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What Is An SSL Certificate? Why Is It Important For A Website?

If you own a website or plan to own one in the future, you have probably been told that you will need an SSL certificate. Perhaps you are wondering why you must have one for your website. This article answers the question of what is an SSL certificate and why is it important for the website.

The article also discusses the various types of SSL certificates you can go for. Read on to learn more!

What is an SSL Certificate?

SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer. It is a small cryptographic data file essential in establishing a secure connection between a web server and a web browser. The secure connection safeguards communications and data transferred across the communicating ends.

When an SSL certificate is installed on a website, it initiates the HTTPS protocol. When a website user connects to an HTTPS website, an encryption session is initiated. Through this session, all data is converted from normal plaintext format to ciphertext. A ciphertext is simply an undecipherable data format that cannot be comprehended by humans or machines. This is why all HTTPS websites are deemed to be secure while their HTTP counterparts are vulnerable to attacks.

For a hacker, it is pointless to intercept an encrypted communication as they won’t be able to understand it. 

Types of SSL certificates

SSL certificates come in different types. While each type plays the same encryption role, they are suitable for different website features. The certificates usually fall under two umbrellas: validation level and number of domains covered. Under the validation level, the certificates can be grouped into three: (domain validation, organization validation, and extended validation). On the number of domains covered, the certificates can either be a single domain, wildcard, or multi-domain. Let us look at each of the types and see which websites are most suitable for each of them.

Domain Validated (DV) SSL Certificates

The domain validation certificates offer the lowest level of validation. All one needs to do to acquire one is to prove they own the domain for which they are requesting the certificate. It is the quickest certificate you can receive. Usually, the party requesting the certificate can have the certificate within seconds or minutes. They are also among the most cost-effective options on the market. DV SSL certificates are suitable for small blogs or websites that do not transact or collect a lot of sensitive data.

Organization Validated (OV) SSL Certificates

With the organization-validated SSL certificate, the website owner will have to undergo a somewhat rigorous validation process. Apart from proving domain ownership, the website owner will have to provide further information to prove the legitimacy and authenticity of the organization. This information is usually embedded in the HTTPS status on the address bar. OV SSL certificates are suitable for commercial and public-facing websites. 

Extended Validation (EV) SSL Certificates

EV SSL certificate is the highest-ranking and most costly SSL certificate on the market. To set up this certificate, the website owner usually undergoes a rigorous validation process. They must provide all relevant material and information to prove they are legally authorized for the exclusive rights of the domain. Extended validation SSL certificates are suitable for high-profile websites, financial institutions, medical websites, eCommerce stores, and all other websites that collect sensitive user data.

Single Domain SSL Certificates

A single-domain SSL certificate is what the name suggests. It covers one domain and one domain only. It cannot cover any other domain or subdomain for the domain to which it is issued.

Please note that a single domain certificate will secure all pages on the main domain. For example, if example.com is covered by a single domain SSL certificate, then example.com/learning will also be secured

Wildcard SSL Certificates

A wildcard SSL certificate will protect the main domain and all other subdomains that fall under the main domain. For instance, if www.example.com has subdomains such as blog.example.com or support.example.com, then all these subdomains will be covered under the single wildcard certificate. 

In other words, you do not need to purchase individual certificates for all the other subdomains. And if you decide to add more subdomains in the future, all the additional subdomains will be covered too. Having a wildcard SSL certificate is among the most cost-effective certificate options you can go for. 

Multi-Domain SSL Certificates 

A multi-domain SSL certificate covers multiple domains. With this certificate, domains that are not subdomains of each other can share a single SSL certificate. 

Comparing SSL Certificate Usage

Here is a grid to compare the usage of different SSL certificate types.

SSL CERTIFICATE TYPEUSAGEIDEAL FOR 
Domain Validated (DV)Basic security, quick issuanceSmall businesses, personal websites
Organization Validated (OV)Enhanced trust, organizational identity verificationBusiness and e-commerce websites
Extended Validation (EV)Highest trust level, rigorous validationFinancial institutions, large e-commerce sites
Wildcard SSLSecures one domain and unlimited subdomainsBusinesses with multiple subdomains
Multi-Domain SSL (MDC)Secures multiple domains and subdomainsOrganizations with diverse web properties
Single Domain SSLSecures one specific domain or subdomainSmall businesses, personal websites

Why SSL certificate is important for the website?

We have already seen that an SSL certificate plays a significant role in website security. But is there any other thing a website will benefit by installing an SSL certificate? Here are some of the benefits of having an SSL certificate on a website. 

Data Encryption

Data encryption is the most obvious one. When an SSL certificate is installed on a website, it initiates encrypted sessions. Encryption ensures that hackers cannot intercept the communication that happens between web servers and web browsers. Through SSL certificates, information such as credit card details, health records, social security numbers, and others are protected from attackers. With the rising cases of attacks, website owners are left with no option but to install the certificates. 

Trust and Credibility

Modern-day website visitors have become more cautious and vigilant. They know how insecure the internet is and they do their due diligence to ensure their browsing is as safe as it can be. Part of their due diligence is ascertaining whether or not a website they are about to visit has an SSL certificate. Website users are more likely to trust a website that has an SSL certificate. And they know what to look for to filter SSL websites from non-SSL websites. They usually look at the padlock icon and the HTTPS status. If the address bar has a padlock icon and the URL address starts with HTTPS, they know the website is secure. However, if the URL starts with HTTP, that is a clear indicator that the website is insecure.

Additionally, during SSL issuance, the certificate authority usually attaches pertinent details about the website and the organization behind the website. Such details include their official name and address. Website visitors can easily access these details by clicking on HTTPS. Such information helps them ensure they do not visit doppelganger websites that masquerade as legitimate ones but with ill motives of stealing from them. 

SEO Benefits

Looking to boost your visibility in search engine results pages? Try installing an SSL certificate. Google uses the HTTPS factor as one of the ranking factors. It also uses it as a tie-breaker in the situation where two or more websites have equaled all other ranking factors. If you visit any search results from Google, you will notice that most top pages are dominated by HTTPS websites. So, if you want to join the bandwagon of websites that perform well in search engines, buy an SSL certificate.

Authentication

SSL helps to verify the authenticity of a website. During SSL acquisition, websites undergo rigorous validation to ascertain their authenticity. The information is attached to the certificate and web visitors can see it. Such information assures visitors that they are communicating with a legitimate website and not an imposter. 

Regulatory Compliance

SSL helps to meet industry regulations and standards. Such regulations include the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). These regulations require websites to have SSL certificates to operate. Having an SSL certificate will help you comply with these regulations and stay away from penalties and fines that come with nonregulation.

Enhanced Customer Experience

Users want a secure and frictionless experience. They do not want to browse for fear of being hacked just because they are visiting an HTTP website. Make your site safe and give users confidence while browsing through the site. It just takes the SSL certificate.

Conclusion

You now understand what an SSL certificate is and what it is used for. You also know the different types of SSL certificates and some of the uses of the certificate. It is now time to go ahead and install one on your website for the sake of your site's security and that of the users. Do not wait any longer. The longer you wait, the more vulnerable you become to data breaches.

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