We’re always trying to demystify the mystery behind cryptography — that oh-so-impressive name for the technology the drives a website security tool that’s usually named with three simple letters: SSL. That’s because it’s so important for you, as small business owner, to understand every tool at your disposal to protect your website and its visitors (your customers).
And this is a big one. Especially if you collect sensitive customer information on your website.
Let’s start at the start
We all know that one of the greatest things about the Internet is the possibility to easily send and receive information online. If that information is not confidential, then security precautions might not be necessary when transmitting it. But it’s critical to do whatever you can to secure sensitive personal information against unauthorized viewing.
You wouldn’t want someone with less-than-noble intentions getting a hold of your customers’ credit card info, right?
That’s where Secure Socket Layer (SSL) comes in. It’s a mechanism that works between a user’s browser and the website the user is connecting to. In its software, the website has an SSL certificate issued by a trustworthy authority. Web browsers (i.e. Internet Explorer®, Firefox® and Chrome™) recognize these certificates. When confidential info needs to be exchanged, SSL is used to encrypt the information before it is sent, and then to decrypt it at the other end, when it has been received.
Online shoppers and website visitors know about this stuff. Banks, for instance, have warned them to check for the small padlock icon that appears on their browser screen when SSL is in use. Savvy online shoppers know to verify that the Web address in their browser starts with https:// (note the extra “s”) before entering any sensitive data.
Benefits for businesses
Unfortunately, no security system is completely infallible. If you publish information on your website without a password, for example, SSL alone won’t prevent unauthorized viewing. But SSL is sufficiently robust and effective for users to associate the presence of an SSL connection with the trustworthiness of the website at the other end. This leads to a number of possible benefits for small businesses:
- Look more professional. Any business that wants an SSL certificate for its website must be checked by the certificate authority issuing the certificate.
- Increase visitor loyalty to your site. If your site uses account logins with personal data, then you should have an SSL certificate in place anyway. Visitors who know their information is protected are more likely to keep coming back.
- Attract more shoppers. If you are selling online, then expect your shoppers to check to see if you have SSL. Without it, they might not even stay long enough to see what you have to offer.
- Make more sales. At your online checkout, SSL clinches the sale. If you are using a reputable checkout system, it will offer SSL to your buyers for you. But remember, you may still want your own SSL in place for the other reasons listed here.
- Protect your own information. Whether it’s an exclusive promotional code or voucher you’re sending to your website visitor, SSL protects the information you both send and receive.
Learn about the four types of SSL certificates available.