What is SSL Certificate: Definition & Full Guide

SecurityCategory
8 min read
Sean Loiselle

What is an SSL Certificate? You might have heard that term, or maybe someone said your website needs a certificate but you aren’t sure of the SSL meaning or what is an SSL certificate used for. That’s OK. By the end of this article, you’ll have a basic understanding of SSL certificates, website security, and you’ll know whether you need one.

What Does SSL Mean?

In simple terms, an SSL is an abbreviation for Secure Sockets Layer. You purchase it to protect information that other people enter on your website. For example, a certificate protects the personal data of visitors who sign up for your monthly newsletter and the credit card information of customers who make online purchases.

What is SSL Certificate?

An SSL certificate and a digital certification that ensures the authentication of the identity of a website as well as encrypting the data processed on said website.

Show visitors you're trustworthy and authentic with an SSL certificate from GoDaddy.

What is Self Signed SSL Certificate?

In cryptographic and computer security those are public key certificates that are not issued by any recognized certificate authority. The self-signed name indicates that are easy to issue and do not cost any money. However, they do not provide any trust value.

What Does SSL Certificate Contains?

A certificate will contain the following information:

  • The certificate holder’s name
  • The certificate’s serial number and expiration date
  • A copy of the certificate holder’s public key
  • The digital signature of the certificate-issuing authority

How do these certificates work?

An SSL builds a secure, encrypted connection between the visitor’s browser and the web server. To establish the secure session and a higher level of validation and a protection of sensitive information, the “handshake” process occurs behind the scenes without interrupting the customer’s shopping or browsing experience. Think of the certificate as a lockbox that secures valuables (customer information) from hackers as it travels across the Internet from the visitor to you.

Because data can be sent with or without the use of SSL, one way to indicate a secure connection is by the SSL Port number.

Why do Websites need it?

Example of a URL With SSL
Example of a URL secured by a certificate.

One minute your website’s fine. The next, it’s displaying a not secure warning. Maybe you discovered it by visiting your own website, or perhaps a concerned customer got in touch and pointed it out.

However you found about it, you’re undoubtedly asking yourself “why is my website displaying a not secure warning?”. The answer is: Any website that is not protected by a SSL certificate will show a not secure warning when viewed in Google Chrome version 68 and later.

You can’t take website security threats seriously enough — especially if your customers entrust you with their credit card information and other sensitive data. From using strong passwords to defending your site against images that attack, taking the important steps necessary to protect your website from cyber security threats isn’t a maybe — it’s a must.

It is easy to tell whether a website has an encryption in place by looking at the URL. Right before your domain name you should find an https:// and if it shows http:// then you do not have an ssl protocol in place.

What is HTTPS?

HTTPS stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure. One of the most effective ways of protecting data is to enable HTTPS — also known as SSL (secure socket layers) — to encrypt data transferred to and from your server.

This encryption is incredibly secure and makes it near impossible for hackers to intercept the transmission and access your user’s personal information.

How to get the Certificate for your Website?

closeup photo of turned-on blue and white laptop computer

The SSL certificate is simply a string of numbers and letters that you install on your server. When people visit your site through the HTTPS address, the password is checked, verifying that your website is what it says.

The certificate is used to encrypt all data that flows to and from the server where the certificate is installed.

They store a copy of the certificate password in your database, and that’s cross-referenced by incoming web traffic to ensure that your web address is connected to the correct server.

The SSL certificate must be purchased from a trusted retailer that is a Certificate Authority (CA).

You can follow this step by step guide to install it.

If you own a WordPress website then you need to get WordPress security Plugins to stay on top of things

Types of SSL Certificates

  • Organization Validated certificates (OV)
  • Extended Validation certificates (EV)
  • Wildcard certificates
  • Multi-Domain certificates (MDC)
  • Domain Validated certificates

Organization Validated certificates (OV SSL)

If you have an informational (non-eCommerce) website, an Organization Validation (OV) SSL Certificate is all you need. These digital certificates boost your credibility by confirming your company’s name authenticity of your business. They display a padlock in the visitors' address bar, letting them know it's safe to submit passwords, contact information or donations.

Extended Validation certificates (EV SSL)

Websites that receive an EV SSL certificate are those that have been thoroughly vetted by our trusted Certificate Authority (CA). That means, the domain validation and ownership are established, your business identity, website owner, legal status and address are verified. Then, the secure padlock icon is displayed next to your web address in the browser that tells visitors your site is safe to visit.

Wildcard SSL certificates

A single Wildcard SSL certificate encrypts data submitted to a single domain website (lilysbikes.com) and all its related subdomains (shop.lilysbikes.com, blog.lilysbikes.com, m.lilysbikes.com).

A GoDaddy Wildcard Certificate feature SHA-2 and 2048-bit encryption – the strongest in the world. Hackers beware.

Multi-Domain SSL certificates (MDC)

One SAN Certificate for multiple domains.

Protect up to 100 websites: Our basic multi-domain SAN Certificate secures 5 websites (a primary domain plus 4 additional websites) with 2048-bit encryption, the strongest on the market. Got more than 5 websites? Cover them all for an added fee.

Save money and time: An SAN Certificate not only costs less than buying separate SSLs for each site, it saves time. You can manage security for up to 100 websites from a single dashboard.

Domain Validated certificates (DV SSL)

Another version of ssl is the DV SSL certificates. A trusted level of domain validation.

DV SSL certificates improves your Google search ranking. Google search recognizes sites with certificates installed, and rewards them with higher search results ranking than sites that don’t have an SSL certificate. Now, that’s a win-win.

According to a Certificate Authority (CA) Security Council study, only 2% of customers proceed past an “untrusted connection.” It prevents these types of security errors that drive customers away.

Frequently Asked Questions

red padlock on black computer keyboard

Here’s some answers to your most common and frequently asked questions:

What is purpose of it?

what is ssl certificate colorful keys

An SSL certificate is needed to protect customers’ information against security threats (malware). If visitors or customers enter information on your website — such as names, addresses, and credit card numbers.

Back in the day, you really only needed a certificate if your website collects information from website visitors. This is not the case anymore.

Google has placed a strong emphasis on the usage of the certificate and it is now part of the search algorithm. Started in July of 2018, Google’s web browser, Google Chrome began marking any website without the certificates as not secure. This reduces a web page’s ability to rank in search, as well as limit the number of conversions.

Thus, issuance and usage of the SSL is no longer optional. It is a requirement for all websites and blogs.

How do I get an SSL certificate?

It is a very simple process if you plan on installing it yourself, here’s how:

  1. Request: Specify your domain name and the type of web server that’s hosting your site.
  2. Verify: Then verify that you control the domain — verification depends on the type of certificate and web server.
  3. Download your SSL: Download your primary and intermediate certificates from the SSL dashboard.
  4. Redirect HTTP: Once installed, redirect your visitors to the secured (HTTPS) version of your site. Address which of these pertain to you.
  5. Check Installation: Enter your URL into a browser. Look for the padlock icon before your URL, if it’s there, you’ve completed installation and your site is SSL secure.

The SSL certificate comes pre-installed on your website if you use the GoDaddy website builder or the GoDaddy e-store.

What is the difference between SSL and TLS?

Transport Layer Security (TLS) is an update to the SSL protocol. The original SSL protocol was developed by Netscape back in 1995 and released to the public as SSL 2.0. Since that time, updates have been made to ensure stronger, more secure encryption.

In 1999, TLS 1.0 was released as an update to SSL 3.0. Since then, TLS certificates have been the primary security protocol used to secure data over internet connections and SSL. However, because the term SSL is more widely-known than TLS, the name carries on despite the technology depreciating.

Basically, ssl/tls are the same thing but it is easier to call it SSL.