An Introduction to SSL: Understanding Its Significance in Enhancing Website Security for Beginners

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Perhaps you’ve noticed that extra “s” when perusing websites that involve sharing sensitive information, such as when making online bill payments. Where did that additional “s” originate, and what does it signify?

In straightforward terms, the additional “s” indicates that your connection to the website is secure and encrypted, ensuring that any data you provide is transmitted safely. The technology behind this added layer of security is known as SSL, an acronym for “Secure Sockets Layer.” Check here to get a free ssl for your website.

As a consumer, the presence of “https://” in the website’s URL is crucial when entrusting essential information. As a marketer, ensuring you have SSL, or Secure Sockets Layer, is equally vital for your audience’s security.

Now, let’s delve into why SSL holds significant importance.

What is SSL?

SSL

SSL, originally the name of the cryptographic protocol for authenticating and encrypting communications over a network, has officially been succeeded by an upgraded protocol known as TLS.

SSL, or Secure Sockets Layer, is a security technology functioning as a protocol for servers and web browsers to ensure the privacy of data exchanged between them. This is accomplished through an encrypted link that establishes a secure connection between the server and browser.

For companies collecting personal information, such as email addresses or payment details, having SSL certificates on their website is essential. Possessing an SSL certificate indicates that the gathered details are kept private, offering customers assurance when they observe the padlock and “https://”—signs that their privacy is safeguarded.

SSL certificates are distinguished by the level of validation and encryption they provide or the number of domains or subdomains covered. Depending on the SSL obtained, there are three types of certificates one can acquire.

How does it Work?

SSL serves the fundamental purpose of establishing a secure transport-layer connection between two endpoints: the server and the client. This connection commonly occurs between a website server and the client’s browser or a mail server and the client’s email application, like Outlook.

SSL is comprised of two distinct protocols:

  1. The Handshake protocol performs the authentication of the server (and optionally the client), negotiates cryptographic suites, and generates a shared key.
  2. The Record protocol, on the other hand, isolates each connection and utilizes the shared key to secure communications for the remainder of the session.

The Handshake Protocol

Handshake Protocol

The SSL handshake is an asymmetric cryptography process designed to establish a secure channel for communication between the server and client. In HTTPS connections, the SSL handshake is the initial step.

A successful handshake occurs seamlessly behind the scenes in the client’s browser or application, ensuring a smooth user experience. On the contrary, a failed handshake leads to connection termination, often accompanied by an alert message in the client’s browser.

When the SSL is valid and correct, the handshake provides essential security benefits:

  1. Authentication: The server remains authenticated throughout the duration of the connection.
  2. Confidentiality: Data transmitted via SSL is encrypted and accessible only to the server and client.
  3. Integrity: Digital Certificate Signatures guarantee that the data remains unaltered during transfer.

In summary, SSL certificates function through a combination of asymmetric and symmetric cryptography for internet communications. Additional infrastructures, known as Public Key Infrastructures, play a role in achieving SSL communication in enterprises.

How do SSL Certificates Work?

Upon receiving the SSL certificate, you proceed to install it on your server. An Intermediate certificate can also be installed, enhancing the credibility of your SSL certificate by linking it to your Certificate Authority’s (CA) root certificate.

Root certificates, being self-signed, serve as the foundation for an X.509-based Public-Key Infrastructure (PKI). The PKI, crucial for secure web browsing through HTTPS and electronic signature schemes, relies on these root certificates. In various applications of X.509 certificates, a certificate “Chain of Trust” validates the issuance validity of certificates, establishing a hierarchical structure.

Chain of Trust

The Chain of Trust pertains to the connection between your SSL certificate and its association with a reputable certificate authority. To be deemed trustworthy, an SSL certificate must have a verifiable link back to a trusted root Certificate Authority (CA). This Chain of Trust plays a crucial role in ensuring privacy, instilling trust, and maintaining security for all involved parties.

At the heart of every Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) lies the root CA, acting as the cornerstone of integrity for the entire system. The initiation of the Chain of Trust occurs when the root certificate authority signs an SSL certificate. If the root CA holds public trust, any valid CA certificate linked to it is considered trustworthy by major internet browsers and operating systems.

How is a Trust Chain Verified?

The client or browser possesses the Public-Keys of a select group of trusted Certificate Authorities (CAs) and employs these keys to authenticate the server’s SSL certificate. This verification process is iteratively conducted for each certificate in the Trust Chain until it is traced back to its origin, the root CA.

Types Of Certificates

SSL certificates fall under two main categories: encryption and validation, and domain types. Each category has three classifications and can be obtained through the SSL website. The issuance of certificates is managed by a Certificate Authority (CA), specialized software responsible for the issuance and validation of these certificates.

Under encryption and validation certificates, the classifications are domain, organization, and extended validation. As for certificates categorized by the domain type, they come in three varieties: single, multidomain, and wildcard.

Extended Validation (EV) SSL Certificate

Extended Validation (EV) SSL

This certificate prominently displays a padlock, HTTPS, business name, and business country in the address bar, reducing the likelihood of being misconstrued as a spam website.

Extended Validation (EV) SSL certificates, although the most expensive, are invaluable for showcasing the legitimacy of your domain directly in the address bar. To establish an EV SSL, you must demonstrate authorization to own the submitted domain, providing users with the assurance that you are legally and responsibly collecting necessary data—such as credit card numbers for online transactions.

Obtaining an EV SSL certificate is open to any business and becomes a crucial priority, especially for those requiring heightened identity assurance. Websites involved in processing web payments or collecting sensitive data, for instance, should prioritize obtaining this certificate.

Organization Validated (OV SSL) Certificate

Organization Validated (OV SSL) Certificate

This certificate validates the authenticity of both your organization and domain. Organization Validated (OV) SSL certificates provide a medium level of encryption and involve a two-step verification process. Initially, the Certificate Authority (CA) verifies the ownership of the domain and ensures the organization is operating legally.

Users viewing the site would observe a small green padlock accompanied by the company’s name. This type of certificate is recommended for those who may not have the financial means for an Extended Validation (EV) SSL but still seek to provide a moderate level of encryption.

Domain Validation (DV) Certificate

Domain Validation (DV) Certificate

The Domain Validation (DV) certificate provides a basic level of encryption, indicated by a green padlock next to the URL in the address bar. This is the fastest validation process, requiring only a few company documents for application.

Verification occurs when adding a DNS to the Certificate Authority (CA). For this certificate, the CA reviews the applicant’s right to own the submitted domain. It’s essential to note that DVs do not secure subdomains; they apply to the domain itself.

Unlike Extended Validation (EV) SSL, DV does not involve the CA vetting any identity data, so the recipient of your encrypted information remains unknown. However, for businesses with budget constraints, a DV certificate effectively fulfills basic security requirements.

Wildcard SSL Certificates

Wildcard SSL Certificates

Wildcard SSL Certificates fall under the “domain and subdomain number” category. They offer the advantage that if you purchase a certificate for one domain, the same certificate can be utilized for its subdomains.

For instance, if you acquire a Wildcard SSL for example.com, you can apply it to subdomains like mail.example.com and blog.example.com. This option proves to be more cost-effective than acquiring multiple SSL certificates for various domains.

Unified Communications (UCC) SSL Certificate

Unified Communications (UCC) SSL Certificate

Unified Communications certificates (UCCs), also referred to as Multi-domain SSL certificates, enable the inclusion of multiple domain names on a single certificate. Initially designed to facilitate communication between a single server and browser, UCCs have evolved to accommodate multiple domain names owned by the same entity.

In the address bar, a UCC displays a padlock to signify verification. When configured to showcase green text, a padlock, and the home country, UCCs can also be considered Extended Validation (EV) SSL certificates. The primary distinction lies in the number of domain names associated with the certificate.

Multi-domain SSL certificates can cover up to 100 domain names, and if there’s a need to modify these names, the Subject Alternative Name (SAN) option provides flexibility.

Single Domain SSL Certificate

Single Domain SSL Certificate

A Single Domain SSL protects a solitary domain. It’s important to note that this certificate cannot be used to secure subdomains or an entirely different domain.


What Is The Process For Obtaining An SSL Certificate For My Website?

The initial step involves determining the type of SSL certificate required. For instance, hosting content on multiple platforms, each with separate domains or subdomains, may necessitate different SSL certificates.

While a standard SSL certificate generally suffices for most, companies in regulated industries like finance or insurance should consult their I.T. team to ensure compliance with specific SSL certificate requirements within their sector.

SSL certificate costs vary; options range from obtaining a free certificate to paying monthly for a custom certificate. Let’s Encrypt provides free certificates, but it’s advisable to seek assistance from someone knowledgeable about DNS and website technical setup. These free certificates have a 90-day expiration period, requiring regular updates.

Another crucial consideration is the validity period of the certification. Standard SSL certificates typically have a default duration of one to two years. For longer-term options, explore advanced certificates with extended validity periods.

Summary

The next time you visit a website, take a moment to check its encryption status. It’s reassuring to see that by clicking a small padlock icon, you can verify if your data is secure. Conversely, if you’re involved in a business lacking SSL certificates, consider making them a part of your next set of goals. This way, you can ensure the protection of your customers’ data and privacy.

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2 comments

GeorgePrutee 22/12/2023 - 18:53

Great content about ssl, where can I find single domain ssl certificate? Usually how much will that cost?

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RoberArmstrong 24/12/2023 - 18:57

Dudes, you can get free ssl at cloudflare for personal website. lol

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