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What is an SSL certificate?

Secure connection icon vector illustration isolated on white background, flat style secured ssl shield symbols

Identity security is a necessary part of life as criminals use the information they retrieve to benefit themselves and often cost their victims countless amounts of time and money. Individuals are constantly advised to exercise caution when divulging personal information to any source. In many instances, it is necessary to provide the information to complete a business transaction or to complete an application. Security measures have been devised to safeguard that data so only those individuals requiring access will have it. SSL certificates are a form of online security.

SSL or secure socket layer ensures that data submitted online can not fall into the hands of someone who will misuse it. A website with a security certificate provides users with protection as it masks required data from all but the site owner. Using a mathematical algorithm, information is jumbled beyond recognition and transferred to those persons who require the material. Only this person will be able to see unscrambled data. Much like a lock and key the only person who can unlock the code is the person who owns the certificate.

When an individual arrives at a secure website he/she may notice a padlock symbol and another verification symbol such as a checkmark (Verisign), depending on the securing company. Clicking on either of these symbols reveals who the securing company is and when the certificate was obtained. This will also alert consumers as to whether the certificate is current.

There are various levels of security certificates. A self-signed certificate is owner generated and usually used for internal purposes only. A domain validation certificate is obtained easily and quickly as it only verifies the domain owner. A fully authenticated SSL certificate is granted only after certain validation is acquired. Applicants must prove the existence of the business, verify ownership of the domain, and must prove their authority in the business and website to apply. A wildcard certificate is provided to multiple hosts of a domain. A SAN allows more than 1 domain to be covered simultaneously. A code signing certificate ensures that whenever software is downloaded it is protected en route from cybercriminals attempting to attach a virus or other malicious programs. An extended validation certificate ensures the highest form of security and authentication. A website with this certificate turns the browsers’ address bar green.

Many instances require a security certification. Any online store where orders are accepted and credit card information is needed should be secure. Any site that requires a login or sign in should have some form of security. A website that requires personal information such as an address, birth date, license #, or any ID # should have security precautions. Sometimes certificates are required for other privacy and security reasons. Certificates may be used for internal internet communications within a corporation. Email can be securely protected. When sending or receiving information through mobile devices, a security program may be desired.

SSL certificates are most reliable if obtained from known certification authorities. Having a secure transmission route is the difference between sending information on a postcard and sending it in a privacy envelope.

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