What is an SSL Certificate and Why is it Important?

What is an SSL Certificate and Why is it Important?

Estimated reading time: around 7 minutes

 

With new forms of incredibly sophisticated cyber crimes, online security became more crucial than ever.

We are witnessing significant steps which are made towards restoring digital trust and creating a more secure web for all users. One of them is certainly the General Data Protection Regulation which came into effect on the 25th of May, 2018. The GDPR brought uncompromising transparency regarding collecting and sharing personal data, redefined the rules of collecting data and gave users back the rightful control of their personal data.

Important progress in the field of data protection was initiated by Google itself. Google has positioned itself as somewhat an authority in cyberspace, which shouldn’t come to us as a surprise given the fact it is the most popular search engine and it holds a majority of market share, almost 75%. In the world of SEO, it’s very rare to focus on any other search engine other than Google.

Owning an SSL certificate has become the norm and the bare minimum of responsible website managing.

Google has always advocated web security. In 2014, they’ve announced that secure websites with an SSL certificate (i.e. HTTPS websites) might experience a slight ranking boost. A lot has changed since then.

Owning an SSL certificate has become the norm and the bare minimum of responsible website managing. Within one of Google’s Chromium Projects, the company announced it will mark all HTTP websites as not secure within the Chrome browser. This happened in July this year.

Clearly, the goal is to educate users about the fact that websites without an SSL certificate could potentially compromise their data, but also to pressure webmasters to get a certificate, for the sake of everyone’s safety.

So, What is an SSL Certificate?

SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificates provide a specific method of encryption. They ensure that the data going from the user’s computer to the website stays secure and unreadable to any malicious intruders like hackers and identity thieves, but any other third parties too. Therefore, it remains safely protected.

SSL cryptography uses two keys, one private and one public, which are long strings of random numbers. Public key is known to the server and it encrypts all information. This information can be unlocked only with a private key. If an intruder happens to intercepts this connection, he would only encounter ununderstandable numbers.

So, each time you enter any of your personal information into a certain website, SSL makes sure all your data travels safely from your browser to the web server. This is pretty important if you’re doing some fun online shopping and you share sensitive information (like your bank account number) online.

You can think of an SSL certificate as a certain data file, provided by a trusted party, that authenticates and guarantees the identity of a certain website with a cryptographic key. It binds together information such as domain name, server name, company name and its location.

Each time you enter any of your personal information into a certain website, SSL makes sure all your data travels safely from your browser to the web server.

SSL signals users and tells them something like “hey, this website is ok, you’re safe, you can spend your money here or share personal data”. Website traffic coming from each individual user is encrypted, kind of like a trusted conversation no one can eavesdrop.

SSL is a part of the HTTPS (Secure Hypertext Transfer Protocol), which safeguards your data and enables secure sessions once the certificate is installed on the web server. Users can see whether or not a website is secure by looking at the browser tab: if there’s a padlock, a word “secure” marked in green, and of course – HTTPS, then it’s safe to enjoy that website.

 

 

Importance of an SSL certificate

As we already mentioned, SSL certificate has become a security standard. However, websites that absolutely must obtain it are those that have logins or use forms, given the fact they operate with sensitive data such as usernames and passwords. Of course, e-commerce websites need SSL as they have to comply with the Payment Card Industry (PCI) standards and protect customer data.

However, all websites can benefit from this additional layer of security and it is important to acknowledge that.

The importance of owning an SSL certificate can be seen in the following:

  • It promotes data security and keeps all data between servers protected
  • It builds digital trust and shows you care about your visitors’ data safety
  • In the SEO context, HTTPS websites might experience a ranking boost

If you’re involved in the ecommerce business, owning an SSL certificate can improve your conversions by signalizing shoppers they can safely make a purchase: study by Symantec suggests conversion rate can be increased by 18-87%. Plus, you can increase your average transaction value by 23%, which is again tightly connected to the trustworthiness.

In addition to all of the above mentioned, an SSL certificate contributes to your brand image and sets a solid reputation for your website, as it clearly communicates you understand the responsibility that comes with being a webmaster.

In the moment of writing this blog post, only around 64% of websites are secure, which means we still have a lot of work to do in the domain of online security.

In the moment of writing this blog post, only around 64% of websites are secure, which means we still have a lot of work to do in the domain of online security, particularly when it comes to educating webmasters about the importance of SSL and handling spammers in the cyber arena.

How to Install SSL on Your Website

In order to install SSL on your website, you need to turn to a Certificate Authority (CA) organization and fill in the Certificate Signing Request (CSR) in which you’ll provide all the information we’ve mentioned (domain name, server name, etc.) that are used for website authentication and get coupled together with a unique cryptographic key.

The prices for the SSL certificate vary depending on the provider and the exact type of SSL you choose. After your requests get approved and your identity validated by the CA, a ZIP archive will be sent to the email address you’ve provided or you’ll be provided with a download option.

It’s good to know there is also a free and automated CA called Let’s Encrypt, open to any webmaster out there. However, these certificates last for 90 days, while most of the CA offer yearly renewals. But you might be surprised there is an actual upside to this.

Because of the shorter duration of the certificate, the already minimal chances of hackers breaking through the security layer – are even smaller. In addition, you are not expected to manually renew the certificate every three months, but the process is automated.

Shortly put, Let’s Encrypt has democratized internet security, making it free for everyone, just as it should be. The initiative is backed by some of the most prominent companies such as Google itself, Mozilla, Cisco, Facebook, and others. You can read about the exact way of installing SSL within this guide or contact the support of Let’s Encrypt.  

Over to You

As you can see, SSL certificate is an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to internet security and safe web surfing for all. If you already have a website, but it’s HTTP, check out Google’s Search Console Help on the topic.

Statistics say there were 16.7 million victims of identity fraud in 2017, while the amount of stolen money due to data breaches in the US hit $16.8 billion last year.

In case you’re just getting started, there’s really no reason not to install an SSL certificate. Having your own website could be a very wise business decision, regardless of whether we’re talking about leading a company or developing a personal brand. But you need to make it secure, show respect and care for your visitors by acting responsibly. Statistics say there were 16.7 million victims of identity fraud in 2017, while the amount of stolen money due to data breaches in the US hit $16.8 billion last year.

We cannot say that any security precautions can be 100% safe, but SSL surely reduces the chances of these horrible crimes happening.

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