What Is a Security Certificate (SSL) and How Does It Work?
By Emil Kristensen CMO
@ Sleeknote

In today’s digitally connected world, security is a top priority for businesses and consumers alike. Maintaining the confidentiality and integrity of online information is crucial to protect against cybersecurity threats. One technology that plays a vital role in securing online transactions and communications is a security certificate, also known as Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate. In this article, we will examine what security certificates are, why they are important for websites, how they work, and much more.

Why Security Certificates Are Important for Websites

Security certificates are essential for websites that handle sensitive information, such as personal data or financial transactions. They provide a secure and encrypted connection between the website server and the user’s web browser, preventing unauthorized access and interception of data. Security certificates help to establish the trust and credibility of a website, protecting against phishing and other forms of cyberattacks.

Understanding the Basics of SSL Encryption

SSL encryption is a method used to protect sensitive information transmitted over the internet. It works by encrypting data using complex algorithms, so that it is unreadable to anyone who intercepts it. Only the intended recipient with the correct decryption key can unlock and read the data. SSL encryption is primarily used for securing online transactions, such as credit card payments and online banking, and for protecting login credentials and other sensitive information.

It is important to note that SSL encryption is not foolproof and can still be vulnerable to attacks such as man-in-the-middle attacks. It is recommended to use the latest version of SSL, currently TLS 1.3, and to ensure that the SSL certificate is valid and issued by a trusted certificate authority. Additionally, website owners should regularly update and patch their SSL implementation to address any known vulnerabilities.

How SSL Certificates Help to Secure Online Transactions

SSL certificates are digital certificates that are issued by certification authorities (CAs) to websites. The certificate contains information that verifies the identity of the website and the owner of the certificate. When a user tries to establish a connection with a website, the SSL certificate is sent to the user’s web browser. The browser verifies the certificate and checks that it is still valid and has not been tampered with. If the certificate is valid, the browser then establishes a secure and encrypted connection with the website. This process provides assurance to the user that they are communicating with the intended website and not an imposter.

SSL certificates also help to protect sensitive information that is transmitted between the user’s web browser and the website. This includes information such as login credentials, credit card details, and personal information. Without SSL encryption, this information could be intercepted by hackers and used for fraudulent purposes. By using SSL certificates, websites can ensure that their users’ information is kept confidential and secure.

The Role of Certification Authorities in Issuing SSL Certificates

Certification authorities (CAs) are organizations that issue SSL certificates to websites. They are trusted by web browsers to distribute and manage SSL certificates. CAs have strict vetting procedures for website owners to ensure that they are legitimate and have legal authority to use the website domain name. Once a website owner is approved, the CA issues an SSL certificate that is signed with the CA’s digital signature. Web browsers trust the CA’s signature, allowing them to validate the SSL certificate’s authenticity.

Types of SSL Certificates: Domain Validated, Organization Validated, and Extended Validation

There are three main types of SSL certificates: domain validated (DV), organization validated (OV), and extended validation (EV). DV certificates are relatively low assurance certificates that only verify the website domain name and the owner’s control over it. OV certificates include additional validation of the organization’s legal status and physical address. EV certificates provide the highest level of assurance, with rigorous identity validation of both the organization and the domain name owner.

The Pros and Cons of Free vs Paid SSL Certificates

There are both free and paid SSL certificate options available. Free SSL certificates are suitable for small websites and personal blogs as they offer basic encryption and validation. Paid SSL certificates are recommended for large businesses and high-value websites that require maximum security and customer trust. Paid SSL certificates typically include more advanced features, such as wildcard certificates, multi-domain certificates, and extended validation. Additionally, paid SSL certificates come with higher warranty amounts and better technical support than free certificates.

How to Install and Configure an SSL Certificate on Your Website

Installing and configuring an SSL certificate on your website involves several steps. First, you need to purchase an SSL certificate from a reputable CA. Next, you need to generate a certificate signing request (CSR) and submit it to the CA. The CA will then validate your identity and issue your SSL certificate. Once you have received your SSL certificate, you will need to install it on your web server and configure it. The process may vary depending on your web hosting provider and the type of SSL certificate you have purchased, so it is recommended to follow the instructions provided by your CA and web hosting provider.

Common Issues with SSL Certificates and How to Fix Them

Despite their importance, SSL certificate issues can occur from time to time. Some common issues include expired certificates, mismatched domain names, and incorrect configurations. To fix these issues, website owners need to renew their SSL certificates, ensure that their certificate details match their website domain, or update their SSL configurations, as appropriate.

The Future of SSL: TLS 1.3 and Beyond

The SSL protocol has evolved over the years to become more secure and efficient. The latest version of SSL, Transport Layer Security (TLS) 1.3, was released in 2018. TLS 1.3 offers faster and more secure connections, enhanced encryption algorithms, and improved resistance to cyberattacks. The future of SSL is likely to see further developments in encryption technology, improved security features, and more efficient protocols to meet the growing demands of online security.

In conclusion, security certificates such as SSL certificates are critical to securing online transactions and communications. They provide an essential layer of protection against cyber threats and help to establish trust and credibility for online businesses. Whether you are a small business owner, a blogger, or a large corporation, it is important to understand the role and importance of SSL certificates and ensure that your website is properly secured.