An SSL is vital for small business owners. An SSL certificate will keep your website safe and secure and protect users’ personal information (which is essential in today’s online world). This blog delves into the benefits of SSLs for business websites, the distinct types of SSL on offer, and several ways to obtain these digital certificates,
What is an SSL certificate?
An SSL (Secure Socket Layer) creates a secure and encrypted link between the web server and the web browser. This link safeguards any sensitive data, keeps the internet connection safe and encrypts data transferred that could include personal data and confidential information.
There are two ways in which a user can determine if the site they are on has an SSL certificate:
- A padlock (sometimes that may be a grey or green padlock) will appear in the browser’s window (see the image below).
- URL changes from HTTP to HTTPS (Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure). The S means the website is secure and all information inputted now will be encrypted.
If a message comes up saying “not secure,” then that website has not been validated by a certificate authority, or its certificate has expired. The user would be recommended not to use this website as it is not trusted.
Image credit – LOCALiQ’s ‘about us’ page shows a padlock in the search bar.
SSL certificates have been around for around 25 years and in that time have seen several updates. Today, an SSL certificate can sometimes be called TLS (Transport Layer Security), which is an updated and more secure version of SSL. In fact, when you get an SSL, you are getting TLS, but to avoid confusion, these are still referred to as SSLs.
Did you know that having an SSL certificate helps improve your rankings in search results? Google uses SSL certificates as a ranking factor!
What is a Certificate Authority?
A certificate authority (CA) is an organisation that issues digital certificates. Certificate Authorities perform several key roles in SSLs. They validate, generate, and store SSLs and verify that the business is legitimate.
Several CAs in the UK can provide you with an SSL.
- Comodo SSL
Are there distinct types of SSL certificates?
Yes, three types of SSL certificates are authorised by a Certificate Authority:
- Domain Validated (DV) Certificates – These can be obtained very easily and offer the lowest standard of protection. We recommend these for sites that do not exchange any customer information. For example, read-only blog sites.
- Organisation Validated (OV) Certificates – The Certificate Authority here requires a little more information such as the domain owner, as well as business-related information such as business name and type as well as the physical address. We recommend these for websites that have forms and lead capture capabilities, which don’t exchange customer information.
- Extended Validated (EV) Certificates – The Certificate Authority here requires all the information from the previous 2 certificates as well as the business’s phone number, and registration number and completes a domain fraud check, blacklist check and places a telephone call to the business to confirm authenticity. These have the highest level of security and can handle sensitive information including financial transactions.
How to get an SSL certificate
Sometimes, your web host will be able to issue the certificate and install it for free on your website. However, if that is not possible, there are several steps a website owner needs to undertake to obtain a certificate:
- Make sure your website is registered – Register on a database such as ICANN and that all information contained on it is up to date.
- Determine the type of certificate you need – The three types of certificates are: Domain Validated, Organisation Validated, and Extended Validated.
- Choose a Certificate Authority (CA) – We included 3 in the paragraph above, however, there are many more available online.
- Generate a certificate signing request (CSR) – This file contains information about your website and the type of SSL you require. A private key will be generated at the same time. This should be kept private and preferably on the same server on which the certificate will be issued.
- Submit your CSR to the CA – Depending on the type of certificate you are after; you may need to provide additional information such as proof of domain ownership or even business registration details.
- Verify your identity – Again, depending on the requested certificate, you may need to provide personal identification depending on the type of certificate you applied for. Accepted forms of ID are a driver’s licence or passport.
- Install the SSL – Your web host should be able to provide you with information on how to do this task. SSL certificate installation is not overly complicated; many web hosts have guides on installing it.
- Test the SSL – Make sure that it is working correctly. That includes being able to see the little padlock icon or the website address changes from HTTP to HTTPS.
Do SSL certificates expire?
Yes, an SSL will expire, however, this will be determined by the CA (Certificate Authority) that issued it. The certificate’s expiration date can be anywhere from a month to several years depending on the type of certificate as well as the policies of the CA.
Once an SSL certificate expires, the encryption that was in place between the server and the client is no longer in place, meaning the website is not secure and any users that visit your site will see a security warning such as “not secure” on the webpage. We recommend that you keep a check on the expiration date of your SSL and obtain a new certificate from a CA (this can be a different one than you used previously).
Where can I get a free SSL certificate?
Many sites offer SSL certificates for free. The biggest difference you will notice is that free certificates generally only last 3 months (and you need to re-validate them) whereas paid-for certificates can last up to 2 years. If you keep a diary to remind you to revalidate, then this shouldn’t be an issue. One other thing of note is to check if your certificate offers warranty protection or extended validation (these features are less common on free certificates).
- Let’s Encrypt. This free site allows you to have 50 certificates per registered domain weekly. This non-profit CA works with several different web hosting providers, offering a free SSL.
- SSL.com – Another 3-month plan that you can get for free and works with most browsers.
- Cloudflare – Cloudflare offers a free SSL with the green padlock.
Online SSL certificate checker
There are several online checker tools and all of them offer you the opportunity to check the validity of your SSL certificate as well as diagnose any issues, vulnerabilities, and errors.
- SSL Shopper
- Qualys SSL Labs
- DigiCert SSL Certificate Checker
- SSL Checker by Comodo
- Global Sign SSL Configuration Checker
We hope this blog helped increase your understanding of SSLs. By now you should have a stronger understanding of how SSLs work, the distinct types of certificates, and how to obtain one.
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