What Is SSL & How To Add an SSL Certificate to a Website
If you are building a website, you need to learn what an SSL certificate is and how to apply it to your website. Discover how these three simple letters can change your business site.
If you operate your business online, you must prepare for potential cyberattack exposure. That’s the not-so-fun part of running a business website. Fortunately, you can mitigate the risk of hackers accessing sensitive data with the help of an encryption protocol called the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL). To enable this security measure, you need to know how to add an SSL certificate to a website.
With an SSL certificate in place, you can rest assured that the sensitive information shared between your website and visitors remains confidential and tamper-proof. So, let’s explore what an SSL certificate is, how SSL certificates work and how to acquire one for your business website.
What is an SSL certificate?
SSL certificates are digital credentials that verify a website’s authenticity and ensure a level of user data security thanks to an encryption protocol. SSL was first created in 1995 and morphed into Transport Layer Security (TLS) in 1999. Despite this, the term SSL is still commonly used to refer to both SSL and TLS protocols.
The Secure Sockets Layer is the security protocol that establishes a secure and encrypted link/connection between a user’s web browser and the website’s hosting server. Strong encryption algorithms ensure that the private data transferred between these two points remains confidential and cannot be easily intercepted or deciphered by cyberattackers.
When you add an SSL certificate to your website, the HTTPS:// prefix is added to your web address. The S in HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) is what represents your SSL/TLS certificate. Also visible in the browser address bar is a padlock icon. These visual markers – the prefix and the padlock – denote enhanced website security, reassuring users that they are interacting with a legitimate and secure website.
Types of SSL certificates
There are three main types of SSL certificates. They are issued based on the extent of validation and information verified by the certificate provider.
- Domain Validated certificates: DV certificates are the most basic SSL certificates due to the quick validation process. Getting this certificate requires only domain validation by the Certification Authority (CA). You do not have to verify additional information about your business or organization. This certificate type is common with blogs, personal websites and other information websites that do not collect sensitive customer data or facilitate online transactions. Most free SSL certificates are usually DV certificates.
- Organization Validated certificates: Obtaining an OV certificate requires a higher level of validation than domain-validated certificates. Aside from verifying domain ownership, you must also prove your business is legitimate. The certificate issuer checks to confirm your organization’s name, physical address and other pertinent details relating to your website’s identity. Users can view business information on SSL sites with OV certificates by clicking the green lock icon in their browser’s address bar.
- Extended Validation certificates: EVs are digital certificates that require the highest level of verification and authentication. Websites that use an EV SSL certificate usually handle sensitive customer information, manage confidential user data or facilitate online payments. Extended validation certificates are normally used by ecommerce websites, financial institution websites or membership platforms.
There are other types of SSL certificates, classified according to their scope of coverage.
- Wildcard SSL Certificates: These certificates allow for installation on a main domain and multiple sub-domains. For businesses with complex domain structures, a wildcard certificate offers a convenient and cost-effective way to provide security across the board.
- Multi-Domain SSL Certificates: Multi-domain certificates secure multiple domain names and sub-domains with a single certificate. They are ideal for businesses that manage multiple websites or online services.
- Single-domain SSL Certificates: As the name suggests, these certificates secure a single domain name. They’re suitable for smaller websites or specific projects.
How does an SSL certificate work and why is it important?
When visitors access your site, their browsers activate a verification and encryption process to establish a secure connection using the SSL.
The verification process begins with the user’s browser sending a certificate request to the server of your web host. The server responds by sending its SSL certificate containing the public key and domain information. After validating the certificate’s authenticity, the browser generates a session key – a unique encryption key for secure communication with the web server.
The browser encrypts this session key with the web server’s public key (from the SSL certificate) and sends it back to the same server. This ensures that only the web server, with its corresponding private key, can decrypt the session key.
With the session key exchanged and validated, a secure connection is established between the user’s browser and the web server. Any data transmitted between the two is now encrypted and secured.
The work of SSL certificates extends beyond ensuring that your website has its traffic encrypted and the website’s security is in effect. They can also influence conversions. Many browsers now issue a red alert when users attempt to access a website without this certificate.
In conclusion, an SSL certificate assures people that your site is genuine and their data is secure. Only then can they feel safe and engage with your business.
Certificate Authority (CA) and Certificate Signing Request (CSR)
A Certificate Authority is a trusted third-party organization authorized to verify ownership of your website and issue your SSL certificate. To apply for an SSL certificate, you must generate a Certificate Signing Request from the server of your hosting provider and submit it to the CA.
A CSR is a cryptographic file that contains your website’s public key and other identifying information about your business. Once you submit the CSR to a trusted CA, they use it to validate your domain ownership and organizational details before issuing an SSL certificate.
4 important reasons your small business website needs an SSL certificate
Here are four top reasons why you need to install an SSL certificate on your website.
- Data protection: Through data encryption, an SSL certificate ensures that sensitive information your users share with you remains private and secure. This shields both you and your customers from potential data breaches caused by cyberattackers.
- Trust building: When your site has an SSL certificate, the user’s browser displays the padlock symbol next to the HTTPS web address. Many internet users automatically trust HTTPS websites as the prefix is a strong indicator of a secure and trustworthy website. This instills confidence that they can engage with your site without security or privacy concerns.
- Search engine optimization: Google’s search algorithm uses HTTPS as a ranking signal. This means having an SSL certificate can boost your chances of ranking higher in the search results as well.
- Legal compliance: Depending on your location and the nature of your business, certain regulations may require you to keep user data secure with SSL encryption. An SSL certificate helps you meet these legal obligations, preventing potential fines or legal issues.
How to add an SSL certificate to your server
If you manage your own servers and want to manually install an SSL certificate, here’s an overview of the steps you need to take.
1. Review website information
Before obtaining an SSL certificate, you must make sure the information you provided during your domain name registration is correct and up to date. Otherwise, you could encounter problems with the Certificate Authority during the verification process.
Make sure your organization’s name, physical address and contact details are accurate. If there is any discrepancy, you can contact your domain registrar and make updates.
2. Decide on the certificate type
The next step is to pick the certificate type that aligns with your needs. Depending on the certificate you choose, the level of validation required will differ. DV SSL certificates verify only domain ownership, while OV and EV SSL certificates require more comprehensive verification of your organization’s identity and legitimacy.
You should also determine the scope of coverage when selecting a certificate type. You can use a single-domain SSL certificate on one domain, a wildcard SSL certificate on multiple sub-domains and a multi-domain SSL certificate on various domains.
3. Choose a Certificate Authority
Certificate Authorities are responsible for issuing SSL certificates. Selecting a trusted CA for this purpose is important. Ideally, your chosen Certificate Authority should fit your budget, offer the type of certificate you need and be well-recognized by popular web browsers.
4. Submit a CSR and complete the process
After completing the steps above, generate a CSR on your server and submit it to a chosen CA. The process of creating a CSR varies depending on the server type that hosts your website.
Here are comprehensive guides for generating CSRs on the following servers: Microsoft IIS Server, Microsoft Exchange Server, Apache Server (OpenSSL), Tomcat Server (Keytool) and Microsoft Lync.
The CA will use your CSR to validate your domain and issue the SSL certificate. Once validated, the CA will provide your SSL certificate files, including private key and intermediate certificates. You normally receive these in a .zip file archive.
Download the files and configure the certificate on your website server. Finally, test various web browsers to check if your website is secured with SSL. The padlock icon and HTTPS prefix should display next to your URL in the address bar.
SSL certificates for WAcademy websites
For many website owners, the technical complexities of manually adding SSL certificates can be daunting. Fortunately, most hosting providers take care of SSL certificate setups. So, depending on your host, you probably can get a free SSL certificate and have it set up for you.
All WAcademy clients who use our free web design services can also get a free SSL certificate, courtesy of our hosting partner, Getspace. This hosting provider also ensures professional WordPress hosting, data backup, professional email inboxes, Elementor Pro license and other benefits.
Our free web design project scope excludes hosting, domain name registration and related fees. However, our partnership with Getspace enables access to a comprehensive hosting package that includes your own SSL certificate.
FAQ about SSL certificates
What is a primary certificate?
Once your certificate is ready to download, you should find an intermediate certificate, a root certificate and a primary certificate. These are all different files that make up your certificate.
What is a Certificate Authority’s digital signature?
This signature in your certificate is proof of verification by CA. The certificate is signed with a private key and is verified by a corresponding public key.
What is an SSL manager?
An SSL manager is an SSL certificate management tool or service that simplifies the management, deployment and maintenance of certificates across web servers, applications and the network.
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