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What is an SSL certificate and why should I use it?

Have you wondered why some URLs start with “http://” and others with “https://”?  You have probably stumble upon those two types of URLs when you are searching on the internet. For example when you enter Facebook’s page and their URL starts with “https://” and other sites start with no “s” – “http://”.

And why does that extra “s” appear, where does it come from and what does it actually mean?

To make it short and simple, the extra “s” means that your connection to the given website is secure and encrypted, which means that every data you enter is safely protected. The feature that empowers that little “s” is called SSL and stands for “Secure Sockets Layer”. 

This article will cover what SSL is, why it is needed and how you can use it. To give you a brief understanding of what SSL is and why you need it.

What is SSL?

“SSL is a security technology that is used for establishing an encrypted link between a web server and a browser (Chrome, Firefox, Edge, etc.). The link ensures that all the data that is shared between the web server and browser remain private and secured”. 

That is basically what SSL is and now let us break it down step by step. 

So when you enter a website where you have to enter some private information, the information can be hacked and used for other purposes than intended, if the website you entered is unsecured. 

Your entered information could be anything from your bank detail to high-level information you register for purchases or something else. And these informations could be attacked and the way a hacker can intercept your information, is by placing a small undetected program on the server hosting a website. 

The program is waiting in the background until you type information on the website, then it will start seizing the information for the hacker. And this attack will not be captured, because the website is an “http://” URL.

Opposing when you visit a website that is encrypted with SSL, your internet browser will make a connection with the website’s server, recognize the SSL certificate, and then attach the browser and the server together. This attachment is secure so only you and the website have access to your information.

Overall the connection happens instantly and is secured. Simply, just make sure to visit a website with SSL. 

Now you know what SSL is, but how can you use it for your business’ website, and what are the benefits for having SSL  integrated with your website. 

Actually it pretty easy, you just have to follow some simple steps:

  1. Buy a SSL certificate – link til emnet
  2. Activate the certificate – link til emnet
  3. Install the certificate – link til emnet
  4. Update your site to use “Https”

I will break the steps down and explain them one by one. But I will first introduce what an SSL certificate is, how SSL certificates work and why it’s needed. 

What is and why do I need an SSL certificate ?

What is an SSL certificate?

An SSL certificate is a code on your web server that provides secured communication between the server and a web browser. The SSL certificate activates an encrypted connection, when a web browser tries to enter your website. 

Basically SSL certificates connect a domain-, server – or hostname and are installed onto your webserver to create secure connections to web browsers, by securing all web traffic between the server and browser. 

And when you have a certificate installed on your server the HTTP will change to HTTPS.

And that is what an SSL certificate is, but how does an SSL certificate actually work? Continue reading and the answer will be clear. 

How does SSL certificate work?

SSL certificates work using Public Key Cryptography (PKC), which is an encryption technique that pairs a public and private key algorithm for secure data communication. So to make it more simple, it means that PKC is used to encrypt a message and then the message gets decrypted by the private key.  

To make it more simple, it means if you (the sender) sent me (the recipient) a message, it will be locked with my PKC, and the only way it can be decrypted is to unlock it with my private key. And I am the only one who has my private key, which means it only me that can unlock your message. This means if a hacker intercepts the message before I unlock it, they get a cryptographic code that they cannot break.

A website works the same way because the communication happens between a server and a website, which are you and me in the example. 

Why an SSL certificate is needed?

SSL is needed to keep sensitive information such as credit card information, usernames, passwords etc. sent on the internet encrypted, so only you and the intended recipient can access it.

That means an SSL certificate is important because the information you send on the internet travel from computer to computer to land on the destination server. 

All this information in between you and the server can be seen by any computer if the information is not encrypted. And by using an SSL certificate the information becomes unreadable for anyone other than the recipient, which protects it from hackers. 

Basically an SSL certificate keeps your website secured for hackers, which keeps your customers´ or visitors’ personal information private.

Where can I buy an SSL certificate?

You can buy an SSL certificate from many Certificate Authorities (CA). The prices are very different from a CA to another. (Insert an affiliate link here)

But you can also find free SSL certificates on the internet. I will cover the difference between the free SSL certificates and the paid ones below. 

What is the difference between free and paid SSL certificates?

Actually, there are not many differences between free and paid SSL certificates. Many of the CA does not like to share this information but from an encryption point of view. every SSL certificate does exactly the same. 

Therefore you do not get better encryption from paid SSL certificates than from free SSL certificates. The encryption strength actually comes from browser or system configurations on your and the server configurations site side. That means if you install many thousands worth SSL certificate or a free one, your website visitors will the same protection. 

Now you are thinking, why not choose a free SSL certificate?

And the answer is if you know that your website and the server configurations are strong enough, then free SSL is great for you. Though there are some parties that should not be using free SSL. 

Some of these could be, Enterprise Companies, Government websites, E-commerce, etc. 

The reason is that even the encryption is the same for all SSL certificates, there still is some valuable differences. 

One of the differences is that free SSL certificates only authenticates the domain it is issued, which can invalid the websites the visitor does not know who is running the business, which can be harmful for your business.  

Whit paid SSL certificates your website gets validated and provides the visitor with verified details. And that alone makes the visitor safer because both your website and company are validated by CA. 

Another reason is that free CAs often lack support apparatus, while when you pay for an SLL certificate support is available if you should need it. SSL is complex and there are chances for something that could go wrong and it takes a lot of time to fix it. And all this can be avoided by buying an SSL certificate and have 24/7 support available. So why not rather use your time for something that benefits your business

Overall it depends on you and if you are technical enough to manage free SSL if something goes bad. Also paid SSL certificates can last for long as two years before renewal. While for the most free ones have a short time of validity, around max 3 months or less. 

How to install the certificate?

(Svaret skal komme i første sætning efter spørgsmålet, kan umiddelbart ikke se svaret)?
When you install your SSL certification it is important to do it right. Because of the SSL certificate is not installed correctly, your website will be open to various attacks such as malware, Hackers, etc.  

Also, sites as Google has made it mandatory for a website to have an SSL certificate installed, otherwise browsers like Firefox, Chrome, etc. will warn the users about your sites is not secured, that will be bad for business. 

So once you have bought your SSL certificate, make sure to complete the following process before installing it on your website:

  • Generating CSR
  • Save Private key & CSR
  • Validating your Domain
  • Document validation (Only for EV & OV customers)
  • SSL Issuance
  • Download SSL Certificate Files

Once the steps above are completed your SSL certificate will be issued. The next step is to follow the installation guide from the CA you have chosen. 

Conclusion

SSL is essential for security of your website and it protects your sensitive information on its journey across the internet. Even your company does not deal with sensitive information like credit cards and personal information, it provides privacy for both your websites and the visitors’ personal information, and also the websites will not be flagged as unprotected for a visitor, which could be bad for your websites. 

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