What is SSL, TLS and HTTPS

You may have seen warnings like this on some unfamiliar websites, or maybe even on one of your favorite and frequently visited websites.

 

While this can simply mean that they have forgotten to renew their security certificate, it can also mean something more serious like an attack on the website. So it’s generally advisable to avoid such instances.

In this article, we’ll be looking at security certificates, what types of certificates exist and how each of them works.

What are the different types of Security Certificates?

Secure Socket Layer or SSL is one of the most well-known and earliest types of digital security certificates. It allows secure transfer of website content between a server and a web browser. SSL is no longer in use and has been deprecated in favor of TLS.

SSL was first introduced in the early 1990s, however, its first version was never released to the public. In 1995, Netscape released SSL 2.0, which was soon replaced by SSL 3.0 due to many security vulnerabilities that were identified.

TLS stands for Transport Layer Security and works similarly to SSL. It was introduced as a successor to SSL 3.0, but have changes that are significant enough that they can’t interoperate.

While the general public has not yet picked up the change in terminology, TLS is more accurate for most current digital security certificates.HTTPS is another familiar term in this context. It refers to the Secure extension of  the HTTP protocol that you are already familiar with. SSL/TLS can be used to set up a secure connection between a server and web browsers accessing it.

How do SSL/TLS Certificates Work?

Digital Security Certificates, whether SSL or TLS, use encryption to ensure that your data is transferred between the web browser and the server without being maliciously obtained by third parties.

This process begins with the web browser contacting the server to find out whether it can provide a secure connection, and then setting up an HTTPS connection. This communication happens even before the website has loaded and if it is successful, a padlock will be displayed alongside the website address to indicate that it is secure.

This process happens through encryption. Encryption is usually done with private and public encryption keys, which are digitally tied to the identity of the owner of the website. These keys are used to create a unique session key for that particular session and will be used to encrypt and decrypt the data that is being transferred between the web browser and the server. For added security, the session key is created with a limited validity period and are usually set to expire once the relevant transactions are completed.

There are generally three levels of digital certificates that you should know about. Most certificates including nearly all the free ones, provide only Domain Validation. This type of certificate can be set up almost immediately and offers the most basic levels of security with encryption, validation of your domain, and will allow you to display the padlock on the web browser.

The next level of security includes Organization Validation, which is able to verify the organization when a request is made by the web browser. This type of certificate is issued in 1 – 2 days and usually has some sort of indication, such as a Blue address bar on Mozilla’s Firefox.The Green Status Bar, or Extended Validation (EV), is the third and most stringent type of digital security certificate. It is issued in 7 – 10 days and provides industry standardized organizational authentication and the prominent green address bar. Most of the major web browsers, display the name of the organization in a green bar along with the certificate authority through a rigorous verification process. This ensures that third-parties such as phishers are unable to hijack your brand or mislead your users.

What is the importance of SSL/TLS Certificates?

Website users are very particular about the data they submit to a website, especially when it contains their personal data or financial data. This data can be as straightforward as a website visitor’s username and password, or even their profile information. This is the most important implementation of digital certificates, to instill trust.

This is also true when making payments through online payment gateways. Given how common online financial fraud has become, users are not prepared to make any online payments without proper indication of digital security.

The importance of SSL/TLS Certificates is that they ensure the data being submitted only reaches the intended recipients and not any other external parties. This is important as data has to pass through many nodes, or points in a network, such as ISPs, servers and other devices. This concept of providing authentication is another important aspect of digital security.

Many authorities such as those the financial industry and online payment regulatory institutions required that organizations comply with strict industry standards. The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) is one such regulation that is maintained by the Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council and the major credit card brands. It was initially released in 2004 with the current version 3.2.1 being rolled out in 2018.

The PCI DSS regulations require that credit card brands maintain a secure platform, protect cardholder data, and ensure many other security policies.

Does SSL/TLS affect SEO?

Yes, digital security is among the many requirements for a good SEO rank. However, the impact of not having an SSL/TLS Certificate is not as serious as the indirect effects it can have on your website.

HTTPS sites load faster than HTTP sites. The reason for this is that HTTPS uses version 2.0 of the HTTP protocol which is almost 5 times faster than the regular 1.1 protocol. These improved page loading times can improve your SEO rankings significantly. Google hinting toward indexing HTTPS pages first should be a further motivating factor.

Furthermore, visitors looking to register and/or make payments will be more comfortable doing so when they are assured by an SSL/TLS certificate. Even if they are not aware of the intricate workings of how a digital certificate can protect them, the notion of having one will motivate them to go ahead with their transactions. However, the lack of such security can lead to more bouncing visits and can lead indirectly to adverse SEO performance.

Conclusion

Digital Security Certificates provide many benefits to website owners and visitors alike. The most simple benefit of an SSL/TLS Certificate is to instill trust in visitors so that they are assured of the security of their data and transactions. This can lead to better SEO rankings and a better reputation for your website.

The more indirect benefits of Digital Security include authentication requirements for more complex online activity and complying with industry standards. So the type of SSL/TLS Certificate that you require and the degree of validation will depend on the online activity that your website is involved in.

HostingReview has many articles on topics such as obtaining SSL/TLS Certificates, the differences between free and paid certificates and migrating to HTTPS.