What is SSL, and why is it so important?
A Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) is an essential technology for protecting your web traffic – but it can be a bit of a mystery if you don’t know the basics.
As a web hosting expert with years of experience, I know the importance and value of SSL.
SSL allows users to log into websites securely, enables businesses to process e-commerce safely, and provides assurance that your data remains private.
In this ultimate guide to What SSL is, I’ll share my knowledge of how SSL works and how you can use it to ensure your website is safe and secure.
So, What is SSL?
A secure Sockets Layer (SSL) is an encryption protocol that provides secure communication between two systems, usually a web server and a client.
SSL enables the transfer of confidential data through the internet, ensuring that third parties cannot access or tamper with the transmitted information.
SSL is essential for ensuring that your web traffic remains private and secure and is the cornerstone of a secure website.
Websites that use SSL have the prefix “https” instead of the standard “HTTP,” providing an additional layer of security and privacy.
What is an SSL Certificate?
An SSL certificate is a small data file that digitally binds a cryptographic key to an organization’s details.
When installed on a web server, it activates the padlock and the https protocol (over port 443), allowing secure connections from a web server to a browser.
Millions of websites use SSL certificates to protect online transactions with HTTPS. They also provide authentication for the website, as they contain information that verifies the website owner’s identity and indicates the connection is secure.
Types of SSL Certificates
There are several types of SSL certificates, depending on your needs.
Each type offers different levels of validation and encryption strength.
Let’s look at the most commonly used SSL certificates so you can decide which one best suits your needs.
A single-domain SSL certificate is a digital certificate that provides encryption and authentication for one website or domain.
It’s the most basic website security certificate, offering visitors the lowest assurance that your site is secure.
Single-domain SSL certificates are used by small businesses and personal websites that don’t need extra validation or encryption.
They are usually the most economical option for securing a single website.
A wildcard SSL certificate is a digital certificate that provides encryption and authentication for one website with multiple subdomains.
This certificate covers all levels of your domain, from the main domain to any number of its subdomains. It assures visitors that their data will remain secure on your site.
Larger businesses with multiple subdomains typically use Wildcard SSL certificates, as they offer a more cost-effective solution than buying individual certificates for each domain.
A multi-domain SSL certificate is a digital certificate that provides encryption and authentication for multiple domains or websites.
This certificate allows you to secure multiple websites or domains from a single point, making it an ideal choice for businesses that need to protect various sites.
Multi-domain certificates also offer visitors the highest level of assurance that their data will remain safe and secure on your website.
Validation Levels for SSL
When deciding on an SSL certificate, you must consider the level of validation you need.
Different levels of validation can be used to ensure you have a secure and trustworthy website.
The most common levels of validation include:
- Domain Validation (DV)
- Organization Validation (OV)
- and Extended Validation (EV)
Each type of validation provides a different level of assurance to visitors that they can trust your website. Consider one or more of these validation levels, depending on your needs.
Domain Validation (DV) is a validation process that verifies the applicant has complete control over the domain they are applying for.
It usually involves confirming ownership by sending an email or document to the administrative contact in the domain’s WHOIS record.
Options for domain validation include:
- Email Validation
- HTTP/HTTPS File Validation
- DNS Validation
Once completed, the certificate authority will issue an SSL certificate with Domain Validation (DV). This type of validation is necessary to secure a website and provides the lowest assurance that a website is legitimate.
Organization Validation (OV) is a type of validation process that verifies the identity and legitimacy of an organization by verifying its legal existence.
It requires more in-depth authentication than Domain Validation (DV) and can include checking public records, Articles of Incorporation, or other documents to confirm the company’s identity.
OV gives visitors a higher assurance that the website is legitimate and trustworthy.
Extended Validation (EV) is a validation process requiring additional steps to authenticate an organization.
It involves verifying the businesses:
- legal identity,
- operational existence
- and physical address
EV is the most secure validation type, as it assures visitors that a website is legit and trustworthy.
How does SSL Work?
Understanding how SSL works is essential when choosing the right type of certificate.
Once you establish what kind of validation level you need for your website, you can begin understanding the basics of SSL.
The TLS Handshake is the foundation of any secure connection over the internet.
It is a process in which two computers exchange keys and agree upon an encryption algorithm to use, allowing them to communicate securely.
This handshake involves several steps, including:
- key exchange
- and data encryption.
This data exchange happens quickly and without manual intervention, making it an effective form of security.
The TLS Handshake ensures that all data transmitted between the two computers is encrypted, protecting it from potential attackers.
It assures users that their information will remain safe and private when using a website or other online services.
Session keys are used to further secure a TLS handshake. Session keys are randomly generated and unique data strings that are only used once during the session.
Session keys provide an extra layer of security as they can only be decrypted by the two computers participating in the exchange, preventing malicious actors from accessing encrypted data.
For added security, session keys are regularly renewed during a TLS handshake so that attackers cannot intercept the same key to access confidential information multiple times.
Using session keys helps ensure your website is secure for visitors and helps protect your valuable data from malicious actors.
Encryption is the process of encoding data using an algorithm to make it unreadable to anyone except those with access to a decryption key.
Encryption works by transforming plain text into ciphertext, which can only be read by those with the key to decrypt it.
Encryption is used in many secure networks, including SSL, to protect sensitive information like passwords and credit card numbers from malicious actors.
Data is an essential element of any secure connection over the internet.
In the context of SSL, data refers to information sent back and forth between two computers secured with an SSL certificate.
This data can include:
- email addresses
- phone numbers
- credit card numbers
- and other sensitive information
Encrypting this data with SSL ensures that it remains safe and secure.
SSL helps to protect data integrity by:
- authenticating the sender’s identity
- verifying the message content
- and encrypting the message so that only authorized recipients can read it.
Without SSL encryption, any sensitive information sent over the internet is vulnerable to interception and misuse. Therefore, ensuring that your website has a valid SSL certificate is essential to keep your users’ data safe.
What is TLS?
TLS (Transport Layer Security) is a cryptographic protocol that provides secure communications over the internet.
TLS is used to authenticate, encrypt and ensure data integrity for data transmitted between two computers.
How Does TLS Work?
TLS works by using an authentication process to verify the identity of both sender and recipient before allowing them to communicate.
After authentication, encryption can prevent malicious actors from intercepting and decrypting your data.
TLS also uses session keys to ensure each transmission is unique and secure, even if the same key is used multiple times during a communication session.
Ultimately, TLS provides a secure way of exchanging sensitive information over the internet.
Symmetric and Asymmetric Cryptography
Symmetric and asymmetric cryptography are two methods of encryption used to secure data transmitted over the internet.
- Symmetric cryptography uses a single shared key to encrypt and decrypt data.
- Asymmetric cryptography uses two separate keys — a public key and a private key — to secure data.
- The public key is used to encrypt data
- The private key is used to decrypt it
Both encryption methods are essential to securing data when using SSL or TLS; however, each has its advantages and disadvantages.
- Symmetric cryptography is much faster than asymmetric cryptography, but it requires both parties to access the shared key for it to work.
- Asymmetric cryptography is slower but more secure since only the recipient can access their private key.
Ultimately, both methods are essential to using SSL or TLS to secure data over the internet.
Public Keys and Private Keys
Public and private keys are two components of asymmetric cryptography used to secure data sent over the internet.
- A public key is a long string of characters that is used to encrypt data before it is sent,
- A private key is a different set of characters that can decrypt data after receiving it.
- Public keys are typically shared publicly.
- Private keys are kept secret to ensure only the intended recipient can access the data.
Both keys are essential to ensuring secure communications between two computers. They allow the sender to prove their identity and encrypt data before sending it and the recipient to decrypt data after receiving it.
Together, public and private keys provide a secure way of exchanging sensitive information over the internet.
Are SSL and TLS the Same Thing?
Although these protocols are closely related, it’s important to remember that they are distinct, and both play critical roles in online security.
- SSL, released in 1995, was the first cryptographic protocol designed to protect the confidentiality and integrity of data transferred across the internet.
- It was initially developed by Netscape to communicate credit card information over the web securely.
- SSL is the direct predecessor of TLS.
In 1999, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) proposed an upgrade to SSL, with minor changes leading to what we now know as TLS.
Despite some similar features and slight differences between SSL 3.0 and the first version of TLS, the name change was applied mainly to signify the change in ownership from Netscape to IETF.
Do You Need a Dedicated IP to use SSL or TLS?
You do not need a dedicated IP address to use SSL or TLS.
SSL and TLS can be used with shared hosting plans, which allows multiple websites to share the same IP address.
However, it is essential to remember that if one website on the shared server gets compromised, it can affect all other websites using the same IP address.
It is recommended that websites requiring high levels of security use a dedicated IP address. This ensures that no other website can access or share the same IP address and can reduce the risk of data being compromised.
Using SSL or TLS with a dedicated IP address effectively keeps your data safe and secure over the internet.
What is the Current Version of SSL/TLS?
The current SSL/TLS is TLS 1.3, released in August 2018 and is now supported by most web browsers.
TLS 1.3 introduces several new features that make it more secure than previous protocol versions, such as improved encryption algorithms and better protection against replay attacks. It also offers better performance, which is especially beneficial for mobile users.
What Port is Recommended for SSL/TLS?
The most commonly used port for SSL/TLS is 443.
This is the default port for HTTPS connections and should be used whenever possible to ensure compatibility with all web browsers and devices.
You can also use other ports, such as 8443, which may cause issues with web browsers or devices that may not support non-standard ports.
Using port 443 is always recommended to ensure maximum compatibility and security.
Is SSL Good for
Google has stated that using SSL can improve your website’s rankings in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
This is because sites with an SSL certificate are seen as more secure and trustworthy by Google, which may lead to higher rankings in the SERPs.
How to Obtain an SSL Certificate
An SSL certificate can be obtained from a trusted Certificate Authority (CA).
Typically, you must provide the CA with proof of your domain name ownership and other information that verifies your identity. Once this is done, the CA will issue an SSL certificate for your website, allowing you to enable HTTPS connections.
Most of this happens with your hosting provider of choice when you sign up. Almost all of them (or all of them) offer SSL.
SSL is an essential component of online security; every business should implement it on its website.
SSL provides encryption, authentication, and integrity to protect your data from malicious actors while improving
By understanding what SSL is, how it works, and its benefits, you can ensure that you have taken the necessary steps to protect your website and visitors.
Are you ready to get started with SSL? What steps will you take to make sure your website is secure? Let us know in the comments!