An SSL (Secure Socket Layers) certificate is one of the crucial methods of keeping data protected while it travels on the internet. It acts as a backbone of the secure internet that we, the internet users, get to enjoy in the modern-day.
Before SSL certificates were introduced, the data traveling on the internet was exposed for anyone to see and collect as they see fit. With SSL, this data is encrypted and protected. Today, we would talk more about;
- what is an SSL certificate
- what it does
- why it is critical for your website
- how to get an SSL certificate
- how to install SSL certificate
- how much does an SSL certificate cost
With that in mind, let’s start from the beginning.
What is an SSL Certificate?
In essence, an SSL certificate is a digital certificate that websites use for encrypting connections and proving that they are authentic and trustworthy. They are small data files, that are being used to bind a cryptographic key to traveling information.
SSL certificates can be activated on web servers, which enables https protocol, and ensures that data traveling between the web server and a browser is protected and safe.
Originally, SSL certificates were imagined as a way of protecting only the most sensitive data — such as credit card numbers, logins, data transfers, and alike.
However, in recent years, they pretty much became the norm when it comes to safe internet browsing, and most legitimate websites have them these days.
Some of them got it to protect their users, while others did it because Google favored sites that have them installed, and eventually, a safer version of the internet was created.
Why Is the SSL Certificate Important?
As mentioned, the SSL certificate has several uses these days, but it all revolves around protecting internet users and their data. When you build your website, you must include an SSL certificate.
We have already explained how it encrypts traveling information as it moves across the internet. When protected by SSL, only the intended recipient can see this information. For anyone else, it is completely unreadable, which protects it from hackers, identity thieves, intelligence agencies, and others who would harness it.
Another reason why SSL certificates are important is the fact that they provide authentication to websites. In other words, confirming that the site uses SSL means that you can be sure that your data is reaching the right server and that it is not being stolen by someone who is trying to impersonate the service you are using.
This is important because the internet is brimming with fake websites that are used for phishing attacks. SSL providers, who issue SSL certificates, are only allowing trusted companies to implement them into their websites.
These companies and websites have gone through multiple identity checks, and so if the site is using SSL, you can be sure that it is trustworthy.
How to Make Sure that the Website Uses SSL?
The easiest way to ensure whether or not a website you are using has an SSL certificate installed is to check your browser’s address bar. Modern browsers are designed to provide visual proof that the site is protected by displaying a lock icon next to the site’s address, in the address bar.
Depending on the browser, the padlock may be missing, but the browser may mark the site as safe by painting the address bar green. Finally, you can also ensure that the website is safe by checking out the address itself. If the address has https:// in front of it, you can be sure that it is protected by an SSL certificate.
If the address only has http://, that is a clear sign that the site is not protected, and using it could lead to the loss of valuable data. You should never use sites like these for anything involving sensitive info, such as credit card numbers, login credentials, or anything else, in order to remain safe.
Always remember to check your browser before using any website, as the lack of HTTPS might mean that you are trying to log into a phishing website — a fake site created by hackers, which has a single purpose of stealing your information.
On the other hand, if you are creating your own website for your business, you need to know that you cannot receive PCI (Payment Card Industry) compliance unless you have SSL enabled.
In other words, you need to fulfill SSL requirements to get the certificate, which is further required for PCI compliance. And PCI compliance itself is needed in order for you to be allowed to accept credit card information on your site.
Does SSL Have Any Disadvantages?
So far, we have covered numerous reasons why having SSL on your website, or the website you are visiting, is a good idea. But, are there any disadvantages to it?
Unfortunately, there are.
However, that doesn’t change the fact that you need to have it in order for your website to be considered legitimate.
Besides, the disadvantages are not really that severe, and the advantages outweigh them by far. Even so, there are a few things that you should be aware of.
For example, the cost is one of them, as SSL providers need to set up a trusted infrastructure. They need to validate your identity, which means that you will have to pay for their service.
However, due to the fact that there are multiple SSL providers, and that they can be quite competitive, the cost is likely not going to be that big.
Another potential downside to using SSL is performance. As mentioned, all of the data traveling in and out of web servers need to be encrypted. If you are a business owner, this means that you will need more resources in order for things to go smoothly.
Possible performance issues will only be noticeable on websites that see huge amounts of traffic, and such websites typically can afford to pay for extra resources.
As for smaller businesses, fewer visitors result in fewer data that needs encrypting at the same time, so performance tends to suffer less as a result.
Where to Buy an SSL Certificate?
As mentioned, there are quite a few SSL certificate providers that you can turn to in order to buy the certificate. However, before you do so, you need to ensure that you have chosen the right service.
As always, not all of them are the same, and this can be a rather competitive area.
SSL providers may not only differ when it comes to price but also numerous other aspects, including:
- Length of the trial period
- Browser compatibility
- Trust level type
- Trust site seal
- Issuance timeframe
- Warranty policy
- Refund policy
- Customer support
With that in mind, some of the top SSL certificate providers that you may want to check out include:
How to Install SSL Certificate to Your Site?
Lastly, we should explain how to install an SSL to your own website. The setup process is rather simple, and it only revolves around a few steps that you need to follow.
After that, your site will be perfectly safe and capable of protecting your users from having their data exposed to online threats.
Better yet, Google will notice that your site has SSL enabled, and it will help you rank higher during searches. So, here is what you need to do.
1) Get a Dedicated IP Address
The first step is also one of the most important ones, and it requires you to ensure that you have a dedicated IP address for your website.
Many smaller hosting plans only offer shared IPs, where many websites share the same location. This will not do for adding SSL, as all of the user data will be stored on the same server, where other website owners may be able to access it.
In other words, you need to ensure that you have your own, dedicated address.
2) Buy SSL Certificate
Next, you need to decide which SSL provider you wish to go with, and buy SSL from them. You can choose one of the providers mentioned above, or you can explore the market and choose another provider that you like, the choice is yours.
3) Activate the Certificate
Your next step will be the activation of the certificate. Depending on which web host you use, they may even do this for you, so you do not have to do it yourself. If you are unsure whether or not your web host might take matters into their own hands, it is best that you check, as not doing so may lead to complications.
On the other hand, if you are certain that you need to activate the certificate yourself, you will need to start by generating a CSR. You can do this within your web hosting control panel.
Simply go to the SSL/TLS admin area.
Go to ‘Generate an SSL certificate and Signing Request’. You will need to enter some information in several boxes, but it should not take a lot of time to do it.
Once you get to ‘Host to make cert for,’ you should know that that is your domain name. After that, you will be brought to a new page with a block of text. Copy it, as this is your new CSR, and you will need to provide it to the SSL issuer, which they will use to verify your identity.
Simply log in to your account at your SSL provider, and activate it. Paste the CSR in any field where it is necessary, and note that you will need to add an approver email, which will prove that you are the domain owner in the future. This is also the email where the final certificate will be delivered.
4) Install SSL
This is another step that your web host may or may not do for you, so you should, once again, check with them what happens next.
But, if you need to do it yourself — don’t worry, this is pretty much the easiest step. At this point, you should already have your certificate that should have arrived via email.
Simply go to the SSL/TSL menu, paste it into your web host control panel’s designated box, and install it.
5) Update Your Website
All that remains is for you to update your website’s links and change them from HTTP to HTTPS.
The fact that your website now has protection will mean little if your visitors keep going to the HTTP version of your site. Keep in mind that you do not have to update all pages, and in most cases, your login or cart checkout should be all that you need to protect. However, if you wish to be extra safe, you can, of course, update them all and ensure your users’ security.
Using an SSL certificate on your website is a great way to protect your users’ sensitive information from theft. Meanwhile, if you are a site user, you should make sure that any website, or websites’ pages in which you plan to enter some sensitive information, has SSL installed.
It is easy to check thanks to multiple visual cues that your browser will provide, and if they are not there — it means that the site is not safe. SSL became a common way to protect traveling data online, so make sure to use it and protect yourself, as well as your visitors, if you have your own website.
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