In early 2022, my friend and I decided to take our businesses online. I created a website, furnished it with pomp and color, and bought an SSL certificate for the website. It took me a few weeks to have my website ready. My friend, on the other hand, chose a different direction. He contacted a random website developer he had found online, who built his website and had it running within hours.
However, a few months later, my friend complained that the website was not yielding the rewards he had anticipated. So, I scrutinized his website quickly and found many issues of concern. The top of them was that the website did not have an SSL certificate. Surprisingly, the owner knew nothing about SSL certificates and their purpose on websites like hers. Therefore, I have crafted these postings for people like my friend who need to know about SSL certificates. The article will provide information on everything you must know about SSL certificates.
What is an SSL Certificate?
Let us start by answering the most obvious yet vital question- What is an SSL certificate? Most IT security experts say that the SSL certificate is the mainstay of web application security. This statement holds true from all angles. In a simple definition, an SSL certificate is a digital certificate used in the identification of a website’s identity and in initiating encrypted sessions to allow safe internet connections.
In the age where we exchange a lot of information on the internet and data breaches are surging day and night, a tool to protect sensitive data from security vulnerabilities is of great essence. And that is exactly what an SSL certificate ensures.
How Does an SSL Certificate Work for Web Applications
But how does an SSL certificate work to ensure website security? I am one hundred per cent sure you have interacted with SSL certificates on several occasions. You have undoubtedly come across websites starting with HTTPS and others starting with HTTP. Whereas the difference looks like a simple letter S, the letter carries a great magnitude. The S in HTTPS means security.
Does that mean that HTTPS websites are insecure, and HTTP are insecure? YES.
And what is the implication of SSL certificates in HTTP/HTTPS? First, note that the SSL certificate converts HTTP to HTTPS. Upon installation of an SSL certificate, the HTTPS protocol is initiated. All data transfers via the HTTPS protocol are encrypted. In layman’s terms, all information shared via HTTPS is converted into an indecipherable format called a ciphertext rather than transferred to its original plaintext format. It would be useless for an attacker to intercept encrypted information since they will not find anything of value from it. Only the intended recipient can decrypt the information from its ciphertext format to the plaintext format.
Why Is SSL Essential for A Web Application
Does an SSL certificate play any other role other than offering web security? Yes, although web application security is the main objective of the SSL certificate, the certificate plays other roles. This section will explore the purposes of an SSL certificate. We will start with the most obvious- web application security.
1. An SSL Certificate Enhances Website Security
Website security threats are a real menace in the modern world. We hear them each day in the news. The burden of ensuring website security lies with web admins and application developers. SSL certificates have established themselves as perfect solutions to solve website security threats.
Website owners have warmly embraced SSL certificates, which explains why there are nearly 205 million SSL certificates on the internet. Websites that deal with sensitive user data, such as credit card and debit card details, health records, and personal information, must buy and install SSL certificates. The certificate will help protect such information against man-in-the-middle attacks and other cybersecurity vulnerabilities.
2. SSL Certificate has SEO Benefits
Before we go further with the benefit of SSL certificates on SEO, let us look at the following stats;
The two stats tell us that search engines and users alike prefer to use HTTPS sites over HTTP sites. A quick rundown on any search on Google chrome will deliver HTTPS results on almost all the top search engine results pages. Why is that so?
Search engines use several algorithms when ranking websites in their search engines. The HTTP/HTTPS status is one of the factors used by search engines when ranking sites. The logic is that whereas search engines want to enhance user security, they cannot directly impact web admins to install security measures on their websites. Since website owners value visibility, Google and other search engines will try to spark website security by rewarding secure websites with high rankings than insecure websites.
HTTPS is a tiebreaker when two or more web pages have equalled all ranking factors. The 2015 rank correlation study by Moz concluded that HTTPS has a slightly positive correlation with high ranking in the search engine results pages. In a nutshell, if you intend to improve your rankings and visibility in search engine results pages, you should buy and install an SSL certificate on your website.
3. It establishes a brand as Genuine and Trustworthy
Trust is one of the most significant assets and success determinants, especially for eCommerce websites. If you fail to earn the trust of your potential visitors, you can as well forget about conversion rates and lead generations. There are many ways to earn trust, and one of them is having an SSL certificate. The SSL certificate proves that you and your website are genuine. But why should a visitor trust you because your website has an SSL certificate?
So much goes into the acquisition of an SSL certificate. The certificate authority (organization issuing the certificate) will have to validate your authenticity and validity. If the CA has a reason to believe that the person requesting the certificate is not what they say, the CA will not issue the certificate. In other words, the certificate authority validates the website’s authenticity on behalf of website users. As a result, users are more inclined to trust such websites.
Website visitors are also more likely to trust websites that show concern about their security. One trust indicator the users will be looking at is the presence of HTTPS status in the URL and a padlock symbol next to the URL address, proof of the existence of an SSL certificate.
4. SSL certificate Helps to Boost Website Speeds
There was a fallacy in the earlier and Middle Ages of SSL certificates that the certificates could reduce the website loading speeds. But time has proved that that was a mere myth. Instead, HTTPS plays a significant role in enhancing the loading speeds of a website. Faster loading speeds contribute to enhanced website performance and increased visibility in search engines and help you with digital marketing.
5. SSL Certificate Enhances User Experience
Users often see error messages such as “Not Secure,” indicating they are visiting insecure websites. Such error messages are usually associated with HTTP websites and can hinder a flawless user experience.
Secondly, users are usually not so comfortable with HTTP websites. They often worry about their security and the security of data they share with such websites. Installing an SSL certificate on your website eliminates fear and worry and enhances the user experience. This holds much weight for eCommerce websites since a customer will not be afraid to pay for their purchase. Therefore, if you wish to improve your website visitor experience, consider buying and installing an SSL certificate on the website.
Types Of SSL Certificates
Not all SSL certificates are the same. Different types of SSL certificates have different features. SSL certificates can be categorized based on two approaches. The number of domains and subdomains and the validation type.
SSL Certificates Based on Number of Domains
- Single Domain SSL Certificate- for securing a single domain and subdomain
- Wildcard SSL certificate- For securing the primary domain and unlimited number of subdomains. Few low priced or cheap yet famous wildcard SSL certificates include AlphaSSL wildcard, Comodo Wildcard SSL, cheap PositiveSSL Wildcard, Sectigo Wildcard SSL, etc.
- Multi-Domain SSL Certificate- For securing multiple domains, including top-level domains and subdomains.
- Unified Communication Certificates (UCC)- Originally designed to secure Microsoft exchange servers. They can be used to secure multiple domains on a single certificate
SSL Certificates Based on Type of Validation
- Domain Validated (DV) certificates- Minimal validation process and are issued within minutes. DV certificates are suitable for small blog websites.
- Organization Validated (OV) Certificates involve an intensive validation process before they can be issued and take several hours to be issued. Therefore, OV certificates are suitable for securing sensitive information.
- Extended Validated (EV) Certificates- Extended validation SSL certificates offer the highest security assurance. A thorough validation process is involved when issuing EV certificates. They are suitable for big brands that contain a lot of sensitive data.
How to SSL secure your web app
Certificate authorities are the organization concerned with the issuance of SSL certificates. You might need to meet various requirements before receiving the certificate. Once you get an SSL certificate, you must follow the instructions sent together with the certificate to install and configure it on your website.
Who Uses SSL?
A simple answer to this question is EVERYONE. Yes, everyone who has a website and values the security of the website must have an SSL certificate. However, the choice to have or not to have an SSL certificate end when receiving or collecting sensitive information and processing payments on a website becomes mandatory. In addition, regulations such as PCI-DSS and GDPR require a website to have an SSL certificate. Where such requirements confine your entity, you have no choice but to acquire the SSL certificate.
To Sum It Up
The SSL certificate is the cornerstone of web application security. It also plays other roles, as has been elaborated in this article. The article has touched on all pertinent aspects you must know about SSL certificates, such as what they are, how they work, the types of SSL certificates, and the benefits of SSL certificates.