SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) is the standard security technology for establishing an encrypted link between a web server and a browser. This link ensures that all data passed between the web server and browsers remain private and integral. SSL is an industry standard and is used by millions of websites in the protection of their online transactions with their customers.
To be able to create an SSL connection a web server requires an SSL Certificate. When you choose to activate SSL on your web server you will be prompted to complete a number of questions about the identity of your website and your company. Your web server then creates two cryptographic keys – a Private Key and a Public Key.
The Public Key does not need to be secret and is placed into a Certificate Signing Request (CSR) – a data file also containing your details. You should then submit the CSR. During the SSL Certificate application process, the Certification Authority will validate your details and issue an SSL Certificate containing your details and allowing you to use SSL. Your web server will match your issued SSL Certificate to your Private Key. Your web server will then be able to establish an encrypted link between the website and your customer’s web browser.
The complexities of the SSL protocol remain invisible to your customers. Instead their browsers provide them with a key indicator to let them know they are currently protected by an SSL encrypted session – the lock icon in the lower right-hand corner, clicking on the lock icon displays your SSL Certificate and the details about it. All SSL Certificates are issued to either companies or legally accountable individuals.
Typically an SSL Certificate will contain your domain name, your company name, your address, your city, your state and your country. It will also contain the expiration date of the Certificate and details of the Certification Authority responsible for the issuance of the Certificate. When a browser connects to a secure site it will retrieve the site’s SSL Certificate and check that it has not expired, it has been issued by a Certification Authority the browser trusts, and that it is being used by the website for which it has been issued. If it fails on any one of these checks the browser will display a warning to the end user letting them know that the site is not secured by SSL.
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Who’s Behind It?
SSL certificates are issued by a certificate authority (CA). A CA will issue a certificate after it has confirmed the identity of the company applying for the certificate, and that the applicant owns the domain named in the certificate. Certificates issued to a website are chained to what is known as a ‘trusted root’ certificate, which is owned by the CA. These root certificates are embedded in what is known as the ‘certificate store’ in popular internet browsers such as Chrome, Firefox and Internet Explorer. If a browser encounters a website certificate which chains to a root in its certificate store, then it allows the https connection to proceed. If the browser encounters a certificate which is not chained to a root in its store, then it will warn the end user that the connection is not trusted and that the user should not submit any confidential information.
What details are included in a certificate
Certificates are issued to companies or legally accountable individuals and will typically contain the domain name, company name, address, city, state and country. It will also contain an issued date and an expiry date and contain details of the certificate authority responsible for issuing the certificate. When a browser requests a https connection to a website, it will retrieve the site’s certificate, check that it has not expired, check it is chained to a root in its certificate store, and will check it is being used by the website for which it has been issued. If it fails any of these checks, the browser will display a warning to the end user