What is an SSL Certificate?


We are living in the digital era, and if any company wants to remain relevant in the market competing at par in its niche, well it must be regularly present online across the various social media platforms, but first it usually all starts from a website.

For those of you who already own a website be it for business, a side hustle or even leisure, you should have heard about, or hopefully and preferably applied for an SSL Certificate. If not, then read on to discover what it is, why it is needed and the advantages it brings with it.

SSL Certificate Explained

The encrypted link between a web server and a web browser is created by a security protocol which technical name is Secure Sockets Layer aka SSL, which digital certificate authenticates a website`s identity and keeps it encrypted.

Any business owning a website, but especially those which hold clients` information and enable online transactions, need to have an SSL Certificate to assure privacy and security.

If you notice a padlock near a website`s URL in the address bar, it means that it holds an SSL Certificate, thus it is protected, as SSL keeps hackers at bay by not allowing them to read or modify any info passed between two systems.

Believe it or not, SSL is already 25 years old, and through the years we have seen several varieties of this type of protocol, some of which ran into security quandaries, but after some tweaking and polishing the latest version of its kind was launched under the name of Transport Layer Security or TLS, however the good old SSL name stuck around, and that`s how sometimes even TLS is referred to.

How Does it Work?

As aforementioned, SSL uses encryption algorithms to scramble the data passing between two systems or users and websites, making it difficult for hackers to decipher any info which is being shared.

One can immediately notice if a website has an SSL Certificate by checking out the address bar or URL which will feature a padlock, and HTTPS in front which stands for HperText Transfer Protocol Secure. If a website doesn`t hold an SSL, you will only see an HTTP, thus without the S at the end, which means that there is no SSL Certificate and the security it brings with it.

SSL then gives us a peace of mind especially on specific websites where we need to convey our details, names, credit card numbers or other financial particulars.

The process which name in jargon is `SSL handshake` may seem long but it really happens in milliseconds. Let`s get in the nitty-gritty and check it out below:

  • A browser or server tries to link to a website/web server secured with SSL
  • The browser/server demands that the web server identifies itself
  • A copy of the SSL certificate is sent by the web server to the browser/server
  • The browser/server evaluates the SSL certificate and if verified/trusted it signals this to the webserver
  • Consequently, the web server then returns a digitally signed acknowledgment to start an SSL encrypted session
  • Encrypted data is shared between the browser/server & the webserver

Moreover, if you click on the padlock in the address bar there are more details included within an SSL certificate for you to discover. Typically, these would include:

  • The domain name registered under the SSL certificate
  • Names of person, organisation, or device it was issued on
  • Which Certificate Authority granted it
  • Certificate Authority’s digital signature
  • Related subdomains
  • Certificate`s time of issue
  • Certificate`s expiry date
  • The public key, as the private key is not revealed

Variants of SSL Certificate

There are several SSL certificates holding different validation levels, we list the six main ones below:

1. Extended Validation Certificates or EV SSL – Most expensive, highly ranked, intended for high profile websites

2. Organised Validation Certificates or OV SSL – Similar to EV SSL, second most expensive, encrypts user’s sensitive info during transactions, usually used by commercial or public-facing websites

3. Domain Validated Certificates or DV SSL – Less expensive, with lower assurance and minimal encryption, used for blogs or informational websites

4. Wildcard SSL Certificates – allows security for a base domain and unlimited sub-domains on a single certificate, which comes cheaper than applying an SSL for each one

5. Multi-Domain SSL Certificates or MDC – enables SSL to be used on multiple servers

6. Unified Communications Certificates or UCC – originally designed to secure Microsoft Exchange nd Live Communications servers, but today any website owner can use it to allow multiple domain names to be secured on a single certificate

Guide to Attain an SSL Certificate

Certificate Authorities (CA) issue millions of SSLs annually, playing a key role on how the cyberworld functions and how reliable, clear exchanges happen online.

Depending on the level of security required, an SSL can range from zero to hundreds of euros, while CA can provide certificates within minutes of being ordered or up to a whole week according to complexity involved.

To obtain an SSL:

  • Set your server setup with an updated WHOIS record
  • Generate a Certificate Signing Request (CSR) on your server (hosting companies can assist)
  • Obtain CA`s validation on domain and company details
  • Install certificate provided once process is complete

What to Do When It Expires

An expired SSL can be fixed as follows:

  • Create a new CSR
  • Choose an SSL certificate type
  • Validate SSL renewal
  • Install the SSL certificate

In Conclusion

The business website, your precious creation, that same platform through which your trade can grow, may also be vulnerable to attacks and consequences can be disastrous, like losing the brand good reputation and trust. Therefore, protecting your website, the one you slowly crafted over the years investing time and money in is paramount.

Ultimately, today holding an SSL Certificate is a must, simply approach experts in the field or those in the know and surely you will find that they strongly recommend it. Just consider SSL certification as an added crucial tool to secure your valuable site.