What is an SSL certificate?
An SSL certificate is a piece of code on your web server that enables secure online communication. When the web browser contacts the secure site, the SSL certificate enables encrypted connection. It's like sealing an envelope before mailing it.
SSL certificates also instill confidence because each SSL certificate contains identification information. When you apply for SSL certification, a third party (Symantec, Thawte, or GeoTrust) verifies your organization's information and issues you a unique certificate that contains that information. This process is called authentication.
Why do I need SSL?
SSL certificates protect the privacy of online interactions, even when going over the public internet, and give customers confidence that your site is safe to transact. If you ask users of your site to sign up, if they enter personal information such as credit card numbers, or can see some confidential information on your site, then you must protect the privacy of that information. You also need to convince them that your site is authentic.
SSL is also used for email servers, web applications, server-to-server communication and more.
Who needs SSL?
Anyone who needs secure information transfer over the Internet uses SSL to protect:
Online credit card transactions, web forms and user login information.
Email and webmail applications (Microsoft Outlook Web Access, Exchange and Office Communications Server).
Corporate Communications on Intranet, Extranet, Internal Networks, File Sharing and Microsoft SharePoint.
Communications on cloud platforms and virtualized applications.
Websites that need to track your browser behaviour in a safe manner, like websites thats comparing services that places a tracking code in your browsers cookie so the seller know who sent you to their website.
What is encryption and why are there different levels?
Encryption is a mathematical process of encoding and decoding information. The number of bits (40-bit, 56-bit, 128-bit, 256-bit) indicates the size of the key. Like a longer password, a larger key has more possible combinations. What's more, 128-bit encryption is one trillion times stronger than 40-bit encryption. When an encrypted session is established, the strength is determined by the capacity of the web browser, SSL certificate, web server, and operating system on the computer accessing the site.
How does SSL make my site reliable?
The SSL certificate contains verified information about the site it protects, to reassure users that the site they are on is yours (i.e. not on a phishing site). Extended Validation is the highest standard of verification and convincingly assures users of the site's authenticity and security - by turning the browser's address bar green.
In addition to the address, the site's users are also assured of the authenticity of the trust mark, which you get with a certificate and that you can install on the site. When a user clicks on the seal, they can see information about the site owner, the independent body that issued the certificate (Symantec, Thawte or GeoTrust) and the expiration date of the SSL certificate. In newer browsers, site information can appear whenever a user moves the mouse over the address bar. Also, information is seen when they click on the padlock icon in front of the address.
Encryption is a mathematical process of encoding and decoding information. Each SSL certificate contains a public/private key pair: private encrypted and public encoded. The private key is installed on the server and is not shared with anyone, ever. The public key is in the SSL certificate and is shared with web browsers.
Does authentication really matter?
Authentication means that an independent third party (such as Symantec, Thawte, or GeoTrust) verifies the information contained in your SSL certificate, convincing users that your site is indeed your site. Online users are becoming more vigilant when they visit sites that require sensitive information to be left behind, as they often listen to fraud stories. 86% of online shoppers, on the other hand, said they had more confidence in sites where security indicators were visible, such as trust seals/stamps. (Synovate / GMI, 2008).
The SSL certificates offered by Symantec, Thawte, and GeoTrust include trust seals that are recognized worldwide by users.