The Importance of SSL Certificate and Best Practices
What is an SSL Certificate?
An SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate encrypts traffic between systems, such as client and server. This is done to protect data that might include confidential information, Social Security numbers, and personal information.
SSL involves using a pair of the public (available to anyone) and private (exclusive to destination server) keys to handle the encryption and decryption process.
You might have come across the term TLS (Transport Layer Security) – a protocol that is an improved SSL version. The two terms are used interchangeably, but this article will use SSL, the more popular term.
Why Is SSL Important
Threats to data security and privacy keep increasing as more functions move online. If you own a business website, it's no longer optional to have an SSL certificate. The main reason for this is to protect users from man-in-the-middle attacks. And it comes with SEO benefits, too. Search engines such as Google check site security as one of the essential factors in SEO ranking. Some web browsers like Chrome also alert users if a site is not secure, which could keep some people away from your site.
Another benefit of an SSL certificate is that it serves as proof of identity (authentication); it assures information privacy. It also assures users of information integrity. This is especially crucial if your web application deals with financial or electronic commerce transactions.
SSL Best Practice
Although SSL is secure, attackers use installation and configuration loopholes to steal data. Because of such vulnerabilities, it's not enough to install the SSL certificate.
Below are basic SSL best practices that will help ensure data security in transit.
- Understand the importance of SSL certificates. Previously, SSLs were common in large organizations and financial institutions. Today, even small businesses have moved most, if not all, of their transactions online. Suppose a certificate expires or is compromised – your business risks loss of revenue as well as a damaged reputation.
- Know the SSL certificate your site requires, and get the appropriate one for your site. There are three types of SSL certificates:
- Purchase the certificate from a reputable certification authority. When selecting a certificate authority entity, check its reputation, popularity, response to security and compliance problems, support, reviews, and if it offers the certificate your business needs.
- Proper server configuration will ensure you use the latest security protocols, secure cipher suites, complete certificate chains, and a Diffie-Hellman Key (DHE) with at least 2048-bit security (lower bits can be vulnerable).
- Protect your private keys. Keep the private key as secure as possible. Do this by generating the key in a safe and trusted environment; revoke keys if an employee with access leaves your company; renew the certificate at least yearly; and if you think the private key has been compromised, always generate a new key.
- Apply website application best practices. Even with best SSL practices, ensure your web application follows best practices, such as using secure cookies, eliminating mixed content, and evaluating third-party code.
There are two essential points that you shouldn't forget. One, SSLs are secure and have vulnerabilities that can be exploited; therefore, ensuring proper configurations and following best practices. Two, the lack of an SSL certificate affects your SERP ranking, which affects your brand credibility and increases the site bounce rate.