In this complete guide on getting an SSL certificate – we will discuss how setting up web servers to operate securely with browsers is essential to provide peace of mind and to protect businesses and consumers from interception of their transactions and data for viewing by unintended parties.
SSL stands for Secure Socket Layer. This is a term used to describe the interaction of a transaction across networked servers, identifying a web server to a browser or other server to provide encrypted, secure transfers of data.
With the proliferation of criminal intrusions aimed at websites and databases, data breaches, and denial of service attacks launched against businesses and social media, secure access to your websites is essential.
Obtaining and installing an SSL certificate is one critical step in securing your website against attacks and hackers.
What is an SSL Certificate?
From a technical standpoint, an SSL certificate consists of a small file installed on your server, which identifies the organization’s digital key and secure status. This file contains a cryptographic key that encrypts data passed between the browser and server.
It is this certificate that causes the browser to identify the website’s URL with the HTTPS designation and causes the padlock to be displayed, indicating that the connection to the server is secure.
SSL certificates are what binds together a server or domain name with the owner’s location and unique digital identity.
Why Do You Need One?
Nearly everyone is concerned with internet privacy and the protection of their personal data.
Most internet users, especially those performing transactions that include personal or financial information, have become quite security-savvy when accessing servers, verifying that they are connected to a secure site before providing such information.
If your site does not provide a secure connection, many users will quickly turn away from providing such information, and rightfully so.
If your web server will work with credit card information for purchases or other transactions, the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) requires that your business provide a secure environment before you can process, store, or transmit such financial data.
Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations likewise mandate that web servers being used to store or provide access to health care information utilize SSL encryption security.
Transport Layer Security (TLS) is essentially an updated version of SSL technology, and many users still use the term SSL to encompass both. TLS is basically a layer at the session-level between applications and the transportation of data, while SSL is encryption for transmitted data. In this article, they are referred to collectively as SSL certificates.
Complete Guide on Getting an SSL Certificate
To obtain an SSL certificate, the business or individual requesting the certificate creates a Certificate Signing Request (CSR) on the server, generating a private key and public key on the server.
This file is sent to the Certificate Authority (CA) that will provide the SSL certificate, containing the public key only.
This CSR file will be used by the CA to create the SSL certificate that matches to your private key. The CA will not know your private key, but will send the SSL certificate (file) for installation on your server.
There are many legitimate, recognized sources for obtaining SSL certificates, including these popular providers:
- Let’s Encrypt
It’s important to acquire SSL certificates from reputable, recognized certificate providers classified as Certificate Authorities (CA).
Types of SSL Certificates
There are today three basic types of SSL certification, with varying levels of security provided:
- Domain Validation – lowest level of validation – the CA verifies that the organization requesting the certificate actually has ownership of the domain. This may be validated simply via an email request to the domain to validate ownership.
- Organization Validated Certificates – CA validation will include actual contact with the requesting organization, to ensure the request can be authenticated. This will include verifying the organization’s location (city, state, and country, along with the business name) match the request for the certificate.
- Extended Validation Certificate – this is the highest level of validation provided. CA providing the certificate will verify the requester’s name, location, and that the company is a valid legal entity. They will also confirm that the business is aware of the request for an SSL certificate from the CA, to ensure the request is legitimate.
Additional SSL Certificate Criteria
In addition to the basic types/levels of certificates, there are differences depending on your individual needs:
- Single-Name – this certificate will secure only one specific domain name
- Wildcard – wildcard SSL certificates will secure unlimited subdomains under a single domain. As an example, a wildcard SSL certificate obtained for www.mysite.com will secure help.mysite.com and careers.mysite.com, as well.
- Unified SSL/Multi-Domain Certificates – using this type of certificate, you can secure up to 100 domains with a single certificate. This is very useful and is designed for the need to protect Office Communications and Microsoft Exchange applications across a SAN environment.
SSL Certificate Pricing
Pricing for SSL certificates varies widely, with cost-conscious shoppers capable of finding 1-year certificates as low as $17 or even cheaper, and certificates with more robust security available for several hundred dollars.
Price depends on the length of the SSL subscription, level of security, and the number of domains to be protected.
Use caution when selecting your CA, to ensure you’re getting the level of protection that suits your needs and that you’re purchasing from a reputable provider with a track record of customer satisfaction.
Reasons to Utilize SSL Certs
Apart from the obvious security concerns that create the need to secure both your web server and protect visitors to your sites, there are additional reasons to make SSL certificates a standard for all servers:
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO) ranking. Google has already indicated that they will alert users with visual notification when they’re not on a secure site protected with SSL certificates
- More secure data communications between server, enhancing transaction safety and reducing the possibility of data interception
- PCI compliance requirements
- eCommerce sites should always incorporate SSL certificates to help prevent identity theft
- HIPAA regulations
- Instill customer trust through presenting secure site indications
We hope this complete guide on getting an SSL certificate has helped you learn about what they are and how to integrate them.
With the ease of obtaining and implementing SSL certificates for your web servers, it only makes sense to provide this layer of security for your business and customers.