What Is an SSL certificate?

Table of Contents

An SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate is a digital certificate that verifies a website’s identity and allows an encrypted connection between servers and browsers. A padlock icon next to the site’s URL in the address bar indicates SSL protection.

Why Do You Need an SSL Certificate?

Companies and businesses need to add SSL certificates to their sites to secure online transactions and secure customers’ PII (Personal Identifiable Information). The protocol prevents criminals from modifying or reading private information during transit between systems. 

The SSL certification protocol was created around 25 years ago. There have been several SSL versions, with the latest being TLS (Transport Layer Security). However, it is still called SSL.

How Does SLL certification work?

The SSL process, also called an “SSL handshake,” ensures that data in transit between users and sites or two systems is impossible to read. Data often includes personal information, such as names, credit card numbers, and addresses. Therefore, using encryption algorithms to scramble data prevents hackers from examining it as it passes over the connection. It may sound like a long process; however, SSL takes less than seconds.

The process is as follows:

  1. A server/browser tries to connect to an SSL-secured website.
  2. The server/browser requests that the website identifies itself.
  3. The web server responds by sending a copy of its SSL certificate.
  4. The server/browser checks the certificate to see whether it is trusted. If yes, it signals this to the website.
  5. The website returns a digitally signed acknowledgment to start an SSL- encrypted session.
  6. The two parties share the encrypted data.

How to Check For An SSL Certificate

When a site is SSL-certified, the acronym in the URL is HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure). If there is no SSL, the URL letters are just HTTP (no ‘S’ for Secure). Also, there should be a padlock icon next to the URL in the address bar. The icon offers reassurance that you can trust the site you are visiting.

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