The internet is abuzz with a technical term—the SSL certificate. There was a time when financial websites were the only ones that used this.
But now, everybody is being required to do it. Today, Google Chrome is not going to allow its users to visit a website that has no SSL certificate.
Today, I will discuss:
- What Is an SSL Certificate?
- How Do SSL Certificates Work?
- HTTPS Versus SSL
- TLS Versus SSL
- Levels of SSL Certificates
- Reasons Why You Need an SSL Certificate
- The Cost of SSL Certificates
By the end of this tutorial, you should be able to understand what makes an SSL Certificate an important aspect of your website. You will also know where to buy them and how much they cost.
What Is an SSL Certificate?
SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer. It is a kind of computer technology that secures the internet connection between users. The main job of the secure sockets layer is to provide encryption. It “hides” the information that is being exchanged between two users.
If the information is encrypted, you prevent the occurrence of data theft or hacking. And even if the information is stolen, the hacker will not be able to read the data.
Because encryption is a process where the information is jumbled. To be able to decode it, the computer needs a key. The thing is that the key is impossible to get.
The SSL connection happens between two types of systems. For example, you have a browser, and you are connecting to a website server. In this case, the SSL starts working the moment the browser connects to the website server.
During this connection, data travels between the two systems. It is during this data transfer that information becomes vulnerable. If somebody from the outside gets to read this information, your privacy and security are compromised.
In the past, only banks and other financial institutions used SSL. But over the years, there have been many data breaches that happened. This prompted many big companies like Google, web hosting service providers, and even web-builders to require SSL.
How Do SSL Certificates Work?
To further understand why you need SSL, you need to know how it works.
SSL mainly operates as a gatekeeper between your website and a user’s browser. It is a widely used technology whose main function is encryption. Apart from that, it also prevents cybercriminals from getting traffic to your website and then diverting them to another website—their website.
SSL works because all internet browsers are built to be able to communicate with the SSL encryption technology.
The first step to make it work is to install the SSL into your website server. Then, the following steps happen.
- The customer uses a browser to access your website
- Your website server presents the SSL certificate
- The browser validates the SSL certificate; if the certificate is valid, the secure data transfer can start
All of these take place in milliseconds. Once the validation is complete, your customer can now put his password in the browser. This password—and all data—are encrypted. Even if somebody manages to intercept that information while the transfer is happening between your computer and browser, he cannot decode it.
HTTPS Versus SSL
Once your website server has SSL, your official URL will now display HTTPS instead of HTTP only. HTTP means hypertext transfer protocol, and the letter “S” means secure.
HTTP refers to a protocol for the internet. It is the language or program that allows browsers to know that it is browsing an internet page. Without security, the browser can still read the content of what your web server is giving out, but it is not secure.
Today, if you go to a browser, you will see a padlock on the left side of the URL, which indicates that the website is secure.
If you click on that padlock, you will see the details of the SSL Certificate., like the example below for an affordable freelance writer.
TLS Versus SSL
Now, there is a new technology called TLS. It stands for Transport Layer Security. It is still SSL but on steroids. In short, it is a kind of SSL security that has been upgraded.
Both SSL and TLS are cryptographic technologies. They encrypt data transfer to prevent a data breach, hacking, and data theft. They both authenticate the website before the browser can show details about it.
TLS is more secure than SSL, but it is not widely used yet. Like SSL before, the companies that use this advanced kind of encryption technology are those that are most vulnerable like credit card companies, banks, and payment processing systems.
Today, you should not really worry about not having TLS. SSL should suffice if you want your website to be secure. Remember, both are still SSL, but TLS is the more modern version.
Levels of SSL Certificates
Now, let us take a look at the different levels of SSL. Currently, there are two. These are domain validation and organization validation.
- Domain Validation – this is proof of ownership of a domain. What does this mean? It means that the owner of the domain is a real person or organization, that the owners can be traced and that they are not fake entities. This is the basic form of SSL. It is important because if a person can be identified, he can be liable if something goes wrong.
Now, if you are operating an e-commerce website, you need a higher level of validation, which we will discuss next.
- Organization Validation – this is a kind of certificate that allows you to prove that you own your domain name, plus the fact that your company is a registered business. This one is important to e-commerce operators because it tells users that they are credible—that they are a legitimate business.
If you are a blogger, the only SSL Certificate you need for now is domain validation. You will only need the second level once you have registered your business.
Reasons Why You Need an SSL Certificate
So, why do you need an SSL Certificate if you are not a financial institution? Below are some of the most important reasons.
We will go through each one, and help you understand the severity of the risk of running a website with no SSL.
1. Data Protection
SSL is an encryption process. It encrypts data that passes through between your website and your site visitor’s browser. As such, its main function is to protect data.
Here are some examples:
- Billing addresses
- Credit card numbers
- Emails and passwords
How does this help? If your website visitor’s information is hacked, you will be held responsible. If a hacker knows the credit card details of your user, he can use it to make purchases online.
In essence, the SSL Certificate is there to provide server and client data integrity and protection. What happens during the communication process is that all information is locked. Only your website, and the user’s browser, have the keys to unlock the data.
In an encrypted website, no one else has the power to unlock the encrypted information. As such, you can protect yourself and your consumers from hackers who are trying to steal valuable information.
Just imagine if you are operating a store, and if a hacker was able to sniff and record all the credit card information that passed through your website—he could spend money from their cards, and you are to blame for this!
2. Identity Affirmation
If your website has SSL, it means that you are a real person, not some make-believe individual created by hackers.
The SSL Certificate is proof that your identity is real—that your domain name provider and web hosting company has done its job validating your existence.
Now, how does this help in real life?
The last thing that a consumer wants is to send money to a person who is not real. If your website is secure, you can ask consumers to pay you via your website.
Your SSL is an indication that you are a real person, and that if anything goes wrong, they can file a complaint to the proper authorities and look for you.
You see, you will go through a validation process before you can install an SSL Certificate. For one, the web hosting company is going to validate your credit card is legitimate.
This validation process is done by a third-party provider, and it is called a Certificate Authority. In big business, you will have to submit your business registration papers to prove that your company is real.
You will only be issued SSL if your identity has been proven to be real.
3. Search Engine Optimization
We all want search engines to love us. This is why we make great content all the time. The problem is that no matter how great your content is, the search engines will not recommend your page if your website is not secure.
Because the companies that operate search engines want their users to have the best experience.
And the safest experience.
In 2014, Google updated its algorithm. From that year forward, it provided a better favorable ranking to websites that are encrypted or those that have SSL. SEO experts from around the world noticed this, and the most notable was Brian Dean.
Brian Dean is the founder of Backlinko, a website that deals with search engine optimization. In his study, he was able to prove that websites with HTTPS have better rankings than those that do not.
Why is this necessary?
As you can see, people will only use Google search if it gives the users valuable information. If Google search recommends websites that are not secure, its users may move to another search engine, like Yahoo! or Bing.
To ensure that consumers are protected, Google had to up the ante and rank down websites that do not have SSL.
4. Government Compliance
There are several laws governing online payments. For one, there is the PCI/DDS standard. What this means is that if you are charging money via credit cards, you are liable if anything goes wrong. It is your responsibility to ensure that the customer’s private information is protected.
Payment Card Industry compliance is mandatory. There is no escaping it. This is not just applicable to credit card companies but also to all companies that process credit card information.
Now, SSL is one of the requirements to become PCI compliant. If you have no SSL, you are putting your customers at grave risk.
5. Website Credibility
The last reason why you need SSL is credibility. There are websites that do not have SSL, and yet they are accessible. The problem with websites like this is that once a customer notices this, he is going to leave.
It is also not worth the risk. In 2018, Google made it mandatory for websites to have SSL. The Google Chrome browser is not going to let you access a website that has no SSL.
Why is this happening?
Because the internet landscape has changed, as information becomes easily accessible, more and more people are learning how to hack computers, and as the number of people who hack increases, more people become victims of data and identify theft.
In some cases, some websites may slip through the cracks—you can still access the website even with no SSL, but this is not something that you want to risk.
Because of the data breaches that happened in the past, many companies now require SSL. Today, all browsers will issue the user a warning that the website is not secure. The browser is going to ask the user if he wants to proceed.
Naturally, this is scary. If a user is warned about a website not being secure, even if it is not a hacking site or a malicious site, the user is not likely going to continue.
Below is an example of a website that is not secure:
You can still access it, and you can see that the website looks legit. But because it is not secure, it is susceptible to hacking and data theft.
The Cost of an SSL Certificate
How much does an SSL Certificate Cost?
It depends. Different SSL Certificate providers offer the service at different price points.
Let us take a look at a few of them.
- Thawte – this company sells several types of SSL Certificates. The first option you have is called Thawte SSL for $149 per year, the second one is Web Server SSL for $249 per year, and the last is called Web Server EV SSL for $599 per year.
The company has other types, too, and these are high-level products that cost either $639 or $699. These encryption technologies are either 128-bit to 256-bit encryption. So, why are they expensive? Because they come at a warranty that can cover damages up to $500,000.
- VeriSign – you surely have heard about this company. It is one of the biggest providers of computer technology security in the world. The security seals you get from VeriSign are branded as Norton.
It offers four types of SSL Certificates.
- Secure Site – costs $399 per year
- Wildcard – costs $1,999 per year
- Pro – costs $995 per year
- EV Site – costs $995 per year
The encryption level is between 40 and 256-bit. If you want something higher, you need a different package called Pro EV SSL. This one costs $1,499 per year, and it comes with either 128-bit or 256-bit encryption.
- GeoTrust – the last on my list is GeoTrust, which offers several types of SSL packages.
- True Business ID with EV – costs $299 per year
- True Business ID – $199 per year
- True Business Wildcard – $499 per year
- QuickSSL Premium – costs $149 per year
Now, you do not really have to buy any of these. Many web hosting service providers include free SSL provided that you are subscribed to a hosting plan. Even website builders like Shopify offer free SSL.
SSL today is no longer an option but a mandatory necessity. You will lose traffic if you do not have SSL.
As I mentioned earlier, many browsers now issue a warning to the user if the site is not secure, and a potential site visitor may get spooked.
The worst thing that can happen is you lose a sale if you are operating an e-commerce store.
Why? Because if your website does not use encryption, it’ll be easy to hack it and intercept data that goes between your website and the user’s browser, such as credit card numbers, billing addresses, and passwords.
If your website is not yet secured, you had better get an SSL Certificate now.
You have to contact your web hosting provider and ask how you can get one. Surely, they have something free or something affordable to offer. All you need to do next is to activate it.
Again, there is no need to buy expensive SSL Certificates. These things are usually free. Only buy expensive SSL Certificates once your business has grown.
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