SSL certificates can sound like an intimidating affair, even more so when referred to by their full name: Secure Sockets Layer Certificate. Add to this plenty of misinformation and seriously confusing guides upon HTTPS and you can end up with a spinning head and very little in the way of straight forward guidance. So, here we ditch the technobabble and provide a super-easy-to-understand guide as to what SSL certificates are and why, if you’re the owner of an online shop, you may really need one.
SSL Certificates: Getting to Grips With the Basics
The basics of an SSL certificate are simple and are an important way of making your customers feel safe whilst shopping online with you, as well as their payments being protected by technology.
What’s more they’re superfast to install – in the majority of instances being installable within a matter of mere minutes.
A Quick, Confusion-Free Overview on SSL
SSL, or Secure Sockets Layer, may also be known as Transport Layer Security, or TLS (just because there isn’t already enough confusion around the matter!)
SSL can be thought of a set process for both securing and protecting data that is sent from one place to another – and it needn’t merely be for financial transactions only either, going on to include sensitive data such as your customer’s name, address and date of birth.
SSL works alongside encryption (which is a fancy word for a scrambled message) to help keep the movement of this data private and protected. Whenever a message is sent to a website using SSL it passes a checkpoint which effectively decides whether that message is all-in tact and completely unaffected by potential interference.
You probably use SSL every single day – on websites such as Facebook, Amazon and Twitter. When SSL is working in the background your activity is being silently protected from cybercriminals who may otherwise be listening in on your messages and communications or, perhaps most seriously, stealing your financial information when buying online.
How Do You Know Whether a Website Uses SSL?
Working out whether a website uses SSL is superfast and particularly straightforward. Simply look for either/or:
- A lock symbol that appears before the website address in the browser bar
- A web address that beings with https rather than http.
A surprising potential effect of SSL
As of August 2014 Google announced that they’d add a ‘lightweight ranking signal’ to those websites that featured SSL. Which basically means that there’s a nice little search result position boost to those opting to secure their website through an SSL certificate.
Does Your Online Shop Need SSL?
After all of the above it seems straightforward to assume an SSL certificate would be needed by any and every form of online store. However this may not be the case if you don’t actually capture or store sensitive data.
So where may this apply?
Well, in the majority of such instances it is where an offsite payment processor is in place (such as PayPal); these guys actually capture and store the sensitive data for you, and it’s their job to ensure that the data is secure.
An important point upon accounts and login details
Whilst you may use an offsite payment service, you may still require customers to create an account or login details as part of the purchasing process. When they do this they may provide data such as their name, address and email address. Of course this data is far from complete card numbers and account details, nevertheless it can still provide the cybercriminal underworld with all they need to eventually gain access to your customers’ accounts. A leading and increasingly common example of which is Phishing – where emails trick their recipients into divulging the information that the hacker may be missing, such as card or bank account information.
We always use SSL on all online shops, and strongly recommend that it is now also used in other ‘brochure’ websites.