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Browsing the Internet can be scary when personal information is involved. Information like passwords, credit card numbers, social security numbers, and the like.

A lot can be done with this information once it’s known, which is what attracts hackers to online stores, banking websites and social networks.

But there are defenses put into place to protect the user from having their information stolen. One such method of defense is an SSL (Secure Socket Layer) certificate What Is a Website Security Certificate and Why Should You Care? What Is a Website Security Certificate and Why Should You Care? Read More .

What is an SSL Certificate?

An SSL certificate is a digital certificate that can be purchased by organizations or individuals and allows for a secure connection between a web server and a browser. It does this by binding a cryptographic key to the details of an organization.

Ssl_com_ev_uc_certificate

The certificates contain information about the name of the certificate holder, the certificates serial number and expiration date, a copy of the certificate holder’s public key, and the digital signature of the certificate-issuing authority. This authenticates the website, proving that it really is the website it claims to be and not hackers posing as that website.

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A website with an SSL certificate will have HTTPS in the URL, which is a combination of HTTP and SSL.

What is it Used For?

SSL certificates are used to keep the connection between a server and client, typically a web server and a browser or a mail server and a mail client, secure and private. It authenticates the identity of the website and encrypts the information using SSL technology. When sending information across the web, it is transmitted from computer to computer, making it vulnerable to hackers or anyone who wants to intercept it.

SSL_Certificate_Info_Box_In_Firefox

An SSL certificate ensures a secure browsing session with encryption. This means that users can input personal information or even credit card numbers into a website and send that information digitally without having to worry about it being intercepted by crackers or hackers, ensuring that only the intended recipient can read and understand what has been sent.

Who Would Use One?

Online banking websites, certain social networks, email services, and anyone who needs to provide secure browsing sessions for their users will implement the use of SSL certificates. Having an SSL certificate shows customers and Internet users that your website can be trusted.

Firefox_3x_rc1_Extended_Validation_SSL_address_bar_and_certificate_detail

SSL certificates exist for websites such as Facebook, Gmail, Twitter, and WordPress, as well as Bank of America, Etsy, Storenvy, and more, because they all deal with sensitive personal information.

Do I Need One?

That depends. If you host a web server where people are sending and receiving information which may be sensitive, like credit card numbers How To Keep Your Credit Cards Safe When Shopping Online How To Keep Your Credit Cards Safe When Shopping Online Read More , using an SSL certificate may be for the best. As mentioned before, having an SSL certificate shows your users that your site is trustworthy. Of course, just using a certificate doesn’t exclude your site from attacks, so it is still up to the user to remain vigilant.

How Do I Get One?

It’s best to take some steps first before ordering your SSL certificate, to make the process easier on you. First, get your server set up How To Set Up An Apache Web Server In 3 Easy Steps How To Set Up An Apache Web Server In 3 Easy Steps Whatever the reason is, you may at some point want to get a web server going. Whether you want to give yourself remote access to certain pages or services, you want to get a community... Read More and your WHOIS report updated. Then, generate a CSR on the server, or a Certificate Signing Request, which is a block of encrypted text on the server, containing information that will eventually be put into the certificate and submitted the CSR to the Certificate Authority, a third party offering the certificate, along with any other info they request. Make sure you have a unique IP for the server. Your domain can then be validated, and if your CSR is accepted, you’ll receive a certificate to install onto your server.

The price of SSL certificates can vary. There are ways, of course, ways to get free SSL certificates How To Get Your Very Own Free SSL Certificate How To Get Your Very Own Free SSL Certificate Read More , but more often than not you’ll end up having to pay for a certificate. GoDaddy offers SSL certificates for as low as $55.99, as does Digicert for anywhere from $175 to $595 for a one-year certificate.

Conclusion

It’s difficult to trust a website without an SSL certificate, and I wouldn’t recommend giving any sensitive personal information to such a website. If you have a large website, and deal with personal information of your users, I do recommend that you invest in an SSL certificate. Your users will appreciate it.

Have you obtained an SSL certificate before? What was your experience with it? Leave a comment below and tell me about it!

  1. M Durio
    February 28, 2015 at 10:16 pm

    My understanding, usefulness aside, is that SSL certificates are not hard to hack and are routinely *being* hacked. So, then what does one do?

    • pceasies
      March 8, 2015 at 5:13 pm

      That's not true. Hackers aren't breaking SSL/TLS connections, they are finding flaws in the way servers are setup and common programs that allow them to steal certificates and use them to decrypt the information. For instance, if you're on open WiFi, you should always be using secured versions of sites to prevent snooping/injection of information since that's trivially hard to do.

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