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What is SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) and How Does it Work? 

November 24, 2022
Author: Hamster, www.hostens.com

Data thefts are increasingly frequent events that are usually caused by individuals with access to database servers, computers, and devices that are supposed to store personal data. But it is not just people with granted access to the above kinds of machines which can commit the crime of data theft. And today’s world, where almost everything now takes place on the Internet, is more vulnerable to data stealing than ever before in history.

Malicious software, hacker attacks, and other types of cyber crimes are the modern niches for wrongdoers, whether they are petty impostors or organized criminal individuals. That is the reason why every website owner should know how to resist data thefts and prevent the website’s inside from being illegally accessed. This is why the Secure Socket Layer (SSL) was invented in the mid-90s of the past century.  

During the months of July, August, and September of 2022, approximately 15 million data breaches affected internet users around the world. And this is quite more, actually, with the stunning 167% up, compared to the months of April, May, and June of the same year. For that reason, data security on the Internet is among the major problems that website holders should consider nowadays to protect the privacy of their own and their online guests. 

For nearly three decades, websites have been using SSL certificates to improve and ensure the safety and serenity of their visitors. In this blog article, we will explain to you what an SSL certificate is, how it works, and how you can buy an SSL certificate for your business website.  

What is an SSL? 

SSL ensures a safe connection between two different machines, devices, or a machine and a device. Specifically, it is mostly used to guarantee secure and protected collaboration between the physical (or virtual) server and the web browser.

In a technical sense, SSL is an internet safety protocol that is based on encryption. It was made to ensure security, privacy, data completeness, and identity evidence. Initially developed in 1995 by Netscape, it was for decades the forerunner to the currently notorious and widely used TLS encryption.

Are SSL and TLS Different Things?  

In the field of technical science, the term ‘SSL’ has been replaced with ‘TLS’. But actually, TLS is nothing more than a significantly improved version of the well-known for so many years SSL. That’s why, in reality, people name this safety protocol SSL or TLS/SSL, and they rarely use the term ‘TLS’ in their everyday speaking. Usually, IT and software specialists and experts are the main groups widely using the new term. 

However, let’s explain what TLS literally means. It is short for Transport Layer Security, and as it is well understood from the meaning of the word, it is not much different from Secure Socket Layer. In practice, apart from the fact that TLS represents an improved version of SSL, the two technical concepts typify the same service, and they can be freely used as synonyms in colloquial language.  

How do we Know That a Website is SSL-protected?  

SSL can only be used by webpages that already have an SSL certificate (named ‘TLS certificate’ in the field of technical science).  

To help everyone make sure that the connection of a website is secure, it was devised so it could let easy security checks by the website owner and every single visitor. Once the SSL protection is turned on, the web address of the site turns from HTTP to HTTPS (where ‘s’ symbolizes “security”). I.e., every website that is secured could be recognized by the HTTPS URL (which appears where we type web addresses into our browser). 

Usually, we can notice HTTPS instead of HTTP when we load websites of government institutions, banks, insurance companies, and other public and private institutions that require us to fill in personal data on their websites. 

What is an SSL Certificate?  

SSL certificate, in practice, is a website’s identity card. Yes, exactly like the national ID card that everyone has in their wallet. It is a sign that guarantees that an institution or an individual is really who they claim they are. To ensure its credibility and efficacy against malware activities by third parties, аn SSL certificate could be issued only by a certifying authority. 

Just as every ID card has a number that guarantees its uniqueness, the SSL certificate also has its public key that helps in performing the processes of authentication and encryption (More information about the authentication and encryption operations you could find in the next few subheadings). 

Once a visitor reaches the website, their desktop or mobile device reads the public key and uses it to make safe keys of encryption with the physical or virtual server where the website is sheltered. Meantime, the server of the website also has its secret private key that decrypts any data that was previously encrypted. 

What Does an SSL Certificate Prevent? 

By applying an SSL certificate to their websites, businesses and public institutions can guarantee their clients’ protection against cybercriminal activities. If a website requires visitors to share any personal data, the presence of an SSL certificate is necessary to guarantee that sensitive information has been proactively protected. If such a website doesn’t have an SSL certificate, then people mustn’t share their private data as it might be stolen and used by criminals who could carry out prospective nefarious activities. Here are the three main preventions that an SSL-certificates could implement:  

  • Data stealing by hackers: With an SSL certificate, visitors of a website can be fully confident the personal data they share has been maximally protected from potential attacks and other suspicious activities. 
  • Phishing: This is the situation when a hacker sends a fake message that tricks a person and makes them believe it is a message from a bank, insurance company, or other public or privately held institution. Usually, these fake messages require the victims of fraud to share their personal information or ask them to install any software that is malicious.  
  • Eavesdropping: In terms of online security, this is the notion we use for the action of criminally listening to conversations or reading messages of people to steal their private data. It can also be used to describe the act of illegally and immorally obtaining information from private communications in order to harm. 

What are the Main Actions of an SSL Certificate? 

To put into effect the preventive measures against the malicious activities above, there are three main actions that an SSL certificate performs: 

  • Encrypting: SSL-certificate provides privacy by encrypting data that is being transmitted across the web, so anyone who wants to steal this data could only see a scrambled mixture of letters, numbers, and punctuational symbols that will be almost unthinkable to decrypt.  
  • Handshaking: The SSL certificate performs an operation of authentication between the device of the visitor and the website of the collector of personal data. Thus, the two parties could make sure that the other party is truly who they declare to be. This operation is named “Handshake”.  
  • Digitally signing data: To ensure that the data is complete and has not been changed during the process of achieving the requested recipient, the SSL certificate performs the process of signing data. 

What are the Main Types of SSL Certificates?   

There are three main types of SSL certificates. According to their kind, they might be applied to one or several websites.  

  • Single-domain: As the name shows, an SSL certificate can be installed on a single website only.  
  • Multi-domain: A multi-domain SSL certificate can be applied to several domains that don’t need to be related in any way.  
  • Wildcard: A wildcard SSL certificate could be installed to a single domain only, just like a single-domain SSL certificate. But its installation could also involve all the subdomains of the main domain (for instance, the popular domain name CNN.com has multiple subdomains such as edition.CNN.com, go.CNN.com, and lite.CNN.com). 

What are the SSL Certificates Validation Levels?  

SSL certificates have different levels of validation. I.e., levels of protection warranty. The more a check is difficult to overcome, the bigger the protection guarantee is.  

  • Domain validation: This is the cheapest and easiest validation level. But it is efficient enough to guarantee the protection of data over personal websites and small e-commerce businesses. All an individual or a small company has to do to get this level of validation is prove that they keep the domain under control. And that’s it!  
  • Organization validation: This is a process that takes far more steps than domain validation, but it makes the certification more credible. For the purpose of getting this type, the certificate authority has to be personally contacted by an individual or organization requesting the certificate issuance. It is perfect for medium business organizations and some public institutions.  
  • Extended validation: This is the type of validation that is usually used by banks, medical centers, insurance companies, schools, financial institutions, state tax offices, etc. For the issuance of such a certificate, not only is the certifier required to be personally contacted by the requesting party, but they are also responsible for checking the entire history of the organization. This is the highest level of validation and the most secure one.  

How can I buy an SSL Certificate?

Hostens offers domain-validated, organization-validated, and extended-validated SSL certificates that are 100% efficient and work perfectly well. Websites sheltered on our or external servers could buy their SSL certificate from us, and it could be activated in just a few clicks. You could check all the instructions on our websites, or you could contact our friendly customer support for further information.  

Have any questions? Do not hesitate to contact us!