What Is SSL and Why Is It Important for Websites?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published June 17, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

In your career and personal life, you typically visit various websites and enter data, such as your name and contact information, upon request. Secure sockets layer is an internet protocol that can protect your connection to these websites. By learning about this security layer, you can better understand what websites to visit and how to ensure safe data sharing. In this article, we explain what SSL means, discuss why it's important for a website, describe how you can get a certificate for one, and share how to check a website's security status.

What is SSL?

Secure sockets layer (SSL) is a protocol that establishes an encrypted link between a web server and your internet browser. It can help keep your internet connection secure by protecting sensitive data, such as passwords, usernames, and credit card information, from unauthorized access. This can help minimize cyber threats and ensure confidentiality in an organization.

What is an SSL certificate?

A secure sockets layer certificate is a digital file that authenticates a website and enables an encrypted connection. It uses algorithms to scramble data entered by a user and ensures only the intended recipient can decode it. After installing this certificate, the following process typically occurs in milliseconds:

  • Your browser attempts to connect to a website protected with security sockets layer.

  • Your browser requests that the web server identifies itself.

  • The web server sends a copy of its certificate to your browser.

  • Your browser checks whether it trusts the certificate and signals its response to the web server.

  • The web server returns a signed acknowledgment to start an encrypted session.

  • Your browser and the web server can share encrypted data.

Types of SSL certificates

Here are the types of certificates with varying validation levels you can get:

Extended validation certificate

This is the highest-ranking certificate you can get. It's typically for high-profile websites, such as sites that collect user data and process online payments. After installing an extended validation certification, you can expect to see a security padlock, the business name, and the country in the browser address bar. Obtaining this certificate typically requires you to follow a standardized verification process.

Organization validated certificate

This certificate also encrypts users' sensitive information during transactions. Many commercial and public-facing websites use it to ensure shared information remains confidential. You can expect to complete a validation process to obtain one and see your information in the address bar after installing it.

Domain validation certificate

This certificate is popular among websites that don't collect data or process transactions. For example, you can get a domain validation certificate if you own a blog or an informational website. The validation process is generally minimal, requiring you to show evidence that you own a website domain by responding to an email or phone call.

Wildcard certificate

A wildcard certificate allows you to secure a base domain and unlimited subdomains using one certificate. A subdomain is an additional website section, typically for organizing and navigating content. For example, suppose you own yourdomain.com and have mail.yourdomain.com, download.yourdomain.com, and anything.yourdomain.com as subdomains. You can use one wildcard certificate to secure all website domains.

Unified communications certificate

This certificate can help you secure multiple domain names. After installing it, you typically see a security padlock in your browser address. Obtaining one can offer similar security assurance to extended validation certificates.

Multi-domain certificate

This certificate works with multiple domains. You may also use it for a domain and its subdomains. For example, you can secure the following sites with a multi-domain certificate:

  • www.example.com

  • example.org

  • checkout.example.com

Why is SSL important for a website?

Aside from helping to keep a website secure, here are other reasons to consider getting a security certificate:

Improves search engine ranks

Many browsers promote websites with a security layer to users. If you're looking to increase a website's visibility, you can install a security sockets layer certificate and enhance your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts. SEO refers to the process designed to improve a website's rank on search engines.

Related: How to Become an SEO Expert (With Salary and Job Outlook)

Establishes trust with users

Obtaining a security sockets layer certificate can help you build trust with website visitors. You can also strengthen this trust by explaining how their information is secure on a website. For example, you can include this security detail on a website's landing page or add it on a pop-up screen on the home page. Working with a web developer and user experience (UX) designer can help you determine a suitable place to place this message.

Related: How to Build Trust at Work and Improve Team Cohesion

Ensures compliance with the payment card industry

Websites that accept online payments typically follow the payment card industry (PCI) data security requirements. If you manage such sites, consider obtaining a security sockets layer certificate to comply with the industry's regulations. This certificate can also help ensure you send money to the correct financial facilities after users make payments.

Identifies potential risks

If you manage a website with a security sockets layer, you can expect notifications on security threats. This can help you take the required security measures, such as changing passwords or login details, before the situation becomes urgent. Documenting these cyber threats can also help you determine whether to consider alternative security actions, such as encrypting login pages and hiring a security expert.

Read more: A Guide to Risk Management Process (With Practical Examples)

How to get a secure sockets layer certificate

If you require a security certificate, you can follow these steps to get one:

1. Update your WHOIS record

WHOIS is a protocol for obtaining a database that stores registered users of a domain name. Because certificate authorities (CAs) use the WHOIS database for verification, it's essential you confirm the stored website details. For example, suppose you manage a website for a business. You can confirm whether the stored business name, address, and phone number in the WHOIS database are accurate.

2. Generate a certificate signing request (CSR)

A CSR is a code containing information about a website name and a company's contact details. The company hosting the website you want to secure can help you generate one. Alternatively, you can generate a CSR independently if you manage a hosting server.

3. Determine the type of certificate you require

Next, consider the certificate type to obtain. While you can get a secure sockets layer certificate for free, there are also paid options. For example, many free certificates allow you to secure only one domain name, and paid certificates typically cover a domain and its subdomains.

4. Submit a CSR to a certificate authority (CA)

Next, you can research certificate authorities, which are organizations that issue security sockets layer certificates. After selecting one, you can submit your CSR to validate your chosen domain name, and certificate authorities typically verify details. For example, suppose you submit a CSR for a business to a CA. This organization typically investigates the business, checking its authenticity and verifying that the submitted website is for the business.

5. Install the certificate

After the CA verifies all CSR details, you can expect a copy of the security socket layer certificate. This copy typically includes the business information. Next, you can install the certificate onto a web server.

Related: Computer Literacy in the Workplace: What You Need to Know

How to check a website's security status

Here's how you can determine whether a website has a security sockets layer certificate:

1. Check the URL

You can determine whether a website is secure by examining its uniform resource locator (URL). While some URLs start with hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP), others start with hypertext transfer protocol secure (HTTPS). A secure website has an additional "s" in its URL.

2. Look for a padlock

Aside from the URL, web browsers can also help you identify secure websites. If you notice a green padlock in the address bar, you can infer that a website is secure. The browser address bar may also turn green after you click a URL. Here are signs that a website may not be secure to visit:

  • A red padlock

  • An open padlock

  • A line across the website address

  • A warning triangle above the padlock

3. Obtain a security overview

Because security sockets layer certificates expire, it's essential you get a security overview before concluding whether a website is secure. While this process varies depending on your browser, it generally involves checking the security tab. You can obtain information on the type of security sockets layer certificate and its validity.

Please note that none of the companies, organizations, and institutions mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

Explore more articles