SSL Certificate: Is It Important For Web Security?

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A Beginner’s Guide To Understanding How SSL Certificates Improves Website Security

Introduction

Websites have emerged as the number one target for cyber attackers. The reason for the surge in website security threats is simple; websites are repositories for sensitive user data and information such as social security numbers, credit card and debit card details, addresses, intellectual property, financial records, health details, tr ade secrets, and many more.

All this data and information is lucrative to cybercriminals and should be rigorously secured and protected from cyber attackers.

To minimize the risks of financial losses, data losses, business closures, reputation damages, fines, and legal liabilities, every website should invest in proper website security tools and protocols. Failing to do so can be so costly. We have all heard and read the reports about how costly a successful cyber breach can be to a business.

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We now need to answer the question: how do we protect our websites from hackers and cybersecurity threats? Whereas there are lots of website security tools and practices, the SSL certificate has stood out to be an effective website security tool.

You must install an SSL certificate on your website if you care about its security. We will learn about how SSL certificates help with website security. But let us first start by understanding what an SSL certificate is.

What Is An SSL Certificate, and How Does HTTPS Work?

Any keen internet user should notice that some websites have URLs starting with HTTP while others start with HTTPS. The difference here is in the extra S. Ever wondered the reason for the difference and where the extra S comes from?

HTTP and HTTPS are internet transfer protocols facilitating data movement and communications between website servers and browsers.  However, HTTPS is a secure transfer protocol while HTTP is insecure. The S in HTTPS stands for secure. The technology that enables security in the HTTPS protocol is called the secure sockets layer (SSL) certificate.

SSL certificates, sometimes referred to as TLS certificates, are data files that use cryptographic technology to establish secure connections between web servers and browsers. The data transferred will be in the form of ciphertext and not plaintext. This is referred to as encryption.

How Does SSL Certificate Improve Website Security?

How confident will you be submitting your sensitive information on a website you are not sure about its safety? I heard you right; you won’t even dare visit such a website.

Data shared via insecure websites can easily be intercepted by third parties who use the data for malicious purposes. The data could be anything from your personal details, financial transaction records, health records, social security numbers, among others. The man-in-the-middle attack is the hacker’s term used to describe data interception.

Still not sure how a hacker can intercept your data? Here is one of the common ways this could happen; an intruder places a small, hard-to-detect listening program on the server that hosts the target’s website.

The program lies undetected in the background waiting for a web visitor to start typing information on the website. The program captures the information and sends it to the hacker. The hacker uses the information to perform a series of malicious acts such as privacy intrusions or selling the information on the dark web.

I know this sounds a little scary. However, you need not worry if you are visiting a website that is encrypted using the secure sockets layer certificate. With such a website, your web browser will initiate a secure session with website servers and bind the servers with your web browser.

All communications happening over the encrypted session would be in ciphertext, meaning intruders won’t be able to decipher the communication even if they succeeded in accessing it. Only the intended recipient who holds the decryption key will have the power to decrypt and read the communication.

Types of SSL Certificates

Website owners have the responsibility of ensuring user security and privacy. This is the reason why, as a website owner, you should purchase SSL certificate and install it on your website. However, the decision of purchasing an SSL certificate is one that could be a bit confusing because of the availability of different types of SSL certificates. In this section, we will learn more about the different types of SSL certificates.

Extended Validation SSL Certificate

SSL certificates are issued by special bodies called certificate authorities. With Extended Validation SSL certificates, the certificate authority will do thorough research about the requestor of the certificate.

The CA will check all relevant details about the organization to vet it before issuing the certificate. The organization requesting the EV SSL certificate will be required to provide more details to prove that they own the domain and organization. Because the validation period is strict and lengthy, it usually takes days before the EV SSL certificate is issued.

The certificate authority will only issue the EV SSL certificate upon proving the operational existence and location of the organization requesting the certificate and the consistency of the records used to validate the organization. For these reasons, the extended validation SSL certificate is the most secure type from the validation level perspective.

Organization Validation (OV) SSL Certificate

The OV SSL certificate proves that you are the legitimate owner of the domain and also verifies the legitimacy of your organization. The acquisition process of the EV SSL certificates is, to some extent, similar to that of Domain Validated SSL certificates. However, you will have to go the extra mile to prove the validity of your company.

Because of the uncomplexity of the acquisition process, it takes a few hours to days before you receive this type of certificate.

Domain Validated SSL Certificate

To acquire a DV SSL certificate, you will only need to prove that you are the legitimate domain owner. DV SSL certificates are encryption-only certificates. Because they are easy to obtain, you can typically have them running on your website within minutes.

Single-Domain and Wildcard SSL Certificates

SSL certificates can also be classified depending on the number of domains and subdomains they secure. For instance, a single-name SSL certificate will only protect one subdomain. They are a great choice if you need to encrypt a single subdomain you had left out or just included on your website.

Wildcard SSL certificates are one of the best SSL certificates options on the market. They secure both the main domain and an unlimited number of subdomains. So you do not have to go about purchasing single-name SSL certificates for each subdomain. Just a single wildcard will do.

Multi-Domain SSL Certificates

As the name suggests, multi-domain SSL certificates provide encryption to multiple domains and their subdomains. They are also referred to as SAN certificates.

Conclusion

SSL certificates have proved to be reliable partners in website security. Website owners should know how SSL certificates work to ensure the safety of data. This article has explained what SSL certificates are, their role in website security, and some of the types of SSL certificates you should buy.

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