Why is SSL Certificate an Essential Cybersecurity Tool?

Updated on July 12, 2021 | by Evan Chase

An SSL certificate can be the most powerful weapon in your cybersecurity arsenal. Its advanced cryptographic suite makes it highly effective against some of the creepiest security threats like man-in-the-middle attacks, packet sniffing, credential stealing, phishing, and so on. 

Did you know that phishing attacks cost $17700 every single minute? That figure is pretty much justified because over 80% of all the security incidents involved phishing. Nonetheless, phishing is just one of the many types of cyberattacks that an SSL certificate can thwart. 

For this reason, it is touted as a must-have security defense by cybersecurity experts across the globe. Its innovative use of asymmetric and symmetric keys puts it on the checklist for PCI DSS and GDPR compliance. Before we get all technical about this security tool, let’s get down to the basics and understand what an SSL certificate is and what it does.

What is an SSL Certificate?

An SSL certificate is a powerful cybersecurity tool in the form of a digital certificate duly issued by a Certificate Authority (CA). The SSL must be installed on the web server to trigger encryption — a process that begins as soon as an HTTPS request is received. Although its primary function is to encrypt the data transmitted between the server and the client, it also provides validation. 

All SSL certificates require domain validation and enable encryption. However, the applicant may choose to undergo a more intensive check by opting for an OV or an EV SSL certificate. These premium SSL types offer a more comprehensive validation, denoted by a corresponding trust seal to validate a business or an individual.

How does an SSL Certificate Work? 

The Secure Socket Layer (SSL) certificate currently uses the Transport Layer Security (TLS) protocol but retains the name ‘SSL,’ a derivative of the now-deprecated SSL protocol. By the year 1999, most SSL certificates switched to the TLS protocol, and by 2015, the SSL protocol was obsolete. 

The end of SSL was inevitable because of the many vulnerabilities, which its successor, the TLS, overcame. Until now, four versions have been released — TLS 1.0, TLS 1.1, TLS 1.2, and the most recent TLS 1.3. With that said, let us now get a wee bit technical and understand how the TLS works.

It all begins with an SSL Handshake!

The TLS technology combines the power of symmetric and asymmetric cryptographic keys. Here, the encryption process begins with an SSL handshake, which commences as soon as the webserver receives an HTTPS request. Soon after, the server responds with the public key, which the client confirms, and once that is successful, it opens up a secure tunnel for further exchange. 

Next, the server and the client agree upon the TLS version, cipher suites, etc. Once they arrive at a consensus, session keys are generated and exchanged. For every session, a unique session key is generated and used to encrypt and decrypt the data. Thus, eliminating performance issues without compromising on security, just like you use VPN security.

How to choose the right SSL?

While choosing an SSL certificate, you need to bear in mind that different types offer different levels of validation and encryption coverage. So, the choice you make would be based on these two key determinants.

Primarily, the internet works like this — in the DNS Hierarchy, every subdomain is treated as a domain, which is exactly how the SSL certificate understands it. So, each primary domain and subdomain is treated as an explicit domain, and your choice of SSL depends on that. 

Let’s assume you have the following two websites:

  1. www.MyFirstSite.com, which is a one-page site. 
  2. www.MySecondSite.com, which has two subdomains 

In this case, the first website is considered to be a single domain website and can therefore be encrypted with a standard or domain validated (DV) SSL certificate. Conversely, the second site has one primary domain and two subdomains, which sum up to three domains. In this case, installing just one DV SSL won’t do, and the website owner has two choices. 

Firstly, to use three DV SSL certificates — one for the primary domain and one each for the subdomains. Else, to pick a Wildcard SSL certificate which is ideal for websites with a single primary domain and multiple subdomains. If your website does not fall under either category and uses multiple domain extensions (the .com, .co.uk, .nz) or different primary domains, consider opting for a single SAN SSL to encrypt all of those. 

The validation part is entirely a matter of choice, but the higher you choose, the better you fare as a business. So, if affordability isn’t an issue, we recommend the EV SSL certificate, which comes with the highest validation level and helps build more trust. Finally, make it a point to renew your SSL certificate from time to time because the encryption works only during its validity.

Conclusion

The steady increase in cybercrime has brought about a series of security-related challenges which are hard to overcome. Moreover, cybersecurity is an expensive affair that not all businesses can pay for, but they cannot afford to neglect it. 

However, a little care and caution can go a long way, and that is what SSL certificates are all about. This inexpensive cybersecurity tool creates checkpoints between the server and the client, preventing many security threats.

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