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Securing Your Website: A Guide to Acquiring an SSL Certificate

Luis Santiago Saldivar - Writer for Top10
A man sitting in front of a laptop choosing an SSL certificate.
Websites without Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificates can face serious security problems, such as vulnerability to data breaches, exposure to man-in-the-middle attacks, and a loss of user trust due to warnings from modern browsers.

When using website builders, consider the role of SSL certificates in ensuring your site's security. Many people worry about their safety on the internet, and SSL certificates are crucial in easing these concerns.

In 2022, the United States witnessed 1,802 cases of data compromises, affecting over 422 million individuals through breaches, leaks, and exposures. This underscores the need for robust web security measures, such as SSL certificates. In this guide, I'll explain how to get an SSL certificate to keep your site and its visitors safe.

» Looking to create a secure online store? Try these Zyro e-commerce templates.

What Is an SSL Certificate?

An SSL certificate is a gatekeeper for a website and its users, protecting all information exchanged during a session. It serves two main purposes: verifying the website's identity and encrypting user data.

Identity verification means the SSL certificate authenticates the website, ensuring users are not on a fraudulent site. At the same time, data encryption codes user data in a way that only the intended website can decipher. This process keeps sensitive information like passwords secure, even if intercepted.

Choosing the Right Type of SSL Certificate

Understanding the various types of SSL certificates is key to enhancing your website's security and building user trust. Each certificate offers special features and unique levels of validation. Here's a breakdown of the different SSL types to guide you in securing your website effectively.

Domain Validated (DV) SSL Certificates

DV SSL certificates are ideal for personal websites, blogs, or small business sites that don't handle sensitive customer info. They're quick to set up, requiring only domain ownership verification.

Your visitors will notice a padlock and "https" in their address bar, signifying a secure connection. DV SSL certificates work if you have a content site or a small online store using third-party payments, but not if you run a large e-commerce site.

Organization Validated (OV) SSL Certificates

OV SSL certificates confirm your organization's identity, offering better security. The validation process includes checks on your company's legal registration, making it more comprehensive than DV.

They suit small to medium businesses and sites where users provide personal info. Visitors can access your company's verified details by clicking the padlock in their browser.

Extended Validation (EV) SSL Certificates

EV SSL certificates represent the pinnacle of website security and business credibility verification. If your site has an EV SSL certificate, it tells visitors you've put serious effort into securing the site and proving your business is legitimate.

With an EV certificate, browsers typically display the company's name alongside a green padlock in the address bar, which builds more trust with visitors.

Wildcard SSL Certificates

A wildcard SSL certificate lets you secure your primary website domain and all its subdomains with just one certificate. You can spot a wildcard SSL by the asterisk (*) before the domain name, standing in for any subdomains.

This type of certificate is best for businesses operating numerous subsites for different functions or products. It removes the need to manage multiple SSL certificates for each subdomain, thereby saving time and money.

Multi-Domain SSL Certificates

A multi-domain SSL certificate is essential if you're overseeing multiple websites or services across different domains. It allows you to secure numerous domains and hostnames under a single certificate, making it a comprehensive solution.

This certificate is particularly beneficial for organizations with diverse departments or those expanding through mergers and acquisitions. It streamlines your management tasks and also cuts down on the administrative workload.

Selecting a Certificate Authority (CA)

A CA, or Certificate Authority, is an entity responsible for issuing SSL certificates and verifying the authenticity and security of websites. When selecting a CA for your SSL certificate, think of it as choosing a trusted partner for your website's security.

Renowned CAs like Let's Encrypt, DigiCert, and GoDaddy are popular choices among businesses. Each CA service has unique strengths and service models, so find the one that aligns best with your website's needs. Since your choice of CA can significantly impact your site's credibility, look at the support and reliability it offers.

Companies like Amazon and eBay, which handle massive amounts of sensitive data, often go for CAs that have a strong reputation for consistent uptime and customer support.

Creating a Certificate Signing Request (CSR)

A CSR creation acts as your website's formal application for an SSL certificate, containing essential details like your website's domain name and your organization's contact information. For instance, if you run an online store, your CSR would include your store's web address and your business contact details.

Most web hosting services can simplify this process with user-friendly guides or automated tools. Platforms like HostGator typically offer straightforward interfaces where you input your details, and it generates the CSR for you.

Sending Your CSR to a CA

After creating your CSR, submit it to your chosen CA. Typically, this involves uploading the CSR file to the CA's website or sending it via their application system.

This submission is essentially your request for an SSL certificate, initiating the process of securing your website. The CA then uses the details in the CSR to craft an SSL certificate specifically designed for your website's requirements.

Implementing Your SSL Certificate

To install your SSL certificate, follow these steps:

  1. Receive the SSL certificate from the CA: Once your CSR is validated, the CA will issue your SSL certificate. You'll typically get this via email as a file, often in .crt format.
  2. Upload the certificate to your web server: This is generally done through your hosting control panel or via server access.
  3. Configure your web server to use the SSL certificate: This step varies based on your server type. It involves editing server configuration files to point to the SSL certificate and its private key.
  4. Verify the SSL installation: Check if your SSL certificate works by visiting your website with "https://" in the address bar. A padlock symbol in the browser indicates a successful installation.
  5. Update your website to use HTTPS: Make sure your website always uses HTTPS for security. This may involve changing your website's links to HTTPS and setting up redirects. This way, anyone using or clicking on old HTTP links will be automatically sent to the secure HTTPS version of your site.

Testing and Keeping Your SSL Certificate Updated

Regularly testing and maintaining your SSL certificate ensures your website remains secure. Frequent checks also help identify any issues, like expired certificates or security vulnerabilities.

You can use online tools like SSL Labs' SSL server test to review your certificate. Enter your website's URL, and the software will analyze your SSL setup to ensure it's functioning correctly.

It's also vital to update your SSL certificate periodically, as they have expiration dates. An expired certificate can compromise your site's security and erode visitors' trust. To prevent this, set reminders to renew your certificate well before it runs out.

» Follow these 10 expert tips to keep your website secure.

The Future of Website Security

I believe SSL certificates will remain essential for the foreseeable future, guarding a wide range of websites, from personal blogs to large corporate platforms. They not only authenticate your website's identity but also encrypt user data, providing a secure environment for online interactions.

As website security continues to evolve, SSL certificates will need to adapt to counteract new cyber threats. Luckily, these certificates are regularly enhanced to protect your website from hackers and ensure your online information remains secure.

» Here are 10 reasons why website security is essential.

Luis Santiago Saldivar - Writer for Top10
Luis Saldivar is a technical writer specializing in web development, e-commerce, and SEO. He's contributed to business newspapers and web development blogs in the US and Paraguay. He aims to simplify the latest in technology, AI, web development, and digital marketing.