If you’re wondering whether an SSL certificate is a foolproof solution to prevent your website from being hacked, read on.
SSL certificates have become an essential part of online security and for a good reason. They help keep sensitive data, like customer information, safe and secure. However, many assume that an SSL certificate will automatically prevent their website from being hacked. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
To truly improve the security of your website, you need to take a more comprehensive approach. One that starts with SSL but also includes other factors.
In this article, we’ll discuss the importance of SSL certificates. In addition, we’ll introduce other methods you can use to prevent cyber attackers and hackers from hacking your website. Are you ready to increase the security of your website to protect yourself from hackers and cybersecurity issues? If so, read on!
Is it feasible to hack an SSL certificate?
SSL certificates are designed to be incredibly secure. However, nothing is 100% hack-proof. In 2016, security researchers discovered a significant vulnerability in the SSL protocol. That could have allowed hackers to decrypt SSL traffic. Known as the DROWN attack, this vulnerability made about 33% of all websites vulnerable by exploiting an outdated protocol.
Disabling the older SSLv2 protocol fixed this particular issue, but it shows the potential for malicious actors to hack SSL certificates.
The answer to whether it is possible to hack an SSL certificate is yes, but it is improbable. Your SSL certificate should be safe if your Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate uses the latest Transport Layer Security (TLS) v1.3 protocol.
How secure is an SSL certificate?
Considering how secure 256-bit encryption is, SSL is generally very secure. 256-bit encryption means that there are 78-digit numbers (yes, that’s 25 commas) of possible combinations to try to get right.
It is estimated that it would take a supercomputer with a brute force attack many years to crack an encryption of this strength.
So how can someone crack SSL certificates?
It is unlikely that your SSL certificate can be hacked in the way just mentioned. Instead, it’s much more likely that an SSL certificate can be compromised through much more straightforward methods.
Here are some essential tips to protect your SSL certificate from attacks:
- Protect your private key: Falling for a phishing or malware attack that gains access to your SSL certificate’s private key is much easier than cracking an encrypted connection. Make sure you have your SSL reissued immediately if you believe your private key has been compromised.
- Keep an eye on SSL renewals: if your SSL certificate expires before you can renew or replace it, your website is vulnerable to attack. That’s why it’s essential to always keep an eye on your SSL certificate’s expiration date. Then, start renewing it in time to be on the safe side.
- Disable older TLS protocol versions: As with the DROWN attack mentioned above, it’s essential to always be up to date with the latest Transport Layer Security protocol. Also, ensure you disable outdated protocol versions in your web server settings.
The myth: SSL certificate completely protects your website from hackers
Unfortunately, many website owners need to understand that SSL certificates are all they need to do to ensure a secure website. However, that is not the case. SSL certificates are an excellent first step in protecting your website. However, they should be one of your lines of defense. You can (and should) do more to protect your website from hackers.
The most important reason is that SSL certificates only secure the connection between your website and the user’s browser. If a hacker gains access to the user’s device, They could see and steal all the sensitive data there. Once the data reaches the user’s browser, it is no longer encrypted.
Because of this, it is essential to take further measures, which we will discuss in this guide.
Does an SSL certificate mean that a website is secure?
Many believe that if a website has an SSL certificate, it is secure. However, this is only sometimes the case. Just because you see that a website has an SSL certificate (by seeing the “padlock” icon in the address bar), it does not mean that visiting that website is 100% safe. Even if the website has a valid SSL certificate, other security threats may cause the website to be compromised.
For example, a website protected by SSL can still be vulnerable to malware. If a user visits the site and their device becomes infected with malware, a hacker could gain access to personal information.
In addition, a website may have a valid SSL certificate but still use an outdated WordPress version or another content management system (CMS). If a website uses an outdated CMS, hackers could access the website and steal data from anyone who visits the site.
We also need to mention the case of bad actors who create fraudulent websites that look legitimate. These websites may still have a valid SSL certificate. However, these are designed to steal website visitors’ sensitive data like credit card information.
While an SSL certificate can indicate that a website is legitimate, it is not guaranteed.
Can an SSL certificate prevent your website from being hacked?
As mentioned, SSL certificates cannot prevent your website from being hacked. That is because SSL certificates only establish a secure connection between your website and the user’s browser.
Think of it like security guards protecting a highway. They can only protect vehicles passing through, but not at the point of origin or destination.
In the previous section, we gave examples of why a website can be insecure even with SSL. Again, there are some ways a website can be hacked despite having an SSL certificate.
A user’s device could become infected after visiting a malware-infected website. Once the device is infected, a hacker could access sensitive data sent unencrypted. That could include login credentials for your website.
If a customer clicks on a phishing link that takes them to a website that looks legitimate but is fake, the hacker can steal their credentials.
If a hacker gains access to the user’s device by other means, they may be able to find sensitive data. For these reasons, taking other steps to protect your website besides using an SSL certificate is essential.
About SSL certificates in detail
SSL certificates are an essential part of website security, but they are not a comprehensive security solution. To better understand why SSL certificates are essential, knowing how they work is helpful.
What does an SSL certificate do?
SSL certificates encrypt the data sent between a website and a user. That means anyone trying to intercept the data cannot read it.
SSL encryption uses a method called Public Key Cryptography. This method uses two keys, a private key, and a public key. The website owner only knows the private key, while the public key is accessible to everyone. It can only decrypt data encrypted with public and private keys.
SSL certificates are thus used to encrypt data during transmission. But they are also used to verify the identity of a website. The website uses an SSL certificate if you see the “padlock” icon in a browser like Chrome or Safari. And depending on which type of SSL certificate is used, it will verify more or less information about the website and its owner.
These are the common types of SSL certificates and what they verify:
- Domain Validation Certificates (DV Certificates): They confirm that you are the domain name’s owner.
- Organization Validation (OV) Certificates: These certificates confirm that you are the domain name’s owner and that your organization is legitimate.
- Extended Validation (EV) certificates: These certificates confirm that you are the domain name’s owner, that your organization is legitimate, and that the certification authority has verified your organization.
Are there things that an SSL certificate can’t do?
Yes, as we have already said, there are other important website security issues that an SSL certificate cannot solve. For example, SSL can’t:
It can’t prevent your website from being hacked. That is because SSL certificates only secure the connection between your website and the user’s browser. Once the data reaches the user’s browser, it is no longer encrypted.
- Malware protection: If a user visits a malware-infected website, their device could become infected.
- Protection against phishing: If a customer clicks on a phishing link that takes him to a website that looks legitimate but is fake, the hacker could potentially steal his credentials.
Let’s now discuss some important ways you can further secure your website.
Ways to improve your website’s security beyond SSL certificates
Even though SSL certificates are essential, you can also protect your website through other measures. Here are a few methods you can use to increase your website’s security:
- Keep your software up to date: This includes your operating system, web browser, and plug-ins. Outdated software can pose a security risk, as it may have known vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit.
- Use strong passwords and 2FA: Strong passwords are harder for hackers to guess. They must go at least eight characters long and have a mix of top and lowercase letters, numbers, and signs. It would be best if you considered two-factor authentication (2FA). That needs to go into a code in one of the available apps, such as Google Authenticator.
- Invest in a good web hosting service: a good web hosting service has security measures to protect your website. It will also support you if you have any questions or problems.
- Use a firewall: a firewall can help protect your website from attacks by blocking unwanted traffic. That is good protection against hackers trying to access your website.
Take a layered approach to protect your website from hackers, even with an SSL certificate. In addition to SSL certificates, you should also consider the methods mentioned above. By taking these additional steps, you can ensure that your website is as secure as possible.
How do SSL certificates work?
SSL ensures that it can not check data transferred between individuals and sites or between 2 systems. It uses file encryption formulas to clamber information en route to ensure that hackers can’t read it as it’s sent over the connection. That includes potentially delicate information such as names, addresses, bank card numbers, and other economic details.
The process functions as follows:
- An internet browser or server attempts to attach to a site (i.e., an internet server) secured with SSL.
- The internet browser or server requests that the internet server determine itself.
- The web server sends the internet browser or web server a copy of its SSL certificate.
- The browser or server checks whether it counts on the SSL certificate. If it does, it informs the web server.
- The web server sends a digitally signed confirmation to start the SSL-encrypted session.
- The encrypted data is exchanged between the browser or server and the web server.
This process is, in some cases, described as an “SSL handshake.” What sounds like an extensive process occurs in nanoseconds.
When an SSL certificate secures a website, the abbreviation HTTPS (for HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure) appears in the URL. Without an SSL certificate, only HTTP letters appear, i.e., without the S for Secure. In addition, a padlock symbol is displayed in the address bar of the URL. That signals trust and provides security for visitors to the website.
To view the information about an SSL certificate, you can click the lock symbol in the browser bar.
SSL certificates generally contain the adhering info:
- The domain name for which the certificate was issued.
- The person, organization, or device for which the certificate was issued
- Which certificate authority issued it
- The digital signature of the certificate authority
- Associated subdomains
- The date the certificate was issued
- The expiration date of the certificate
- The public trick (the secret trick is not shown).
Why you need an SSL certificate
Websites need SSL certificates to protect user data, verify website ownership, prevent attackers from creating a fake website version, and instill user confidence.
When a website asks users to log in, enter personal information such as credit card numbers, or view sensitive information such as healthcare benefits or financial data, this data must be kept confidential. SSL certificates help ensure that online interactions remain confidential, reassuring users that the site is authentic and secure so they can share private information.
Even more important for businesses is that an SSL certificate is needed for an HTTPS web address. HTTPS is a secure form of HTTP, meaning SSL encrypts traffic from HTTPS websites. Most browsers mark HTTP websites without an SSL certificate as “not secure.” That signals to users that may not trust the site and provides an incentive for companies that still need to do so to switch to HTTPS.
An SSL certificate helps secure information such as:
- Login qualifications
- Credit card deals or bank account information
- Directly identifiable info – such as complete name, address, day of birth, or telephone number
- Legal documents and contracts
- Medical records
- Company proprietary information
Types of SSL Certificates
There are several types of SSL certificates with different levels of Validation. The six main types are:
- Extended Validation Certificates (EV SSL)
- Organization Validated Certificates (OV SSL)
- Domain Validated Certificates (DV SSL)
- Wildcard SSL certificates
- Multi-Domain SSL Certificates (MDC)
- Unified Communications Certificates (UCC)
Extended Validation Certificates (EV SSL)
That is the highest-ranking and most expensive type of SSL certificate. It is usually used for high-profile websites that collect data and make online payments. When this SSL certificate is installed, the padlock, HTTPS, company name, and country are displayed in the internet browser’s address bar. Showing the site proprietor’s details in the address bar helps distinguish the site from destructive websites.
The site proprietor must undertake a standardized identification verification procedure to establish an EV SSL certification to confirm that they are legitimately accredited to own exclusive civil liberties to the domain.
Organization Validated Certificates (OV SSL)
Business or public-facing internet sites must mount an OV SSL certification to ensure that all shared customer information remains private. This variation of the SSL certificate has a comparable degree of safety and security to the EV SSL certificate since the site proprietor must undergo an extensive recognition process to obtain one.
This kind of certification additionally presents the website proprietor’s info in the address bar to distinguish it from harmful sites. OV SSL certificates are usually the second most expensive (after EV SSLs) and are primarily used to encrypt the user’s sensitive data during transactions.
Domain Validated Certificates (DV SSL)
SSL certification is just one of the most affordable and fastest to acquire. The recognition process to acquire this type of SSL certificate is marginal; for that reason, Domain Recognition SSL certifications offer reduced safety and security and also minimal security. They are usually used for blogs or informational websites, i.e., websites that do not involve data collection or online payments.
As part of the validation process, website owners only need to prove domain ownership by responding to an email or phone call. Only HTTPS and a padlock are displayed in the browser’s address bar, and the company’s name is not shown.
Wildcard SSL certificates
Wildcard SSL certificates enable you to secure a base domain and limitless subdomains with a solitary certificate. If you need to secure multiple subdomains, getting a Wildcard SSL certification is much cheaper than purchasing private SSL certifications for each subdomain.
Wildcard SSL certifications have an asterisk * as part of the familiar name, where the asterisk stands for all valid subdomains that share the same base domain. For example, can use a single wildcard certificate for the *website to secure the following:
Multi-Domain SSL Certificate (MDC)
Can use a multi-domain certificate to secure many domains and sub-domains. That includes the combination of unique domains and sub-domains with different TLDs (top-level domains), excluding local/internal domains.
Multi-domain certificates do not sustain sub-domains by default. If you need to safeguard both www.example.com and example.com with a multi-domain certificate, both hostnames should be specified when applying for the certification.
Unified Communications Certificate (UCC)
Unified Communications Certificates (UCC) are also considered multi-domain SSL certifications. UCCs were initially developed to protect Microsoft Exchange and Live Communications web servers. Today, website proprietors can use these certifications to secure several domains with a solitary certification.
UCC certifications are confirmed by the organization and show a lock in a browser. UCC certifications can be used as EV SSL certifications to provide the highest degree of safety to website visitors employing the green address bar.
To get the correct certificate for your website, it is crucial to be familiar with the different SSL certificates.
How to get an SSL certificate
Can obtain SSL certificates directly from a certificate authority (CA). Certificate Authorities – sometimes called Qualification Authorities – concern millions of SSL certifications yearly. They play a crucial function in exactly how the Net works and just how clear, reliable communications can take place online.
An SSL certificate costs range from free to hundreds of dollars, depending on how much security you need. When you have selected the type of certification you require, you can look for certificate providers that offer SSL certifications at the needed degree.
Getting your SSL certification involves adhering to the actions:
- Prepare by establishing your web server and ensuring your WHOIS record is updated and matches what you submit to the certification authority (it has to include the correct business name, address, and so on).
- Generate a certificate signing request (CSR) on your server. Your hosting company can help you with this.
- Submitting this request to the Certificate Authority to validate your domain and company information.
- Installing the certificate provided by the Certificate Authority once the process is complete.
Once you receive the certificate, you must configure it on your web host or servers if you host it yourself.
How quickly you obtain your certificate relies on the type of certificate you get and the certificate provider you get it from. Each validation level takes a different amount of time. A basic Domain Validation SSL certificate can be issued within minutes of ordering, while Extended Validation can take up to a whole week.
Can one SSL certificate be used on multiple servers?
Can utilize one SSL certificate for multiple domains on the same server. That is because of multi-domain SSL certifications, which we discussed above. You can use one SSL certification for numerous web servers, relying on the company.
A multi-domain SSL certificate differs from a single-domain SSL certificate, which, as the name recommends, is designed to secure a solitary domain name. As the name suggests, multi-domain SSL certifications work with several domain names. The number of domains depends on the issuing certificate authority.
To make things even more confusing, multi-domain SSL certificates are called SAN certificates. SAN stands for Subject Alternative Name. Each multi-domain certificate has additional fields (i.e., SANs) that allow you to list additional domains you intend to cover under one certification.
Unified Communications Certificates (UCCs) and Wildcard SSL Certificates likewise permit multi-domains and, in the latter instance, an endless range of subdomains.
What happens when an SSL certificate expires?
SSL certificates run out; they are not valid for life. The Certification Authority/Browser Forum, which serves as the de facto regulatory authority for the SSL sector, specifies that SSL certificates must have a lifespan of no greater than 27 months… That means two years plus three months that you can carry over if you renew your previous SSL certificate while it’s still valid.
The Internet changes as companies and websites are bought and sold. When they change hands, the information relevant to SSL certificates also changes. SSL certifications run out because, similar to any verification, the info must be revalidated occasionally to validate that it is still exact. The purpose of the validity duration is to make sure that the info made use of to verify servers and organizations is as current and exact as possible.
Formerly, it could release SSL certificates for approximately five years, which was after that shortened to 3 years and also, most recently, to 2 years plus a feasible three additional months. In 2020, Google, Apple, and Mozilla introduced they would apply for SSL certifications for one year, although the Certificate Authority Internet browser Forum denied this proposal. That went into effect in September 2020. It may shorten the validity period even further in the future.
When a user’s browser accesses a website, it checks the validity of the SSL certificate (as part of the SSL handshake) within milliseconds. When an SSL certificate ends, it makes the website in question inaccessible. If the SSL certificate has expired, the visitor receives a message saying, “This website is not secure. Potential risk ahead.”
While users can continue, this is not advisable, given the associated cybersecurity risks, including the possibility of malware. That significantly impacts website owner bounce rates, as users quickly click away from the homepage and go elsewhere.
Keeping track of when SSL certificates can be challenging for larger organizations. While small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) may only have one or a few certificates to manage, enterprise-level organizations that potentially operate across markets – with numerous websites and networks – have many more. At this level, SSL certificate expiration is usually the result of oversight rather than incompetence.
The best way for larger organizations to keep track of their SSL certificate expiration is to use a certificate management platform. There are several products on the market that you can find through an online search. These allow organizations to view and manage digital certificates across their infrastructure. If you use one of these platforms, you must log in regularly to know when renewals are due.
If you let a certificate expire, it will become invalid, and you will no longer be able to perform secure transactions on your website. The Certificate Authority (CA) will ask you to renew your SSL certificate before expiration.
The Certificate Authority or SSL service through which you obtain your SSL certificates will send you an expiration notification at certain intervals, usually after 90 days. Try to ensure that these reminders are sent to an email distribution list – and not to a single person who may have left the company or taken another role at the time the reminder is sent. Consider which people in your organization are on this distribution list to ensure that the correct people see the reminders at the correct time.
How do you know if a website has an SSL certificate?
The simplest way to tell if an internet site has an SSL certificate is by checking out the address bar in your internet browser:
- The website is safeguarded with an SSL certificate if the URL starts with HTTPS instead of HTTP.
- Secure websites show a closed padlock emblem you can click to see security details – the most trusted websites have green padlocks or address bars.
- Browsers also display warning signs when a connection is not secure, such as a red padlock, an unclosed padlock, a line through the website address, or a warning triangle above the padlock emblem.
Protect your website today with the right tools
SSL assists in encrypting the data moved in between your site and the user’s browser. Depending upon the kind of SSL certification you utilize, you can verify info concerning the site and also its associated organization. This write-up has helped you learn about SSL certificates and why they are necessary for website safety.
While SSL certificates help increase the security of a website, they should only be one aspect of a comprehensive strategy. There are other measures you can take to protect your website further, such as keeping your software up to date and using strong passwords.