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What is an SSL Certificate?

Published on 3/4/2011 by

SSL is short for Secure Sockets Layer, and is a protocol that was developed by Netscape in 1995 as a means of transmitting private documents over the Internet more securely.  An SSL certificate is installed on a web hosting server. It is used to identify the merchant using it and to encrypt sensitive data like credit card numbers, email addresses and your identity. For example, when you make a purchase on an SSL secured website, your Internet browser will notify you that you’re making a secure transaction by placing a tiny padlock icon in its address bar. The padlock appears after the website, domain and web hosting server’s identity have been confirmed.

Who needs an SSL certificate

Not every web hosting customer will need an SSL certificate.  SSL certificates are most commonly used by the following types of domains:

eCommerce stores:  Internet shops need a safe and secure way to collect credit card information from their customers and this is most easily accomplished with an SSL certificate.

System logins:  Your usernames and passwords are encrypted and kept under lock and key with an SSL certificate. Each time you log in to your web hosting control panel, web based email account, favorite forum or social networking site, there’s an SSL certificate working behind the scenes to keep your account details private.

Web hosting companies:Every time you use FTP or an https login to update your website you’re doing so through an SSL certificate. There was also a certificate in place when you paid for that hosting account.

Exchange servers:An SSL certificate protects data shared between email clients like Microsoft Outlook and a Microsoft Exchange server.

SSL certificates are used on many websites you access every single day, from your hometown newspaper to file sharing websites to online faxing services.

Different types of SSL certificates

Dedicated:Dedicated SSL certificates are assigned specifically to your domain name. When you invest in a dedicated SSL certificate, you don’t share that certificate with any other domain or subdomain. These are the most expensive types of certificates to invest in.

Shared:  Shared SSL certificates are those you can share with other domains and websites. Many eCommerce web hosting companies offer shared SSL certificates as part of their hosting packages and it’s considered a much cheaper option than a dedicated certificate. The downside to shared certificates is that if you leave your current web hosting company, you most likely can’t take that certificate with you.

Wildcard:  Wildcard SSL certificates allow you to protect the subdomain areas of your website.

In addition to the basic three types of SSL certificates, you can also get a free certificate, though this certification doesn’t usually offer the same level of encryption or service available from paid certificates.