The Importance of an SSL Certificate and Best Practices

What is an SSL Certificate?

An SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate used is to encrypt traffic between systems, such as client and server. This is done to protect data that might include confidential information, Social Security numbers, and personal information.

SSL involves the use of a pair of the public (available to anyone) and private (exclusive to destination server) keys to handle the encryption and decryption process. 

You might have come across the term TLS (Transport Layer Security) – a protocol that is an improved version of the SSL. The two terms are used interchangeably, but this article will use SSL, as it’s the more popular term. 

Why Is SSL Important 

Threats to data security and privacy keep increasing as more functions move online. If you own a business website, it’s no longer optional to have an SSL certificate. The main reason for this is to protect users from the man in the middle attacks. And it comes with SEO benefits, too. Search engines such as Google check site security as one of the essential factors in SEO ranking. Some web browsers like Chrome also alert users if a site is not secure – and this could keep some people away from your site. 

Other benefits of an SSL certificate are that it serves as a proof of identity (authentication); it is an assurance of information privacy, and it also assures users of information integrity. This is especially crucial if your web application deals with financial or electronic commerce transactions.

SSL Best Practice 

Although SSL is secure, attackers take advantage of installation and configuration loopholes to steal data. Because of such vulnerabilities, it’s not enough to install the SSL certificate. 

Below are basic SSL best practices that will help ensure the security of data in transit.

  1. Understand the importance of SSL certificates. Previously, SSLs were common in large organizations and financial institutions. Today, even small businesses have moved most if not all of their transactions online. Suppose a certificate expires or is compromised – your business risks loss of revenue as well as a damaged reputation. 
  2. Know the SSL certificate your site requires, and get the one that is appropriate for your site. There are three types of SSL certificates:
    • Domain Validated SSL certificate – to approve an organization domain name;
    • Organization Validation SSL certificate – guarantees the legitimacy of an association;
    • Extended Validation SSL certificate – Similar to OV SSL, but this requires more documentation regarding the ownership of the certificate. 
  3. Purchase the certificate from a reputable certification authority. When selecting a certificate authority entity, check its reputation, popularity, response to security and compliance problems, support, reviews, and if it offers the certificate your business needs. 
  4. Proper server configuration will ensure you are using the latest security protocols, secure cipher suites, complete certificate chains, and a Diffie-Hellman Key (DHE) with at least 2048-bit security (lower bits can be vulnerable). 
  5. Protect your private keys. Keep the private key as secure as possible. Do this by generating the key in a safe and trusted environment; revoke keys if an employee with access leaves your company; renew the certificate at least yearly; and if you think the private key has been compromised, always generate a new key. 
  6. Apply website application best practices. Even with best SSL practices, ensure your web application follows best practices, such as using secure cookies, eliminating mixed content, and evaluating third-party code. 

Takeaway Tips

There are two important points that you shouldn’t forget. One, SSLs are secure but also have vulnerabilities that can be exploited; therefore, ensure proper configurations and follow best practices. Two, lack of an SSL certificate affects your SERP ranking, which in turn affects your brand credibility and increases the site bounce rate.

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