SSL Certificate: How It Works, Types & Buying Guide

The Internet is continuously evolving, it is estimated that there are over 1.5 billion websites in the world. Among these 644 million websites are active. With this massive number of websites, cyber crimes are also ever-increasing. According to Dr. Michael McGuire, a senior lecturer in Criminology at the University of Surrey, the total cybercrime revenues sum up to $1.5 Trillion.

These statistics bring forth to us the importance of keeping our website secure. One of the most fundamental security measures to take is, changing all HTTP links in the website to HTTPS. HTTPS means secure HTTP. This is achieved by encrypting the website using an SSL certificate. There are both paid as well as free SSL certificates.

sites without ssl shown as not secure

Encrypting websites has become so inevitable now, as Google regards websites with an SSL certificate to be safer and ranks them higher. Besides this, from July 2018 onwards, Google started flagging sites without an SSL certificate as “Not Secure”. Let’s now discuss SSL Certificate in more detail.

What is an SSL Certificate?

https as seen on browser

SSL certificates are digital signatures that encrypt the communication between your computer and the website. They can otherwise be seen as an online ID card that proves the identity of an organization.

When you sent data across the web, it passes through many computers before it finally reaches the destined server. If your browser makes the page request using HTTP, then the data will be travelling in a clear text format. That is not a safe way to transmit data, especially when handling sensitive information like credit card or login details. It is the SSL certificate, that activates the HTTPS protocol and the padlock.

For example, assume that you have registered a new domain to trade guitars online. In this case, it is essential to encrypt all your e-commerce transactions, to provide your customers with a safe shopping environment. This can boost customer confidence and increase your sales.

How SSL works?

SSL certificates are issued by the Certificate Authority, after researching and reviewing the company’s paperwork. SSL along with confirming the identity of the organization also encrypts the data that flows to and from the website.

To explain the working of SSL, let us take an example. Suppose that Mary wants to purchase a guitar from your online store. Two computers will be involved in this process, Mary’s computer and the server hosting your site. When Mary’s computer connects to your website, it will detect the SSL certificate and confirms the website’s identity with the Certificate Authority. If everything goes on well, a connection, commonly referred to as a handshake, will be established between the computers.

SSL certificate working infographic

After making the handshake, the computers will decide upon the type of encryption to be used, based on the type of SSL certificate used on your website. After this, data starts to flow back and forth between the two computers. When data is sent from one computer it is encrypted to a scrambled text. As the data reaches the recipient computer it is decrypted back to the original text. Mary can now place her order securely by using her credit card.

Types of SSL Certificates

SSL certificates can be classified on the basis of Validation level and Certificate Functionality.

SSL Classification Based on Certificate Functionality

  1. Single Domain (can be used only on a single domain)
  2. Wildcard (can be used for a domain and its unlimited subdomains)

SSL Classification Based on Validation Level

  1. Domain Validation SSL
  2. Business Validation SSL
  3. Extended Validation SSL

1. Domain Validation SSL (DV SSL)

domain validation ssl on browser

DV SSL is the lowest level of SSL validation and also the cheapest SSL type. This type of validation is used mainly for blogs, entertainment websites, or information sites. Setting up DV SSL is a fast process, and is issued to you within a matter of three minutes. Plus, they don’t ask you to submit your company details or paperwork. Here, the website owner is only asked to verify their domain ownership. For verification, you will be sent a verification email and will be asked to respond to it. A green padlock will be added to your address bar after you complete the process.

2. Business Validation SSL (BV SSL)

A Business Validation SSL is typically used to validate companies and business organizations. In this case, the certification authority will ask you to provide the company details for verification. This three-phase process requires you to prove your domain ownership, verify your company, and it also includes a callback process. The Certification Authority will then check for the domain ownership and validity of the documents submitted. The certificate will be issued to you within one to three days after completing the verification process. You will get a green padlock added to your address bar. Besides this, the certificate will also contain your organization’s name and location.

3. Extended Validation SSL (EV SSL)

extended validation ev ssl as seen on browser

EV SSL is the most trusted and most secure SSL validation. The validation process takes some time, and you will be asked to forward some documents, verify your company, verify your domain ownership, and there will also be a callback process. The EV SSL certificate will be issued to you in two to seven days once you complete the process. They validate the domain ownership, the physical location, and the legal existence of your company. A green padlock and your company name will be added to your address bar, establishing brand trust.

SSL Buying Guide

Things to remember when purchasing an SSL certificate:

  • Decide the purpose of your website before choosing the SSL type. For example, if you are running personal blogs or sites for entertainment, which require no personal data, it is advisable to choose a domain validation certificate. 
  • If you accept credit cards for your online business, you must have a minimum of 128-bit encryption.

Questions to Ask While Purchasing an SSL

  1. What information are you expected to provide?
  2. Whether the certificate renews automatically?
  3. Amount of time needed to install SSL.
  4. Do they provide reliable customer support?

The transition from HTTP to HTTPS through SSL certificates is a fundamental step in ensuring data integrity and user trust. Beyond mere encryption, SSL certificates validate the identity of organizations, instilling confidence in visitors and positively influencing search engine rankings. Ultimately, embracing SSL not only fortifies a website’s security but also contributes to a safer online ecosystem for users worldwide.

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