What is an SSL certificate? / SSL certificate: A Complete Insight
8 min read•
With such increased online activities, the threat to crucial data you share has seen severe consequences, ranging from fraudulent financial transactions, online identity theft, etc. Moreover, with the heightened use of technology, cyber-attacks have also become more complex and challenging.
No doubt, the data security awareness among internet users has grown multifold. If you are a website owner or a blogger, it becomes your prime responsibility to protect your user’s sensitive data and privacy from the evil intentions of cybercriminals.
Here, SSL Certificate plays the most effective and crucial role in hardening the security of your website. So, let us first try to understand the very basics of SSL.
What is SSL?
Secure Socket Layer (SSL) is a security protocol that provides encryption for data in transit on the Internet and authenticates the webserver. When you submit any sensitive information, SSL encrypts your data to ensure it is fully protected and secure and can only be understood by the intended recipient. SSL certificate is a digital certificate issued by Certificate Authorities to the websites, which ensures all the information exchanged between the user’s web browser and the webserver is encrypted. SSL certificate thus protects your data from malicious attempts to steal or corrupt it, such as eavesdropping, man-in-the-middle attacks.
Once the SSL Certificate is installed, the website protocol shifts from HTTP to secured HTTPS. In addition, a visual symbol of trust, a padlock, is added to the URL of your website, as seen in the above image. This assures visitors that they are communicating with a secure connection. SSL Certificate adds to the website’s user experience and helps improve its ranking on the Google Search Engine Result Pages. It also verifies the authenticity of the website. But how can you check all this information?
How Can You Reach The Information that an SSL certificate contains?
You can check the SSL Certificate information by clicking on the padlock before the URL of the website in the address bar. It also contains information regarding the identity of the website. Following are the essential contents of the SSL Certificate:
- ‘Domain name’ for which the certificate was issued
- The organization, person, or device to which it was issued
- Name of the Certificate Authority issuing it
- Digital signature of the issuing CA
- The subdomains associated with it
- Date of issuing of the certificate
- Date of expiry of the certificate
The web browser communicates with the web server and uses this data file to verify the identity of the website and the status of the SSL Certificate.
How do SSL Certificates Work to Protect User Data and Privacy?
After an SSL Certificate is installed on your web server, it is provided with a distinguished digital identification number in the form of a public and a private security key used for the server’s authentication. These keys are nothing but a long string of arbitrarily generated numbers. It also enables the server to encrypt and decrypt the sensitive information exchanged between the user and server.
- When a visitor accesses your website, the user web browser tries to verify the validity of the SSL Certificate of your website as well as authentication of your server through a process known as Handshake.
- The web server then sends a copy of its SSL Certificate along with the server’s public key.
- The browser checks the SSL Certificate root against a list of trusted CAs, its date of expiry, and its authenticity.
- Once the browser is assured that the SSL Certificate is valid and that your server is authenticated, it indicates this to the webserver.
- Henceforth, a digitally signed acknowledgment is sent back to the browser to establish a safe encrypted path for information transfer between the web server and the user.
- If the browser finds out that your SSL Certificate is not valid, an error message “Your connection is not private” is displayed to the user, and this causes your visitor to leave your website immediately.
According to your security requirements and budgets, you can buy SSL certificates from various choices available with many reputed Certificate Authorities (CAs) on the Internet. So, even if you have a small budget, it is crucial to secure your website with a valid, cheap SSL Certificate to win user trust and protect your brand’s reputation. Let us thus try to decipher the different types of SSL Certificates available.
Types of SSL certificates
Various Validation Levels
The Certificate Authority(CA) issues various SSL Certificates depending upon the different validation level requirements. As such, the SSL Certificates can be classified based on these different validation level procedures as follows:
Domain Validation (DV) SSL Certificate
DV SSL Certificate is the basic, ground-level certificate issued after carrying out a simple verification process by the CA. The only proof of ownership of the domain needs to be submitted to the CA. The DV SSL Certificate enjoys the least time of issuance as the verification process involved is very simple, with almost no documentation required. So, it takes minimum time to be issued among all other types available in the SSL market. DV SSL certificates are popularly used by small websites that do not handle financial transactions or user’s sensitive data. They are the cheapest option available and are also popularly used to secure blogs.
Organization Validation (OV) SSL Certificate
The CA issues OV SSL Certificate only after carrying out domain verification and verifying the authenticity of the owner company. The OV SSL Certificate displays the company’s identity information and can be seen by accessing the information on the certificate. Details of the company are present in the ‘Subject Tab’ as shown in the example below,
Medium-sized organizations more popularly use OV SSL Certificate, and its issuance time is more than DV SSL Certificate. As more time is taken by the process of verification of the certificate owner company, it is more expensive than DV SSL Certificate.
Extended Validation (EV) SSL Certificate
The EV SSL Certificate is associated with the highest degree of trust and reputation. The EV SSL Certificate is issued to the organization only after following vigorous. Very strict and thorough background verification is part of the validation procedure followed for issuing, such as its address, current operational status, legal status, etc. Hence, this SSL Certificate takes the longest time to be issued and is much costlier than DV and OV SSL Certificates. The company’s name is displayed in the address bar and hence can be verified. The visual symbols of trust, site seals displayed on the website add to the user’s trust. EV SSL Certificates find widespread use in banks, big financial institutions, e-commerce websites, etc.
Different Number Of Domains/Subdomains
Another factor that becomes the deciding factor for securing your website with different types of SSL Certificate is the number of domains and subdomains that need to be secured, and they are as follows:
A single domain SSL Certificate secures one domain or subdomain for your website. It is valid for both the www and non-www variations of the domain.
For securing multiple domains and subdomains, buying a cost-effective Wildcard SSL Certificate or Multiple-Domain Certificate gives a better return on investment and better time management, instead of using a single-domain certificate for every multiple domain and subdomains.
A Wildcard SSL Certificate safeguards the main root domain and all the subdomains one step below the root domain with just a single certificate. Wildcard Certificates use a common name of the format *.example.com, so it will secure the multiple subdomains as shown above in the image like dev.example.com, mail.example.com, etc., with a single certificate. If budget is a concern, it is recommended to buy and install a wildcard SSL certificate that will afford the same encryption levels as the more expensive ones.
Multi-domain/SAN SSL Certificate
A Multi-domain or SAN(Subject Alternative Name) SSL Certificate secures multiple domains/ subdomains with just a single certificate. You can add and modify the Subject Alternative Name field and protects multiple names in between various domains and subdomains with great ease. For example, with just a single Multiple-domain(SAN) SSL Certificate, you can secure all of the following domains as seen in the image: www.anydomain.org , www.example.com , etc.
Unified Communications Certificate (UCC)
Unified Communications Certificates (UCC) are nothing but Multi-Domain SSL certificates that were earlier designed to secure Microsoft Exchange and Live Communications servers. Now, it is used to secure any multiple domain names with just a single certificate. UCC Certificates have organization validation and can also be used as EV SSL certificates offering the highest degree of trust and security to its users.
In conclusion, we can say that to win user trust and take your online business or blog to new heights of success, paying attention to the security of your user’s data is of utmost importance. There is no better way to achieve this than by securing your website or blog with a cheap SSL that helps you target your security needs and budget.
About the authors
Jason Parms is the customer service manager at SSL2BUY Inc. His key responsibility is maintaining customer happiness by providing help desk resources and technical guidance, resolution for customer troubles, detecting and diagnosing network problems and managing staff. As a part of the online security industry, He is always updating knowledge by contributing to cybersecurity events, reading information security publications, maintaining personal networks, examine information and applications, participate in security surveys.