What is SSL – How It Makes Your Website More Secure

what is SSL

With cybersecurity and data safety, many websites adapt to more secure methods to prevent data theft, making the user experience better and safer.

Along with other methods, SSL certificates are very much in demand these days.

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Let’s dig in more about what is SSL and why is SSL certificate important.

What Does SSL Stand for?

SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer. The TLS, its successor, stands for Transport Layer Security; both are protocols that establish authentication and encryption links between network computers. The SSL protocol was rebranded by TLS 1.0 in 1999, but still, this technology is famous with the name of SSL or SSL/TLS.

What is an SSL Certificate?

Now let’s talk about the SSL meanings and understand what an SSL certificate is. SSL certificates enable websites to shift from HTTPto HTTPS, a better and more secure way. An SSL certificate is a data file. The origin server of the website hosts it.

An SSL certificate aims to make SSL/TLS encryption as it contains the public key and the website’s identity, and other relevant information. Devices attempting to communicate with the website’s origin server have to refer to this file to get the public key and verify the server’s identity. This private key is kept secure and secret.

SSL is a global standard of security technology that encrypts communication between a web server and a web browser. Millions of individuals and businesses worldwide use it to reduce the risk of sensitive information being tampered with or stolen by identity thieves and hackers like usernames, passwords, emails, credit card numbers, and information.

In simple words, SSL allows a private coded conversation just between the intended parties. To ensure a secure connection, users install an SSL certificate (also known as a digital certificate) on a server of a website. The certificate serves these two following functions:

  • It authenticates the website identity and guarantees the visitors that it is not a bogus site.
  • It also encrypts the transmitted data.

What Information Does an SSL Certificate Contain?

As we have discussed what SSL means, now let’s dig into what information it contains. SSL Certificate includes the following things:

  • The Domain name – the SSL Certificate contains a domain name on which it was issued.
  • It also contains the information of the person, device, or organization the certificate is issued to
  • The certificate authority which issued it
  • Digital signature of a certificate authority
  • Subdomains that are associated with it
  • Date of issuance of the certificate
  • Date of expiration of the certificate
  • The public key (private key of the website is kept a secret)

SSL’s private and public keys are essential to long strings of characters used to decrypt and encrypt the data. Data that is encrypted using public access can only be decrypted using the private key. Data that is encrypted with the private key can only be decrypted with the public key.

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Types of SSL Certificates

Not all of the SSL certificates are the same. There are many different types of these certificates based on the number of domains and subdomains owned. Following are the types of SSL certificates:

  • Single – this type of SSL certificate secures only one fully qualified domain and subdomain name
  • Wildcard – this type of SSL certificate covers one domain name along with an unlimited number of subdomains
  • Multi-Domain – this type of SSL certificate secures multiple domains/domain names.

The SSL certificate also requires a level of validation, such as:

  • Domain Validation – this is a very cheap level and covers basic encryption, including the verification of domain ownership. This SSL certificate usually takes a couple of minutes to some hours to receive.
  • Organizational Validation – along with the basic encryption and verification of the name of the domain owner, which is registered, some additional details of the owner are authenticated, such as the name and address. This type of certificate can take up to a few hours to a couple of days to receive.
  • Extended Validation – Extended validation is also known as EV. This certificate provides the highest security degree. That’s because of conducting a thorough examination before issuing this certificate as strict guidelines are specified and set by the governing consortium of the SSL certification industry. In addition to the details of ownership of the registered domain name and authentication of the entity, the entire entity is also verified, including the operational, legal, and physical existence.

Who Needs an SSL Certificate?

Any organization or individuals using their website to receive, require, store, display, or collect sensitive or confidential information requires the SSL Certificate. Some examples of this information are as follows:

  • Logins as well as passwords
  • Any financial information like bank accounts, credit card numbers, etc
  • Personal data of people like their names, addresses, birth dates, social security numbers
  • Information related to proprietary
  • Legal information, contracts, or documents
  • Lists of clients and customers
  • Medical records

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Benefits of Having an SSL Certificate

Despite knowing about SSL and SSL certificates, many people still ask why it is essential and why any website needs an SSL certificate? What is SSL protocol, and how to use it? To answer these questions, first, we have to understand the importance and benefits any website can get by having an SSL certificate.

A website requires an SSL certification to keep the user data secured, verify the ownership of their website, gain their users’ trust, and prevent hackers and attackers from creating any fake version of their website.

Following Are the Benefits of SSL Certification:

  • Encryption: SSL or TLS ensures the website information’s encryption due to public-private key pairing provided by the SSL certificates. Clients, users, or web browsers receive a public key required to open a TLS connection from the server’s SSL certificate.
  • Authentication: SSL certificate also does the verification that the client or user is connecting and talking to the domain’s correct server. By doing so, it prevents other attacks as well as domain spoofing.
  • HTTPS: the most essential aspect of an SSL certificate for businesses is the HTTPS web address. The HTTPS is the secured HTTP version and shows their users that SSL or TLS encrypts these websites.

Also, to secure the user data while using the website, HTTPS displays the website as secured and trustworthy from the users’ perspective. Some users might not notice the difference between HTTP & HTTPS but since more browsers have started to list and tag the HTTP sites as ‘not secure’, now it is more noticeable.

It also creates more demand for the website owners to increase their website’s security by switching towards the HTTPS using an SSL certificate.

Get an SSL Certificate for Your Website

To secure your website, you need to know what is SSL encryption and why should you get one? Once you know and are ready, you should get an SSL certificate to secure your website. The basic procedure of requesting and getting a publicly trusted SSL/TLS certificate for your website is as follows:

  • The company or person requesting the SSL certificates needs to generate a pair of private and public keys on the server to get the protection.
  • The domain name(s) which want to be protected along with the public key (for EV and OV certificates) information about the organization for the company which is requesting the certificate is required to issue the CSR (Certificate signing request)
  • Check out the FAQ for instructions to understand how to get a CSR and key pair on various server platforms.
  • The CSR is then to send to the publicly trusted CS like SSL.com. The CS now validates all the information given in the CSR, and after validation, it generates a signed certificate that can be installed on the requester’s web server.

SSL/TLS certificates can vary from one another according to the validation methods used and the level of trust they gain, with EV (Extended Validation), which is offered by the highest trust level.

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How Can Any Website Obtain an SSL Certificate?

To validate an SSL certificate, any website domain can get this from CA, commonly known as the certificate authority. A CA is a trusted third party outside the organization which generates and issues the SSL certificates.

Not only this, but the CA will also sign the certificate digitally with their private key, which allows verification from the client device. Also, not all CAs charge a fee on behalf of their services. Once the CA issues the SSL certificate, it must be installed and activated on the website’s origin server.

Some web hosting services also manage and handle the SSL certifications for the website operators. Once this certificate is activated on the website’s origin server, it can now load over HTTPS, and all the traffic which comes to and from it will be secure and encrypted.

Show Off Your SSL Certificate

Some visitors on your website might understand what a secure sockets layer is, and some might not know that. It is always a good idea to show your visitors that your website is safe and has an SSL certificate. That is why most of the websites display their SSL certificates.

Securing a website with an SSL certificate is an essential part of ensuring your website by encrypting sensitive information that passes from the web browser to the web servers to prevent unwanted access by hackers and intruders.

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Users can see these indications once a website is encrypted with the SSL certificate:

  • The URL of the website will begin with “HTTPS” instead of unprotected websites “HTTP.” The “S” here stands for security and indicates that “the connection to this website is authenticated and secured using a strong encryption of SHA256 bit”. Therefore, no one can intercept the information between the server and the web browser.
  • The visitors can see a “Green Padlock” in the browser’s address bar, which shows that the website is SSL secured.
  •  World’s leading CAs – Certificate Authorities like RapidSSL, GlobalSign, Geo Trust, Comodo, Symantec, and Thawte provides three significant types of SSL certificates like DV – Domain  Validation, OV – Organization Validation, or EV – Extended Validation.
  • Once the website is secured by the SSL certification, a green padlock with the HTTPS:// web address will appear on the web browser.
  • Users can also check the certificate information by simply clicking on this padlock.
  • Any business or company that requests the Extended Validated SSL certificate must provide their business’s legitimacy and prove identity. EV SSL displays the organization name before the website URL. Now the users can see the EV-enabled websites in the website’s URL.
  • Users can also see the security seal or dynamic site seal from the Certificate Authority’s relevant static to verify that this website has the certificate and is secured.
  • Also, in some cases, the user will not be able to find the prefix HTTPS in the URL of the website but don’t assume that they don’t have the SSL certificate. Some websites don’t intend to display the HTTPS in the URL domain (we don’t recommend that). Still, they do apply various secured environments for their confidential pages and payment methods for security purposes.

What is a Self-Signed SSL Certificate?

Technically, anybody can create and get their SSL certificate by simply generating and pairing the private-public key and adding all the information given above. These SSL certificates are commonly known as self-signed certificates as in place of the digital signatures from the CA, the private key of the website is used.

But the major drawback of these self-signed certificates is there is no outside authority or CS to verify what and who the origin server is. Most browsers don’t consider these SSL certificates or self-signed certificates trustworthy and can mark these websites as not secured ones even if they have HTTPS:// URL.

Sometimes they can even terminate the connection and block the loading of the website.

What is the Cost of an SSL Certificate?

SSL certificates’ cost can vary from one certificate authority to another. The cost can range from $50 to $200 per year. Some SSL providers can offer add-on services and the certificate, affecting the cost.

You can select the SSL certificate providers according to your budget and the services you are looking for. But before you do that, you can also get SSL certification free of cost.

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Where Can I Get an SSL for Free or Low Cost?

Many site owners usually seem reluctant to get their SSL despite its importance due to additional costs. Because of this, many small websites become much more vulnerable to information theft and data hacking,

Some non-profit projects have decided to fix this problem by establishing a free-of-the-cost certificate authority. “Let’s Encrypt” is one of such projects. The project’s main objective is to get SSL certification for free and making the internet a much safer place to use.

It also allows more and more websites to use SSL without worrying about its cost. With this fantastic project’s significance, many large companies like Facebook, Shopify, Google, WordPress.com, and many others have given them tremendous support.

But using these projects and installing SSL on their own is quite a daunting and challenging task as it requires server system and coding knowledge. Luckily, the majority of WordPress hosting companies are now including SSL certificates for free along with their hosting plans using these free SSL projects (some of them are using Let’s Encrypt).

You can also choose the following providers, which will save you from the hassle-free installation of an SSL certificate by yourself without spending a dollar. Here is the list of best WordPress hosting companies which provide SSL certificates along with their hosting plan with reviews.

A Little Extra Tip

In case you are already using these hosting companies, you have to turn on a free SSL certificate from the dashboard. To do so, login to the cPanel of your hosting account and scroll down to the section “Security.”

Many providers give the free option for SSL; visit the My Sites to Manage the Site page. You can switch to the tab of security and then turn on your site’s free SSL certificate.

Depending on the hosting company you are using, the hosting web panel can vary from the description given above. If you have trouble turning it on by yourself, you can always ask your web hosting service providers to enable it for you.

If your web hosting does not offer SSL certificates for free, you can do it yourself by switching your hosting to those providers who provide free SSL.

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Paid VS Free SSL Certificate – Which Is Better?

After knowing the paid and free SSL certificate and where to get it, many people may ask which option is better and which option they should go to? There is no simple answer for this when it comes to the Free VS Paid certificate. It may vary from one business model to another.

If your website has simple data requirements like entering the name, age, telephone numbers and does not require much confidential information, then a free version of the SSL certificate can be the best fit for you.

Suppose your website requires sensitive and confidential information like medical history, bank account or credit card details, taxes information, etc. In that case, it is recommended to get a paid SSL certificate that comes with additional services that secure multiple information.

Before selecting between paid and free SSL certificates, you should analyze your security requirement and information process. Only then should you decide which one is the best option.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is SSL?

SSL is a Secure Socket Layer, and the successor is TLS which stands for Transport Layer Security. They are both protocols for which are established for encryption and authentication links between networking computers.

Although the SSL protocol was rebranded by TLS and released in 1999, it is still exceptionally famous with the SSL name.

What is TLS?

TLS is the successor of SSL (Secure Socket Layer), known as Transport Layer Security. It was released in 1999 for encryption and authentication. TLS 1.3 became famous as RFC 8446 in August 2018.

Do I Need a Dedicated and Specific IP Address to Use TLS/SSl?

Once upon a time, it was mandatory to have a dedicated IP for every SSL certificate for a web server. Still, now it is no longer the case because of the advanced technology of SNI – Server Name Indicator. Your hosting platform has to support the SNI.

What Port Helps the Maximum Compatibility to Use SSL/ TLS?

To use the SSL/ TLS, any port can be used. But for maximum compatibility, it is recommended to use the 443 port to use secured communication over SSL/TLS.

What Is the Current SSL/ TLS Version?

TLS 1.3, defined by RFC 8446 in August 2018, is the most recent SSL/TLS version. However, TLS 1.2, defined by RFC 5246 in August 2018, is also widely used. Versions which are used before these two are now considered insecure and are no longer used.

Wrapping It Up

All in all, if you are a website owner, you must have an SSL certificate for your website. With the raising of cybersecurity concerns and so much competition in online businesses, users have become aware of privacy concerns. Adding an SSL certificate is an excellent way to gain the trust of your website’s visitors. Moreover, there is no downside to adding this to your website!