What is an SSL certificate used for

What is an SSL Certificate used for and how does it work?

7 MINS
Web.com Team

As we continually become heavily reliant on the internet, the threat of cybercrime looms larger than ever before. The damages caused by cybercrimes extend far beyond financial losses. It exposes businesses to a multitude of risks, including reputational damage, operational disruptions, compromised business continuity, reduced productivity, and worst of all—complete loss of online infrastructure.

With the growing number of threats to businesses, having a robust website security solution is absolutely essential.

And here’s where SSL comes into play. In this article, we’ll explore what SSL is, how it works, and why it’s essential for protecting your business.

What is SSL?

SSL or Secure Sockets Layer is a system or security protocol used to protect information as it travels across the internet. SSL is the predecessor to the modern TLS or Transport Layer Security used today. Although the SSL protocol has been replaced by the modern TLS, it’s still commonly referred to as SSL by most people.

Without SSL, cybercriminals can intercept, read, and tamper with the information users enter into a website such as passwords, credit cards, and other personal information. When an SSL certificate is in place on your website, it encrypts the information sent from a user to the site. This encryption ensures that if someone intercepts the data, they can only access scrambled information, thereby making user data secure.

SSL also plays a crucial role in authenticating your domain name. By obtaining an SSL certificate from a trusted Certificate Authority (CA), it verifies that your website is indeed associated with the stated domain. This authentication process helps establish trust and confidence among your users, assuring them that they’re interacting with a legitimate and secure website. The presence of a valid SSL certificate not only encrypts data but also provides an additional layer of assurance regarding the authenticity and integrity of your online identity.

How an SSL Certificate Works

In order for your website to use SSL, you’ll need a certificate. A certificate is a small file that you need to install on your web host or web server. It’s a combination of an encryption ‘key’ (known as a ‘public key’) and identity information, such as your domain name and your business name and address. Think of it as a digital passport to identify your website.

Once you install the certificate on your website and enable HTTPS, users can browse the site and perform online transactions securely. In doing so, their browser initially contacts your site and fetches the certificate. The browser then verifies the certificate — again, much like a border agent would verify your passport. The browser checks if the certificate is up to date —  certificates have a finite lifetime, generally one year, and you need to renew them annually.

The browser checks the domain name if the certificate matches the website address a user visits. It also checks if a trusted authority issued the certificate, making sure that the source verified the information within the certificate.

how do ssl certificates work

Types of SSL Certificates

Certificates are obtained from ‘Certificate Authorities’ or CAs – companies that produce certificates. There are only a few of these companies, as operating a CA is a complex task. Not only in terms of producing the certificates but verifying the information within certificates and ensuring general internet users that they are trustworthy and are performing this verification correctly. CAs are audited once a year and must maintain a certain standard of secure operations so that their certificates are accepted by browsers.

There are three main types of SSL certificates, varying only in the amount of information included within the certificate and how detailed the checking is on that information:

  1. Domain Validation (DV) – The certificate contains only the domain name(s), which are verified by the CA using technical methods.
  2. Organization Validation (OV) – The certificate contains the validated domain name just as a DV certificate but also includes a company name and address. These details are verified with third-party databases like the country or state business register.
  3. Extended Validation (EV) – This certificate contains not only the validated domain name(s) but detailed company information that has been more thoroughly checked against an independent standard for this type of verification. The company must be fully legally incorporated and in good standing, and individuals at the company must be contacted to confirm the certificate was requested and that they have signed agreements to request the certificate.

There are some additional sub-types of certificates that vary how domain names are included within the certificate: a single domain name, a domain name and all its subdomains (a wildcard certificate), or a list of many separate domains and subdomain (a multi-domain or ‘unified communications’ certificate).

The types of certificates above can be mixed and matched, so you can purchase a DV multi-domain certificate or an OV wildcard certificate depending on your technical requirements.

You can purchase SSL certificates from a CA directly, but you can also obtain them from your web host who may often assist with the setup process.

Ways To Tell If A Website Has SSL

There are a few ways to determine if a website has an SSL certificate:

Check the web browser’s address bar – If a website has an SSL certificate, the URL will start with “https://” instead of “http://”. Additionally, most modern web browsers display a padlock icon next to the URL to indicate that the connection is secure.

Look for trust indicators – Websites with SSL certificates often display trust indicators such as a green address bar, a company name or organization information in the address bar, or a security seal or badge on the page. These indicators help assure visitors that the website has undergone authentication and encryption.

Use online SSL checker tools – There are several online tools available that can analyze a website and determine if it has an SSL certificate. These tools can provide detailed information about the SSL certificate, its validity, and other security-related details.

Contact the website owner or administrator – If you’re unsure about a website’s SSL status, you can reach out to the website owner or administrator directly and inquire about the presence of an SSL certificate. They should be able to provide you with information regarding the website’s security measures.

Why You Need an SSL Certificate

Data Protection

First and foremost, you want to ensure your customers’ information is safe from unauthorized access or interception. An SSL certificate encrypts the data transmitted between a user’s browser and your website, ensuring that sensitive information such as login credentials, credit card details, and personal data remains confidential. This encryption prevents unauthorized access and safeguards against data breaches.

Trust and Credibility

Using SSL certificates and HTTPS on your website offers a strong layer of security and reassurance to your customers that they can trust and continue to do business with you. This ensures that their information remains safe throughout their interactions on your website. When website visitors see the padlock icon and “HTTPS” in the URL bar, they know that their connection is secure. This visual confirmation signals that you prioritize their privacy and security, instilling confidence in your brand and encouraging them to interact with your website.

SEO Benefits

SSL has become an important factor in search engine optimization (SEO). Major search engines like Google consider HTTPS as a ranking signal, meaning that websites with SSL certificates tend to have higher search visibility. By securing your website with an SSL certificate, you enhance your chances of ranking higher in search engine results, attracting more organic traffic and potential customers.

Compliance with Regulations

Many data protection and privacy regulations, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), require the use of SSL certificates to protect users’ personal information. By having an SSL certificate, you demonstrate compliance with these regulations, avoiding potential legal and financial consequences.

Prevention of Phishing Attacks

SSL certificates help protect against phishing attacks, where malicious actors attempt to impersonate your website to steal sensitive information from users. With an SSL certificate, users can verify the authenticity of your website, reducing the risk of falling victim to phishing scams.

Take Your Data Protection Strategy to the Next Level

Cybercrime is rampant in this digital age, and traditional firewalls and antivirus security don’t cut it anymore. As a business owner, it’s crucial to stay ahead of the evolving landscape of cybersecurity and take proactive measures to fortify your website security and safeguard your valuable data.

At Web.com, we understand the importance of securing your website and protecting your customers’ information. Our SSL certificates provide industry-standard encryption, ensuring that data transmitted between your website and users remain private and secure. With an SSL certificate, you can inspire confidence in your customers, enhance your website’s trustworthiness, and mitigate the risk of data breaches.

  • Web.com Team

    Our goal is to be your go-to partner in today’s always-on digital world.

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