce, information exchange, networking, or entertainment. Unfortunately, not everyone online is sincere and trustworthy. That’s why websites and email servers need to implement strong security measures that will protect their users and visitors. In this article, you will learn how SSL certificates can help you achieve this goal and elevate your company website or server to the next level.
What is SSL?
SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) is a standard security technology created to secure the traffic on the Internet using encryption. It is used every single day by millions of websites and applications to protect the sensitive information of their customers and is commonly represented by all major web browsers as a padlock or green color. In fact, SSL is the most used security protocol in the world.
The most common applications of SSL include the securing of online credit card transactions, system logins, webmail and mail-related applications, connections between a client and a server, file transfers, and many others.
How Does SSL Work?
Normally, all data transported over the regular HTTP protocol is unencrypted, thus visible to everyone from the outside. Imagine that you are sitting in a public coffee house using their free Wi-Fi connection to make an online purchase. Without SSL, anyone could capture your sensitive information and use it for c purposes.
When HTTP is protected by SSL, it inherits the letter “S” at the end. HTTPS keeps your information secured in two separate ways: it encrypts your data to make it impossible to harvest your private information, and it also provides a reliable identification mechanism that the site you are visiting is not an imposter.
Websites that would like to take advantage of these benefits and increase the security of their visitors with SSL need an SSL certificate issued by a trusted Certificate Authority (CA). The particular CA then has to verify that the person or organization filing for the certificate is really the owner of the site before they can actually issue the certificate. This can take anywhere from a few hours to several days, depending on the type of SSL certificate (more on that later).
With a valid SSL certificate up on the websites, visitors connecting to the site will first perform a so-called SSL handshake to verify the validity of the certificate and exchange cryptographic information that will be used to secure their connection. All the behind-the-scenes complexity is hidden from end users, who can simply enjoy the benefits.
Benefits of SSL Certificate
SSL certificates offer many benefits to both businesses and consumers. Yes, it is true that there are certain downsides to using SSL, such as higher server hardware requirements and added cost, but these absolutely pale in comparison with many major benefits that go hand-in-hand with SSL encryption and authenticity verification.
The main reason why you would want to use SSL is to protect sensitive information of your customers and visitors. This includes their passwords, credit card numbers, usernames, or social security numbers. SSL protects from hackers and identity thieves by encrypting all traffic between computers and servers. Even if somebody managed to capture it, they would not be able to extract any meaningful information from it.
SSL certificate signals to customers that your website can be trusted. It is not uncommon for hackers to create an imitation of a popular website with an intention to lure in visitors and customers in order to steal their personal information. SSL certificate guarantees that visitors are on the right address and have nothing to fear.
To meet Payment Card Industry compliance, businesses need to use an SSL certificate with, at least, 128-bit strong encryption. Without such certificate, it will be impossible to accept credit card payments, which could greatly hurt profits and force potential customers to go to competition.
Increases Brand Authority and Consumer Confidence
As Internet security reaches the awareness of most people, the mere presence of SSL certificate becomes a sort of a status signal that telegraphs strong commitment, authority, and trustworthiness. If there is a competition without SSL, customers are more likely to return to a site that takes security most seriously. Furthermore, they will be much more confident to register and become deeply involved with your website.
Better Ranking in Search Engines
Google and other major search engines strive to promote web security by prioritizing websites that go to great lengths to secure their customers. As a big part of this effort, Google is now using HTTPS connections as a ranking signal. They explain that for now it's only a very lightweight signal that affects less than 1% of global queries. However, it is safe to say that the importance of HTTPS will rise in following years. That means that any website or company that wants to attract visitors should implement SSL as soon as possible.
Types of SSL Certificates
With the rising popularity of SSL certificates, it was inevitable that several different types would emerge to meet various demands of customers and organizations. Three most used ones are domain validated certificates, organization validated certificates, and extended validation certificates.
- Domain Validated (DV) Certificates
Domain validated certificates are suitable for e-commerce websites and all other applications where the goal is to secure communication and verify website ownership. They are registered for a single domain by somebody with admin rights. The entire registration process can be performed via email or DNS and usually does not take more than just a few hours.
- Organization Validated (OV) Certificates
Organization validated certificates extend the verification from the domain ownership to the entire organization. They verify its name and place of operation to give visitors and clients a fraud-proof way how to verify website ownership and authenticity of the company. Because of the extra information, the validation process can take a few days and requires additional documentation to prove the company identity.
- Extended Validation (EV) Certificates
Extended validation certificates provide with the highest level of security, as they are issued only when the legal existence of the organization is verified. This is done to identify the legal entity that controls the site, thus helping with fraud prevention. It probably goes without saying that the validation can take much longer than DV or OV certificates and requires, even more, documents and additional steps to complete it. EV SSL certificates can be identified by the green HTTPS address bar, which clearly signals to visitors that the site meets the strictest security requirements.
There are also a few additional types of certificates, such as a code signing certificate, a shared certificate, a wildcard certificate, an email certificate, or a root signing certificate, but these have their own special purpose and are beyond the scope of this article.
It is safe to say that SSL certificates are no longer just a nice perk that websites and email servers provide to their customers. Instead, they have become an absolute necessity for any company that wants to be perceived as trustworthy and rank high in search engines. Given how quick and easy it is to implement an SSL certificate, it really makes no sense to pospone the inevitable. The sooner you secure your website or email server; the better results you can expect in the long run.