Web Terms: SSL Explained

In the world of web, there are all kinds of acronyms and new words that many aren’t familiar with – especially if they’re on the other side of the table from the developer.  Our series of posts (to come) will take some common web terms and break them down for those of you looking to expand your knowledge of websites and their integral parts.

SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer.  Clears it all up for you, right?  The expanded definition leaves most people even more confused.

In layman’s terms, SSL is the technology used to secure the information transferred from a browser (i.e. what users are typing their information into) to the web server, where the information is processed or possibly stored.  Any basic e-commerce site or other sites handling the collection and passing of private data should utilize an SSL certificate to ensure the information being passed is encrypted prior to being sent across the internet.  It prevents others from trying to steal ‘plain’ data being passed over the internet from having the ability to pick up your private information.

Examples of information that is typically secured using SSL include: credit card numbers, social security numbers, and identity specific or confidential information.

Even as a consumer, it’s important to be aware of SSL and secure connections.  Anytime you are entering private or restricted information, it’s best to check that the site you are using is protected properly with an SSL certificate.  The address of the page you are using to enter your information should have an https:// prefix in the URL (instead of the normal http://).  You can also check for a signifier like a padlock in the bottom right of your browser, or for some sites with the highest levels of domain verification, the entire address bar will be highlighted in green. To see details of the SSL Certificate assigned to the company (who owns the website), you can click on the padlock for more information.

Information typically contained in the SSL certificate includes:

Fortunately, SSL certificates are fairly easy to purchase and install.  Many hosting companies have slightly different procedures for generating the Certificate Signing Request, a data file containing details about your website and your domain, which is used to generate the SSL certificate.  Check with your host for specific instructions on handling the SSL certificate on your website.

A few of the popular SSL providers include:

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