Internet security is not something to mess around with. Now more than ever, it is both a priority and a necessity, especially when it comes to submitting your sensitive information like credit card numbers or social security numbers, in order to ensure that sensitive data remains safe and security for only you and the website to see-no one else.
That is where SSL answers the call. Want to feel safe? Want your confidential information to be protected? Fret no more.
Not sure what SSL is? I am sure you have noticed the differences in some URLs compared to others, such as how some start with "http://" and others start with "https://". Sometimes you may also notice a little padlock symbol. These details give you clues about how that website is using SSL.
What is SSL?
SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer. According to SSL.com itself, "SSL 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 browser remain private."
Whew, that's a mouthful. But what does it actually mean?
To make it short and sweet: SSL is the link between the Internet browser and server that encrypts the communication between them using the toughest cryptographic algorithms. These cryptographic algorithms are so complex that they are almost impossible to crack.
In case you were wondering, a cryptographic algorithm is just longhand for the term "cipher," and it is basically a "set of well-defined but complex mathematical instructions used to encrypt or decrypt data," according to ScienceDirect. Data encryption translates data into another form or code so only people with access to a secret key or password can read it. Decryption is merely the process of taking that encrypted data and converting it back into a form that you or the computer can read and understand.
How does it secure your data?
The next time you visit a website, fill out a form, and hit "submit," the information you just entered could easily be intercepted by a hacker on an unsecure website.
Hackers can do this by many different methods. One of the most popular is when a hacker places a small, undetected listening program on the website's hosting server. This listening program waits in the background until a visitor starts typing their information into a form from that website. Once submitted, the program captures the information and sends it back to the hacker.
This is where SSL changes the game.
The difference between an unsecured site and one encrypted with SSL is like night and day. When someone visits a website secured by SSL, their browser will form a connection with the web server, looking at the SSL certificate, thus binding together their browser and the Internet server. This binding connection is so secure that no one besides the visitor and the website they are submitting their confidential information on can see or access it.
SSL works using the following steps:
First, a secure communication between the server and browser will be established when the browser makes a URL request by entering a URL into the address bar.
Next, the server will respond to the client's request by sending a copy of its SSL certificate along with its public key (which is used to encrypt the plain text into cipher text).
Then, once the client receives this data back from the server, the browser will verify it and decide whether it can trust the SSL certificate or not.
Afterwards, the server sends back a signed acknowledgement. When the server and client receive the acknowledgement, they initiate an SSL encrypted session. This is how SSL provides authentication! (Authentication works just as it sounds: it verifies the identity of a person or device).
Finally, now that an SSL session is established, the client and the server can share previously encrypted data safely.
This all happens in a matter of seconds! How crazy is that?
Are there any benefits to SSL?
Besides the fact that SSL's main function is securing information between the visitor and the website, SSL is good for SEO, or search engine optimization, too.
Even Google has something to say about this. In fact, they have "seen positive results," and so they are "starting to use HTTPS as a ranking signal ... because [they would] like to encourage all website owners to switch from HTTP to HTTPS to keep everyone safe on the web," as mentioned on Google's Webmaster Central Blog.
Additionally, Google briefed that when comparing two websites, if one has SSL enabled, they might receive a slightly higher ranking boost outweighing the other.
Activating SSL on a site is a simple process. If you have a site that you wish to secure, you can do so through your domain registrar. Most registrars, such as 101domain, make the process easy.
What else you need to know
Now you might be wondering, how can I tell that I am visiting a website encrypted with SSL?
When visiting a website with SSL, you will notice the URL says "https://" not "http://". If you couldn't spot the difference, the "S" is a big clue.
Also, an SSL encrypted website will have a little padlock icon in the URL bar. It will be displayed on either the left hand or right hand side of the URL depending on your Internet browser, but all the same it will show. Moreover, if you are particularly interested, you can click on the padlock to read more information about the website and the company providing them with the SSL certificate.
But let's say you see both these signs when visiting a website. You must be safe then, right?
Wrong! That's not always the case.
In fact, even if a website has the "https://" and padlock symbol, the certificate could actually be expired. In effect, this means your connection would not be secure. To figure out whether the website's SSL certificate is valid, within Google Chrome, you can click "More Tools" under the settings icon, then click "Developer Tools." From there, click the security tab, and then you will find out whether the SSL certificate is valid or expired.
More often than not, when a website displays "https://" and the padlock symbol, it means it will be secure and you should not have to worry. But just keep in mind, if the website is asking for too much personal information, making you feel uncomfortable or even on edge, it might be worth double-checking if the SSL certificate is valid under the steps I described.
So that, my friend, is what you need to know about how SSL secures your data when browsing the web.