Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) is a method of encryption that protects data being sent between websites. SSL is closely related to Transport Layer Security (TLS), another encryption method, and the two acronyms are often used interchangeably.
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No matter what type of website you run, your visitors expect a certain level of security. Whether they’re visiting your site to scroll through your blog or they’re making a purchase from your online store, it’s important to keep them—and their data—safe and secure. The best way to do this is to enable SSL encryption on your website.
What is SSL?
SSL, short for Secure Sockets Layer, is a method of data encryption that protects data sent between websites. The data file doesn’t get decoded until it arrives at its destination, protecting communications between the web server and browser and creating a secure browsing environment.
Visitors can tell if a website is secure with the help of two visual cues. First, a padlock will appear in the web browser’s address bar, and second, the URL will begin with "https://" instead of "http://."
Why SSL certificates are important
Hackers are relentless in their search for new ways to obtain consumers’ information. Websites that gather personally identifiable information (PII) for services like newsletters, subscriptions, or shipping information are especially attractive. Common types of PII include:
- Full legal name
- Previous name
- Street address
- Email address
- Telephone number
- Social Security number
- Credit card number
When you add an SSL certificate to your website, you shield visitors from cyber predators. A secure site also promotes its searchability. Google flags websites that don’t have a valid SSL certificate—and will sometimes even ban them altogether.
What is Transport Layer Security (TLS)?
SSL and TLS are closely related—in short, TLS became the successor to SSL protocols in 1999.
SSL was the earliest cryptographic internet protocol, providing data encryption and authentication between machines, services, and applications over a network. TLS is the next generation of data encryption, and, technically, is what’s in use today. But because both protocols serve the same function, their acronyms are often used interchangeably.
TLS is essential for businesses of all sizes. Organizations rely on TLS certification to ensure that the PII of their clients and customers is protected at all times.
How SSL/TLS works
The most common use of the SSL/TLS protocol for secure web browsing is in the HTTPS address protocol. HTTPS is the secure version of the standard hypertext transfer protocol, or HTTP. The crucial “S” that differentiates them stands for “secure.” Once correctly configured, a website can be assigned an SSL/TLS certificate—a data file hosted in your website’s origin or caching server—that’s been validated by a trusted certificate authority (CA).
- Secure communication between a server and a web browser begins with what is known as a TLS handshake. Here, both parties open a secure connection and exchange a public key that will be used to encrypt messages passing between them.
- While the two parties are conducting the handshake protocol as part of the session, they both generate session keys, which encrypt and decrypt their communications after the TLS handshake.
- For each new session, new session keys are applied to encrypt and decrypt communications. The server in possession of the session key matches the public key contained in the SSL/TLS certificate.
- TLS certification also guarantees that the data has not undergone any changes while in transit.
The internet is broadly moving toward HTTPS connections now that business owners understand Google’s penalties and their visitors’ risk when sharing information.
When "https://" is part of your website’s address, you can be confident that your visitors’ communications are encrypted. A CA ensures your SSL/TLS certificate is valid and working properly.
SSL/TLS encryption offers an important layer of protection to your business and your customers. If your website doesn’t have a certificate just yet, contact your web hosting provider or a certificate authority to learn more about your options for creating a safer, more secure experience for all of your visitors.