What is an SSL certificate?
An SSL certificate is a digital certificate that enables secure communication between a website and its visitors. It is used to encrypt the data exchanged between the website and the user's browser, thereby protecting it from unauthorized access. SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer.
An SSL certificate is a digital certificate issued by Certificate Authorities (CA) to websites, authenticating their identity and enabling a secure connection between web pages and web browsers. SSL certificates inspire trust on the Internet because they show Internet users that the traffic between their web browser and a website is encrypted.
This secure connection is indicated by a padlock icon in the browser's address bar and the "https" protocol in the website's URL. SSL certificates are essential for online transactions, such as e-commerce purchases, as they ensure that sensitive information, such as credit card details, is transmitted securely. There is a danger of SSL certificates creating a false sense of security, though, as malicious websites can also get SSL certificates. For example, there’s been a rise in phishing websites that have been granted Domain Validated (DV) certificates from authorities that don’t moderate what sites get certificates. Additionally, SSL certificates can’t shield websites from malicious attacks like SQL injection or malware.
How does an SSL certificate work?
An SSL certificate works by using encryption algorithms to encrypt the data exchanged between a web browser and a website.
When the data is encrypted, it’s almost impossible for a threat actor to read. Examples of data include passwords, names, and financial information.
Here is the five-step process of how an SSL certificate works:
- A browser attempts to connect to a website with an SSL certificate.
- The website’s server sends a copy of its SSL certificate to the browser for validation. The website’s public key on the certificate will help encrypt data during the session.
- The browser validates the certificate to ensure it’s authentic, unrevoked, and unexpired. After validation, the browser uses the server’s public key to create an encrypted symmetric key and sends it to the server.
- The server uses its private key to decrypt the symmetric session key. It indicates that it’s ready to start an encryption session by sending back an acknowledgement encrypted with the session key.
- The browser and website now establish a secure and encrypted connection with the session key.
The entire process is also called an SSL handshake and is almost instantaneous. After the SSL certificate secures the connection:
- A padlock icon appears on the address bar of the browser right before the URL.
- The URL is preceded by the HTTPS (HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure) acronym.
What do SSL certificates include?
Domain name: The domain name or names the SSL certificate is valid for.
Issue details: The device or person the SSL certificate was issued to and the certificate authority that issued it.
Digital signature: The digital signature that verifies the authenticity of the certificate.
Dates: The issue and expiration date of the certificate.
Public key: An SSL certificate includes a public key while the private key is kept private.
What is an SSL certificate used for?
An SSL certificate is used to create a secure connection between a browser and a website. The certificate helps protect any data exchange between a device and a website’s server. In addition to encrypting connections, SSL certificates help protect the security of website users. Moreover, an SSL certificate helps develop confidence in a website.
Why do I need an SSL certificate for my website?
An SSL certificate should never be considered to be the only tool for website cybersecurity. Nonetheless, you need an SSL certificate for your website for the following reasons:
Data protection: An SSL encryption helps secure the data exchanged between your website and your visitors from cybercriminals. Not only is this good for business, but it can help your online platform comply with privacy laws.
Trust: The average Internet user will feel more confident browsing your website, knowing that the padlock sign and the HTTPS acronym signify a secure connection.
SEO: Websites with SSL certificates rank higher in search engines as they are perceived as secure. In fact, some browsers even flag http website and warn users to not visit such as site, as it is not secure.
Types of SSL certificates
Your website can obtain several different types of SSL certificates. Each certificate has its own strengths, verification processes, and costs.
Domain Validated (DV) certificates
DV certificates tend to be more cost-effective than EV or OV SSL certificates. While they’re usually the least expensive, they only provide basic verification. DV certificates are typically used by low-risk websites, such as message boards or blog pages.
Extended Validation (EV) certificates
An extended validation certificate involves the highest level of validation and is usually the priciest kind of SSL certificate. Renowned websites that offer online shopping or e-commerce usually use this type of certificate. In addition to the padlock sign, an EV SSL certificate shows an organization’s name and country in the address bar.
Organization Validated (OV) certificates
Like EV certificates, OV certificates provide a higher level of validation compared to DV SSL certificates. OV certificates also display a website owner’s information in the address bar.
Wildcard SSL certificates
A Wildcard SSL certificate secures a primary domain and an unlimited number of subdomains on one certificate. Companies with multiple subdomains under a single domain tend to obtain this type of certificate to reduce costs.
Multi-Domain SSL certificates
Multi-domain SSL certificates go a step further than Wildcard SSL certificates. They allow a single certificate to secure many domains and subdomains. These types of certificates are best for organizations with multiple websites.
Purchasing SSL certificate: How to purchase an SSL certificate
Start by researching different SSL certificates and picking the one that matches your needs. For example, if you have a single domain with many subdomains, you may need a Wildcard SSL certificate. Alternatively, you can settle for a DV certificate for your personal page.
After picking your certificate type, shop for your certificate by checking a Certificate Authority (CA) list. The certificates from Certificate Authorities vary by price. While some certificates are free, others can cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars.
Prepare your server to ensure your WHOIS record matches your application to your CA. Next, you’ll need to generate a Certificate Signing Request (CSR). Your CSR will carry your data and your public key. After submitting your CSR to your CA, you may need to provide other documentation, such as proof of ownership of your domain.
After receiving the certificate files, you can install your SSL. The process depends on your server type. Get in touch with your website provider for help if you need it. Later, you’ll need to configure your website to use HTTPS. You can use an SSL checker to ensure that your certificate is authentic and installed correctly.
Renewing SSL certificate: How to renew an SSL certificate
SSL certificates have an expiry date. Plan ahead to ensure your SSL renewal is on time. If you delay your renewal, your website may lose its trust seal.
The process of renewing an SSL certificate is similar to purchasing a new one. You’ll need to generate a new CSR and submit it to your CA. You’ll also need to install the updated SSL certificate files on your server like before and ensure that your certificate is correctly installed with an SSL checker.
SSL certificate pricing: How much is an SSL certificate?
SSL certificates vary significantly in pricing. While some SSL certificates can be obtained for free, enterprise-level SSL certificates can cost thousands of dollars a year. The cost of an SSL certificate is impacted by the number of domains and subdomains, the type of certificate, the level of security, and the reputation of the Certificate Authority (CA).
TLS vs SSL certificate: The difference between TLS vs. SSL
While SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) and TSL (Transport Layer Security) are both cryptographic protocols, TLS is the updated version. TLS is considered to be more secure and modern with a better TLS handshake. TLS is also backward compatible and can connect to an SSL server.
The terms “SSL” and “TLS” are often used interchangeably on the Internet, even though the latter is a replacement for the former. Many certificate issuers even refer to their TLS certificates as SSL certificates.
How to check if a site has an SSL certificate
Check if the address of the website starts with the “HTTPS” acronym. HTTPS is short for Hyper-Text Transfer Protocol Secure.
A website with an SSL certificate should have a padlock sign on the address bar. You can click the padlock sign to learn more about the SSL issuing authority, expiration date, and website owner.
Green address bar
The green address bar was an SSL indicator for websites with EV SSL certificates. However, major browser developers like Apple and Google consider it to be obsolete now.
Some websites and browser extensions can verify if a website has a valid SSL certificate. For example, you can enter the URL of a website in SSL Shopper’s SSL Checker to learn about its certification.
What is an SSL certificate error?
An SSL certificate error can occur when there’s an issue with a website’s certificate. An SSL certificate error can occur for multiple reasons. While some errors can be due to innocuous reasons, others can be due to malicious factors. It’s best to proceed with caution when opening a website that presents an SSL certificate error.
Expired SSL certificate
As mentioned, SSL certificates have expiry dates. Sometimes, website owners may forget to renew their SSL certificate. An expired SSL certificate will cause your browser to display an error message.
SSL certificate not trusted
Every browser can access a list of trusted SSL certificate providers. Your browser may tell you that a website’s SSL certificate is not to be trusted if the website’s issuing authority is not on the list or is suspect. For example, you may see an error if the certificate was self-signed or obtained from a fraudulent issuer.
After obtaining an SSL certificate, a website owner must install and configure it correctly. A misconfigured SSL certificate can result in an error for the website.
SSL certificates are issued to specific domains and subdomains. A mismatch in the records will force a browser to display an error message.
SSL certificate revoked
SSL certificate issuers may revoke a certificate before its expiry date if its private key was compromised or if the domain is closed. A website may also request that its certificate be revoked. Regardless of why the SSL certificate was revoked, it will result in an error.
Are SSL certificates free?
While not all SSL certificates are free, some are indeed free of cost. The free SSL certificates are usually Domain Validated (DV) certificates. They’re best for personal pages or small businesses. Larger websites should obtain paid certificates that offer better security and more features than DV SSL certificates.
Can a website without SSL be hacked?
An SSL certificate only secures the connection between a user and a website. A website with or without SSL certification can be hacked in a number of ways. Threat actors can exploit security vulnerabilities, weak login credentials, poor coding, outdated software, and other means to hack a website.
Website hacking techniques include:
Cross-site scripting (XSS).
Brute force attacks like this record breaking DDoS attack.
Phishing expeditions on website employees.
How long do SSL certificates last
There was a time when SSL certificates could be issued with an expiration period of five years. However, this time period has been adjusted several times. Since late 2020, an SSL certificate can’t be issued for more than 13 months.
Does an SSL certificate mean a website is safe to use?
Although an SSL certificate means that your connection to a website is secure, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the website is safe to use. For example, malicious websites can also obtain some types of SSL certificates, such as DV certificates.
While phishing websites can carry DV certifications, they’re designed to steal confidential information such as names, addresses, passwords, and credit card information. Phishing websites may look legitimate but can have grammatical errors, low-quality graphics, poor design, or offers that appear too good to be true.
In addition, threat actors can hack legitimate websites with SSL certificates by using different tools and exploitations.
Here are some steps that can help you check a website’s safety:
Use Malwarebytes Browser Guard to block web pages that contain malware, scams, and other malicious content.
Subscribe to a Virtual Private Network (VPN) service to encrypt your data and hide your IP address. You can learn how VPN works to encrypt your data and mask your location.
Ensure that the website URL is correctly spelled. A phishing website with a basic SSL certificate impersonating Walmart.com may have a very similar address that only varies by one or two characters. For example, instead of Walmart.com, it may say Walmert.com or Walmrat.com.
Look for the padlock sign and the HTTPS acronym on the address bar to ensure that it has an SSL certificate. At the very least, a website with an SSL certificate offers an encrypted connection.
Click on the padlock sign in the browser address bar to verify the identity of the website owner and check the certificate authority and expiration date.
Research the website’s reputation with a website safety checker.
A hacked or phishing website can also infect your system with malware. Get malware protection to ensure your computers and devices are free of malicious software. Follow these Internet safety tips for more security for your browser.
SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate is a digital certificate that enables secure communication between a website and its visitors. It is used to encrypt the data exchanged between the website and the user's browser, thereby protecting it from unauthorized access.
SSL certificates are issued by trusted third-party certificate authorities and contain information about the website owner, the validity of the certificate, and the encryption key used for secure communication. When a user visits a website with an SSL certificate, their browser verifies the certificate's authenticity and establishes a secure connection with the website.
This secure connection is indicated by a padlock icon in the browser's address bar and the "https" protocol in the website's URL. SSL certificates are essential for online transactions, such as e-commerce purchases, as they ensure that sensitive information, such as credit card details, is transmitted securely.
Knowledge-based authentication: This type of authentication involves the user providing information that only they should know, such as a password, PIN, or answer to a security question.
Possession-based authentication: This type of authentication involves the user providing proof of possession of a physical object, such as a security token, smart card, or mobile device.
Inherence-based authentication: This type of authentication involves the user providing biometric information, such as a fingerprint, facial recognition, or iris scan, to verify their identity.
Here's how to get an SSL certificate in 2023:
Determine the type of SSL certificate you need: There are different types of SSL certificates available, such as Domain Validated (DV), Organization Validated (OV), and Extended Validation (EV) certificates. You need to determine which type of certificate is suitable for your website.
Choose a reputable SSL certificate provider: There are many SSL certificate providers available, and you need to choose a reputable one that offers the type of certificate you need.
Generate a Certificate Signing Request (CSR): A CSR is a file that contains your website's information, such as the domain name and public key. You need to generate a CSR from your web hosting control panel.
Submit the CSR to the SSL certificate provider: After generating the CSR, you need to submit it to the SSL certificate provider. They will use it to issue your SSL certificate.
Install the SSL certificate on your website: Once you receive the SSL certificate, you need to install it on your website. The process of installation varies depending on your web hosting provider and the type of SSL certificate you have.
Test the SSL certificate: After installing the SSL certificate, you need to test it to ensure that it is working correctly. You can use an SSL checker tool to verify the SSL certificate's installation and configuration.
Once your SSL certificate is installed and working correctly, your website will have a secure connection, and visitors will see the padlock icon and the "https" protocol in the URL.