Every time you use a website, say you press a button, fill a form or log in to an account, the website communicates with a web server miles away. The web server processes this data and gives the required response as the situation may be.
Someone can attempt to intercept the data while in transit from the browser to the server, and it can get ugly when data such as login details, credit card details, and other confidential documents are involved.
In this article, you’ll get to have an understanding of SSL certificates. SSL certificates are one of the ways to keep the transportation of data entirely secure.
What is an SSL Certificate?
SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer. SSL is a global security standard used to secure communication between web servers and browsers. It ensures that the transfer of data is secure and used by a lot of online businesses to improve security measures.
It is necessary for businesses that deal with sensitive data such as credit card numbers, emails, passwords, usernames, etc. to implement SSL on their sites.
How does it work?
In summary, SSL Certificates make use of Public Key Cryptography. Public Key Cryptography involves the use of two different cryptographic keys: a public and a private key.
The public key helps with encryption while the private key helps with decryption. The server shares the public key with any browser that receives the SSL certificate on visiting the site.
The public and private keys are different keys, and the browser cannot use one in place of the other. But both have something in common: the data encrypted with a public key can only be decrypted with its private key.
When the browser or client can establish a connection between the public and private keys, a secure connection is established.
Types of SSL Certificates
There are different types of SSL certificates, with groups based on the level of validation, but the level of validation is not the only way for classifying SSL certificates. SSL certificates can also be classified based on the number of domain names.
There are three types of SSL certificates when considering the number of domain names. They are:
- Single SSL Certificate: This covers one fully qualified domain name or subdomain name.
- Wildcard SSL Certificate: This covers one domain name and an unlimited number of subdomains.
- Multi-Domain SSL Certificate: This is used to secure multiple domains.
There are two types of SSL certificates when considering the level of validation. They are:
- Domain Validated (DV) SSL Certificate
- Organization Validated (OV) SSL Certificate
- Extended Validation (EV) SSL Certificate
Domain validated (DV) SSL Certificate:
This is only checks for ownership of the site and does not require any information about the organization, but one should be wary of websites with DV certificates. Websites with DV certificates have the lowest level of trust and are used by cybercriminals to make sites look more secure than are.
Organization Validated (OV) SSL Certificate:
Before this is issued, some details about the organization has to be verified, like its name, address and domain ownership (as seen with DV certificates).
OV certificates have a reasonable level of trust and can be used by public-facing websites with less sensitive transactions.
Extended Validation (EV) SSL Certificate:
This has the highest level of security and requires an in-depth review of the applicant. The review process includes the examination of corporate documents, confirmation of applicant identity, and checking the information with a third-party database.
The EV SSL certificate is the easiest of the three to identify by visitors of the website, and it’s a must-have for companies that handle sensitive information or transactions. A padlock with the name of the company in green would be found in the URL box of the browser when such sites are visited.
What Sites Need an SSL Certificate?
Websites that receive, transfer, store, process or collect sensitive data, need an SSL certificate.
Examples of such data are usernames and passwords, medical records, proprietary information, legal documents, financial information such as credit card details, bank accounts and personal information such as names, emails, address, birth dates, etc.
Going by the examples above, e-commerce, social media, and fintech websites and other similar sites should have an SSL certificate. Otherwise, transactions carried out on these websites would be unsafe.
Recognizing a website with an SSL Certificate
There are about four visual clues that alert a user to the presence of an SSL certificate.
- HTTPS as URL prefix instead of HTTP (the ‘s’ stands for secure).
- A padlock at the leftmost part of the URL box.
- A trust seal.
- A green address bar with the companies name (usually comes with an EV SSL certificate).
It’s essential to be on the lookout for all these clues as they would tell you about the security level of the websites you visit.
Most importantly, only perform transactions or provide your data on websites with EV and OV SSL certificates. Of course, this doesn’t mean sites with DV certificates can’t serve legitimate purposes.