Web security is no longer something that you can push to the last of your priorities. According to Symantec Internet Security Threat Report 2016, at least three-quarters of websites have serious vulnerabilities. These vulnerabilities did cost a loss of financial information and personal records in 2015.
The need for end-to-end encryption in websites has become compelling. It is here that the role of an SSL certificate comes into play. An SSL (Secured Sockets Layer) certificate can insulate the connection between a web browser and a web server and prevent any possible leakage of sensitive information. It doubles up as a wall of defense that keeps hackers and snoopers at bay from infiltrating the system.
Given the task that SSL certificates are entrusted with, Certificate Authorities have created several types of certificates each with its own trust level and functionality. Each type has its own native features and functionalities that render useful for specific for some specific websites and inadequate for others. There is no one size fits all kind of SSL certificate.
So how does one select an SSL certificate that can provide hack-proof protection?
We tell you how in the following parts.
Elementary things you need to know about SSL certificates
SSL: Secured Sockets Layer refers to the common standard security protocol that establishes a secured link between browsers and web servers.
Encryption: It is the technique using which data transferred between the browser and the web server is encrypted and decrypted.
CSR: Certificate Signing Request is the application sent from the applicant (the website owner) to the certificate issuing authority (SSL vendor) for an identity certificate.
CA: Certificate Authority is the authority that approves the CSR applied by the applicant (website).
How does SSL work?
- The browser seeks the website digital identity of the web server
- The web server sends encrypted data containing details of the SSL certificate
- The browser checks the authenticity and trust level of the web server with the SSL certificate
- If the trust level is found to be satisfactory, a message is returned to the server
- The server reverts a digital acknowledgment to initiate an SSL-encrypted session
- The HTTPS sign appears on the address bar indicating data sharing between the web browser and the web server
Types of SSL certificates
Broadly, SSL certificates can be categorized as Domain-level certificates and trust-level certificates. Each of them can be further sub-categorized as below:
Domain-level SSL certificates
- Single-Name Certificate
A single-name SSL certificate can be bought to secure just one sub-domain. It will not be of aid to secure any other related domains or subdomains.
- Multiple Sub-Domains
A Multiple sub-domain SSL certificate provides encryption for multiple main domains as well as any number of subdomains attached to it.
- Wildcard certificates
Wildcard certificates offer security for a single domain and any number of subdomains. In other words, they are OV and DV certificates combined together. The only drawback though is that it does not give the EV option.
Trust level SSL certificates
- Organization Validated (OV) Certificates
OV SSL certificates establish the legitimacy of your organization as recognized by a government agency. They are ideal for those websites that want to establish to their visitors that they are indeed owners of the websites and real entities as verified by government agencies. OV SSL certificates can be procured in 1-3 days of time span.
- Domain Validated (DV) Certificates
DV SSL certificates are cheap, can be obtained almost instantly, and give website owners the choice to pick the domain that they wish to secure. DV SSL certificates are an ideal fit for internal websites or small-scale websites that just want to establish domain legitimacy.
- Extended Validation (EV) SSL Certificates
The most elite form of SSL certificates, Extended Validation SSL certificates provide the highest form of web security and transparency. They provide 2048-bit encryption and are denoted by a green address bar with entity details and a green padlock symbol that reassures the safety of transacting with the website.
They are considered to be a standard trait for eCommerce websites, banks, insurance, and financial transactions conducting websites where information shared is of high sensitivity. Since they offer tight security, obtaining an EV SSL certificate takes typically from 3 to 5 days.
Factors to be considered while buying an SSL certificate
The above-described types of SSL certificates would have given you a bird’s eye of which kind of SSL certificate will best suit your website. Here are some other factors, in terms of service that you have to look for before signing the dotted line.
- Speed of issuance
The speed of issuance will vary across SSL certificate providers. The waiting period is for the CA to cross-check your credentials before they can issue the SSL certificate, typically for DV and EV certificates. The shorter the time period you have to wait for your SSL certificate, the better it is.
- Trust seals
A trust seal or a badge is an icon that can be placed on your website proclaiming that your website is protected by the specified SSL encryption. It adds to the trust customers will have on your website.
- Customer support
Like in any other technical product or service, customer support is of utmost importance.
How quickly will the CA respond when your website is facing security issues?
How quick will they be in renewing the certificate when it is close to expiry?
What are the different modes (phone, email, chat) of customer support they offer?
Are they approachable 24/7?
These are some questions worth pondering while reviewing SSL certificate providers.
- Certificate Lifetime
Usually, certificate authorities provide certificates that have a time span of one year. However, for convenience, SSL certificates can be bought from the same CA for 2 or 3 years. The same might come at a concessional price too. Some CAs do allow the user to change or transfer the domain during the first 30 days of the lifetime. So read the terms fully before you make the purchase with a lock-in period during which you cannot change the domain.
So that’s it, folks. We have covered almost everything possible that will help you pick the perfect SSL certificate for your website. Now go on, get the HTTPS badge for your website, boost customer confidence, and stay protected from Internet threats.