What Is SSL Certificate And How Does it Work?

A number of people do not know what SSL certificate is. What is SSL Certificate and does it work? This article will help you understand what an SSL certificate is without too many technological jargons.

What is SSL Certificate?

SSL certificate stands for Secure Sockets Layer certificate ). It prevents hackers from ambushing sensitive information (passwords, credit card information, emails among others) communicated between your server and website by encrypting your data (Encrypted information is converted to code to prevent unauthorized access). In Short, it is for website security

How Does An SSL Certificate Work?

Now that you know what an SSL certificate is, I am sure you are interested in knowing how it gets to the point where it warns end users in a matter of seconds that a website is not secure.

SSL certificates are issued by certificate authorities. A certificate authority (CA) is an entity that issues digital certificates.  (let us call certificate authorities Universities). Certificates issued to a website(let us call the website a graduate) are chained to what is known as a ‘trusted root’ certificate (Let us call this a department), which is owned by the Certificate Authority. These root certificates are embedded in what is known as the ‘certificate store’ (let us call this a faculty) in popular internet browsers such as Chrome, Firefox and Internet Explorer (let us call browsers Job hunters that recruit for companies).

What Happens Next?

If a browser (Job hunter) encounters a website (graduate) certificate which chains to a root (department) in its certificate store (faculty), then it allows the connection to proceed.

If the browser (job hunter) encounters a certificate which is not chained to a root (department) in its store (faculty), then it will warn the end-user (Hiring company) that the connection is not trusted and that the user should not submit any confidential information (in our analogy this will translate to the company not hiring the graduate with an unrecognised certificate).

A Certificate Authority will only issue an SSL certificate after it has confirmed the identity of the company applying for the certificate. The CA will also confirm that the applicant owns the domain named in the certificate. Certificates are issued to companies or legally accountable individuals and will contain the domain name, company name, address, city, state and country.

What Else Does An SSL Certificate Contain?

It also contains an issued date and an expiry date. An SSL certificate contains details of the certificate authority responsible for issuing the certificate. When a browser requests an HTTPS connection to a website, it retrieves the site’s certificate, checks that it has not expired, that it is chained to root in its certificate store, and that it is being used by the website for which it has been issued. It also contains a list of restrictions on the uses of the certificate. If it fails any of these checks, the browser will display the warning NOT SECURE  to the end-user.

In other words, if a user visits a website, the browser scans the website to check if it has an SSL certificate by going through the above processes in seconds. If the website accepts passwords or credit card forms and is secured with an SSL certificate, it informs the user via the address bar that the site is secure and if the reverse is the case, the browser warns the user against using the website.

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To learn more about SSL certificates, watch out for our next post. If you found this post useful, ensure you share it to help educate others. Till next time, stay secure.

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