The importance of Web security today can’t be understated. Viruses, malware, hackers and a growing list of cybersecurity threats are increasing both in number and in complexity – and businesses today need to have proper protection in place to prevent data from being intercepted while in transit.
Secure Socket Layer (SSL) is the industry-standard security certificate technology for data encryption when information is requested and communicated between a Web browser and a server. It’s evolved into what is now technically known as Transport Layer Security (TLS), but SSL is still a commonly used acronym in the industry. SSL is designed to provide data privacy by leveraging encryption keys, which prevent information from being transmitted over the Internet as mere plain text – so data like login credentials, credit card numbers and other sensitive information remain protected when being transmitted from point A to point B.
How Does SSL Work?
Asymmetric SSL certificates function using two keys – one public, one private – which work together to ensure data confidentiality. Data that is encrypted using a public key can only be decrypted by its corresponding private key (and vice versa), so that only the intended receiver has access to the data or message being transmitted. This method is often considered more secure than symmetric SSL encryption, in which one shared key is used by both parties to encrypt and decrypt information.
You can quickly identify whether a website you’re visiting has an SSL certificate by looking at your address bar. If the web address begins with https://, the “s” indicates that the connection is secure and an SSL certificate has been found. Many browsers today will also include an icon of a lock or similar visual to identify that the page you’re visiting is secure. Clicking that icon will provide more information about the certificate such as who’s providing it, when it expires, and more.
Regarding user experience, SSL is also an important element in ensuring website users won’t have an issue when trying to access your site. If you’ve ever tried to visit a webpage and have received a warning or error message along the lines of “Are you sure you want to visit this page?”, “This connection is untrusted”, or “There’s a problem with this website’s security certificate”, then your browser was unable to identify or verify a working SSL certificate. It’s worth noting that Google also looks for SSL in its search algorithm, meaning businesses whose websites have a certificate are more likely to appear in organic search results than those without one.
The Business Case for SSL
For businesses, regardless of what you’re selling, encryption is an absolute must-have. It doesn’t look good to have a popup warning be the first thing a user sees when trying to visit your website – especially if you’re a managed IT services provider trying to convince potential customers that you’re a reputable technology provider who keeps client data secure.
It’s not very difficult to get an SSL certificate if you don’t have one; a quick Google search will reveal no shortage of providers at varying price points; it’s also possible to create your own self-signed certificate at no cost. The key is to understand what your security requirements are and just how secure traffic flowing to and from your website needs to be. If you’re an e-commerce site capturing transactional information and credit card data, you’d better have a highly-secure certificate and payment processing technology in place to ensure information can’t be captured or stolen at any point during checkout. If you’re not actually selling anything via the website, you may not need quite as robust an encryption.
To create a certificate, you’ll need to submit a Certificate Signing Request (CSR), which includes information unique to your website such as company name, location and domain, as well as the public key you’ll use for encryption. Once submitted, a Certificate Authority (CA) can review and create your SSL certificate based on the information provided.
SSL/TSL can be a complex technology, but it serves a very important function in website security and data privacy. In order to protect sensitive user data, prevent data interception and ensure users can access your website without issue, it’s critical to take the proper steps to identify what your security and encryption requirements are and to have the right certificate in place.
Learn other website best practices:
- Getting Started with Redesigning Your Website
- Increase Website Conversion with this Go-to Home Page Optimization Guide!
- What Does Your Website Say about You and Your Business?
By Steve Lowing
By Paula Griffin