SSL

Introduction

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.

To be able to create an SSL connection a web server requires an SSL Certificate. 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. You should then submit the CSR. During the SSL Certificate application process, the Certification Authority 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 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 Certification Authority 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, it has been issued by a Certification Authority the browser trusts, and that it 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.

From the server administrators of highly technological organizations, to product managers of financial institutions, down to the one man startup companies that just want to secure their shopping cart, at one stage or another, the same question pops-up: “They all do the same thing, what should we get?”

Fundamentally all SSL certificates do the same thing, encrypt information during SSL/TLS negotiations. Correctly installed and configured, both https:// and the padlock will show.

Owning a Certificate

Before requesting a certificate, most security administrators would have done their analysis homework. Is it for internal or public use? What is the user base and their method of use? What operating system and server software are involved? What systems will be impacted? What are the security policy requirements?

Beyond the technical specifications often a key question is neglected, the question of User Trust. Owning an SSL certificate it is not only about the functionality, or the key size, but rather as the Thawte motto goes, “It’s a trust thing”.

Today there are three types of certificates that offer 3 levels of user trust for SSL/TLS negotiations: Domain Validated certificates (DV), Organization Validated certificate (OV) and Extended Validation certificates (EV).