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What is an SSL? Why do I need one?

buy a cheap ssl
Picture courtesy of Symantec

What is an SSL & Why do I need one?

SSL Certificates also known as Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) is a security protocol used by Web browsers and Web servers to help users protect their data during transfer.

Now is the time when you need to buy one and have it installed in your website. Google wants the whole Internet to be secured. We agree, but website owners need to understand what this means for them so they can purchase the correct type of SSL.

You should take advice before buying as there are many alternatives.

SSL Certificates are small data files that digitally bind a cryptographic key to an organisation’s details.

In the case of a Web browser, SSL activates the padlock symbol and “HTTPS” and allows secure connections from a Web server to the browser.

SSL is a security protocol that:

  • Protects user data during transfer.
  • Digitally binds a cryptographic key to organisation’s details.
  • Secures credit card transactions, data transfers, logon credentials, and more.
  • Provides authentication of the business and/or domain.

How do SSL Certificates work?

This is the process that happens when browser software encounters a website with SSL:

  1. The browser software (Internet Explorer, Chrome, Safari etc.) attempts to connect to a Website secured with SSL.
  2. The browser requests that the web server identify itself.
  3. The server sends the browser a copy of its SSL Certificate.
  4. The browser software checks whether it trusts the SSL Certificate. If so, it sends a message to the server.
  5. The server sends back a digitally signed acknowledgement to start an SSL encrypted session.
  6. Encrypted data is shared between the browser and the server.

That’s the technical stuff over with.

The bottom line is that Google is on the war path against unsecured websites. Your website can lose its ranking or be flagged as NOT SECURE if you don’t get one installed by your developers.

What sorts of SSL are available?

There are many types of SSL available but for the purposes of this article I will outline the three most commonly used and the types of website that they are most suited for.

  1. Domain Validated (DV) Quick, basic certificates that only need to verify that a person owns the domain they need to protect before being issued.

Used on simple brochure websites that are not one of the main marketing activities of the company. Thawte is a popular provider of these (they have others as well).

  1. Organisation Validated (OV) More robust certificates that require a light company validation before being issued.

More suited to companies whose reputation and brand are important to them. GeoTrust is a good example. (Again all major providers do these types)

  1. Extended Validation (EV) The most premium SSL certificates that require a company to complete an extensive validation process before the certificate is issued.

Ecommerce websites and others who wish to be secured by a recognisable security certificate such as Norton (Symantec). (And you guessed it, the other CA’s – Certificate Authorities – also do these).

I know that there are other providers but I’m trying to keep things simple!

Which is right for you?

That’s not an answer that I can give here as there is a conversation to be had about the most suitable SSL for your business and your business website.

If you want more advice about this rather important development, then please get in touch with us for some free advice. We can even install an SSL into your website if you need one. Call 01746 769612.

SSL Stop press: You now NEED to secure your website.

“from January 2017 Google will penalise websites that do not use a secure connection”

Website security - ssl's
Do you want your website contact form to look like this? Image courtesy of Google.
Q: Why do you need an SSL on your website?
A: Because Google will show your website as NOT SAFE if you don’t.

In June 2016 I wrote a blog article on why you should secure your website. The full article is here: www.clickingmad.com/blog/why-should-your-website-be-secured

Essentially an SSL means that communication between the website you are using and the server it is hosted on is treated as a secure connection. You will have noticed the padlock on shopping websites, for example.

All websites now need securing with an SSL, not just shopping websites.

There has recently been an update by Google.

In an update reported to me today Google has said that from January it will effectively penalise websites that do not use a secure connection.

They now tell us that they expect to be warning users not to use forms on websites that are not secured by an SSL. (SSL stands for secure socket layer) within their Chrome browser. Your website visitor will leave your website if they see this.

You have been warned!

If you want advice on what type of SSL your website needs, then please get in touch with us. All our advice is free.


What is an SSL certificate?

I often have to explain why many websites, particularly ecommerce websites need added security.

I thought therefore that the following extract from our certificate provider Thawte, would be interesting.:

“An SSL certificate is a bit of code on your web server that provides security for online communications. When a web browser contacts your secured web site, the SSL certificate enables an encrypted connection. It’s kind of like sealing a letter in an envelope before sending it through the mail.

SSL certificates also inspire trust because each SSL certificate contains identification information. When you request an SSL certificate, a third party (such as Thawte) verifies your organisation’s information and issues a unique certificate to you with that information. This is known as the authentication process.

For public web sites where customers enter credit cards or other high value information, you need to quickly show users proof of your web site’s identity and encryption. An SSL Web Server Certificate with EV turns the address bar green in high-security browsers and displays your verified organisation name, making it easy for users to trust your site”

In some technical detail (for those of us who are interested!) here is some more stuff…

“What Happens between the Web Browser and Server?
A browser attempts to connect to a web site secured with SSL. The browser requests that the web server identify itself.
The server sends the browser a copy of its SSL certificate.
The browser checks whether it trusts the SSL certificate. If so, it sends a message to the server.
The server sends back a digitally signed acknowledgement to start an SSL encrypted session.
Encrypted data is shared between the browser and the server.

SSL Fundamentals
There are 3 essential elements at work in the process described above: a protocol for communications (SSL), credentials for establishing identity (the SSL certificate), and a third party that vouches for the credentials (the certificate authority).

Computers use protocols to allow different systems to work together. Web servers and web browsers rely on the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) protocol to enable encrypted communications. The browser’s request that the server identify itself is a function of the SSL protocol.
Credentials for establishing identity are common to our everyday lives: a driver’s license, a passport, a company badge. An SSL certificate is a type of digital certificate that serves as a credential in the online world. Each SSL certificate uniquely identifies a specific domain (such as thawte.com) and a web server.
Our trust of a credential depends on our confidence in the organisation that issued it. Certificate authorities have a variety of methods to verify information provided by individuals or organisations. Established certificate authorities, such as Thawte, are well known and trusted by browser vendors. Browsers extend that trust to digital certificates that are verified by the certificate authority.”

I think that covers it lol.

If you have any questions or would like to install some extra security on your website, let us know.