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.
SSL allows confidential information such as social security numbers, credit card numbers, or login credentials to be transmitted securely. Without SSL, data sent between clients and servers is sent in plain text–which makes it really easy to be intercepted. Anyone able to hijack the data stream will have unlimited access to the plain text. With SSL in place, data is encrypted – even if intercepted, it will not be able to be deciphered.
To create an SSL connection, a web server requires an SSL Certificate. A SSL certificate may be obtained from a Certification Authority (or CA) such as SSL.com. 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, which is submitted to a CA.
During the SSL Certificate application process, the CA 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, displayed in the address bar or 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 CA 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, has been issued by a Certification Authority the browser trusts, and 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.
Be sure to visit SSLTools.com for some great services and tools to assist in your implementation of SSL on your site or if you want to examine the SSL certificates of other websites.