What is an SSL Certificate?

Only websites with SSL certificates are shown as ''secure'' by major browsers

SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificates are the technology that enables encrypted communication between a browser and a web server. It uses the SSL security protocol and has two main security benefits. Firstly, it allows websites to authenticate themselves as genuine. It also encrypts the data traffic between the web server and the browser, creating a more secure environment for its users. Websites with an SSL certificate display a lock in the address bar as well as using HTTPS instead of HTTP.

Why use SSL Certificates?

SSL certificates create a secure environment for visitors. It ensures that all data between the browser and the web server is encrypted. If a malicious actor were to intercept web traffic to your site, it would be jumbled up. This keeps data such as personal and credit card information from falling into the wrong hands.

SSL certificates also allow websites to authenticate themselves. An authenticated website prominently displays a lock in the address bar on all major browsers. Conversely, browsers like Chrome label websites without SSL as ''Not Secure'' in red.

On top of that, search engines such as Google penalise websites without SSL certificates in search rankings as they pose a potential threat for users.

How do SSL Certificates work?

SSL technology goes into deep technical detail, but to put simply, it creates a public key and a private one. The public key enables anyone to encrypt data which can only be decrypted by the server that has the private key. Likewise, data encrypted with the private key makes sense only when decrypted by the public key, thereby ensuring that the data has come from the genuine source.

Here’s a simplified example. Let’s suppose there are two people, Alice and Bob. Alice wants to send Bob a message but is worried her message might get intercepted. By encrypting the message with Bob’s public key, only his private key can unlock the message.

If Alice gets a response claiming that it comes from Bob, she can verify if it came from Bob. If it was encrypted by Bob using his private key, it should be able to be decrypted by Bob''s public key. In the above example, SSL is the system of private and public keys that allow the communications to be secured.

Types of SSL Certificates

SSL Certificates can only be issued by one of only a few Certification Authorities (CAs). The CAs provide several levels of validation, some of which require a stringent manual check. That''s why the cost of an SSL certificate varies. If you purchase a hosting package from One.com, an SSL certificate is provided free of charge. If you''re interested, here are the various validation levels and certificate types and what they mean:

Validation Levels

Extended Validation
Extended Validation (EV) is the highest level of validation. The certificate authority (CA) only awards the EV certificate after a rigorous background check following strict industry guidelines from the CA/B (Certificate Authority/Browser) Forum. It is thus the most expensive type of validation and widely used by large e-commerce sites and banks.

Organisation Validation
Organisation Validation is the next highest level of validation. It is also awarded after the certificate authority (CA) conducts a manual vetting process. It does not have to conform to CA/B Forum standards and is thus the less expensive than an EV certificate.

Domain Validation
Domain Validation certificates are typically used by small businesses and startups. While they provide the same levels of encryption as the other certificates, they are issued without manual vetting after an automated process. It is thus faster and cheaper than Extended and Organisation Validation.

Certificate Types

Single Domain Certificates
Single Domain Certificates, as implied in its name, cover a single domain and all paths leading from it. It is available at all three validation levels at various price points and is the most common for small companies and startups.

Wildcard Domain Certificates
Wildcard Domain Certificates cover all subdomains at a given domain. For example, if your domain is www.domain.com, a Wildcard Domain Certificate also covers subdomains like store.domain.com and country.domain.com. It is usually expressed by a wildcard character, or *.domain.com, which is where the name comes from. It is also available at all three validation levels.

Multiple Domain Certificates
A single Multiple Domain Certificate covers up to 100 unique domains. It is also easy to add or remove domains to the certificate, which allows network administrators to manage it easily. Like the other two types, it is available at all three validation levels and can be cheaper than purchasing multiple Single Domain Certificates.

How to buy an SSL Certificate

SSL Certificates can be purchased from Certificate Authorities or your web or domain hosting provider.

A free wildcard SSL certificate is included and integrated into all One.com packages so you don’t have to spend time on multiple sites configuring DNS Records. You can redirect all traffic to your site to follow HTTPS as detailed in this guide to managing SSL certificates.

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