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Understanding the Different Types of SSL Certificates and Choosing the Right One
Understanding the Different Types of SSL Certificates and Choosing the Right One
Rapyd Team avatar
Written by Rapyd Team
Updated over a week ago

Understanding the types and validation levels of SSL Certificates helps secure your website and build user trust, and choosing the right one involves evaluating your site's needs and your business's nature.

Understanding SSL Certificates

An SSL certificate, which stands for Secure Sockets Layer certificate, is a digital certificate that provides a secure and encrypted connection between a website and its visitors. It serves as a digital "passport" that verifies the authenticity and identity of a website, ensuring that sensitive information shared between the website and users remains private and protected from unauthorized access.

The SSL certificate works by using cryptographic protocols to establish a secure connection between a web browser and web server. It encrypts the data transmitted between these two entities, making it extremely difficult for anyone to intercept or decipher the information. This encryption process involves the use of public and private keys, where the public key encrypts the data, and the private key decrypts it on the receiving end.

How SSL Certificates Secure Websites

An SSL certificate works like a special lock that keeps your website and its visitors safe. When a visitor wants to access your website with an SSL certificate, their web browser and your website's server engage in a secure handshake.

First, the visitor's web browser requests access to your website. Your server responds by sending a copy of the SSL certificate. The browser then checks if the SSL certificate is valid and issued by a trusted authority.

Once the browser confirms the certificate's authenticity, it generates a unique encryption key. This key is then used to securely encrypt all data sent between the visitor's browser and your website. This encryption process ensures that any information shared, like passwords or credit card details, is scrambled and cannot be easily understood by unauthorized parties.

The encrypted data travels back and forth between the browser and your server, keeping it safe from prying eyes. This protects your visitors from potential hackers or eavesdroppers trying to intercept and steal sensitive information.

Why Your Website Needs an SSL Certificate

1. Protect Sensitive Information:

An SSL certificate encrypts data exchanged between your website and visitors, safeguarding personal and confidential information from potential cyber threats.

2. Build Trust and Credibility:

Displaying the padlock icon and "https://" in the address bar instills confidence in visitors, signaling that their connection is secure. This enhances trust, encourages engagement, and fosters long-term customer loyalty.

3. Enhance Search Engine Rankings:

SSL certificates have become important in Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Websites with SSL certificates rank higher in search results, increasing visibility and attracting more organic traffic.

4. Ensure Compliance with Security Standards:

Many industries and regulatory bodies require websites to have SSL certificates to comply with data protection and privacy regulations. Having an SSL certificate helps you meet these requirements and avoid potential penalties.

5. Protect Against Phishing Attacks:

SSL certificates validate your website's authenticity, making it harder for malicious actors to create fake websites to deceive visitors. This protects your brand reputation and users from falling victim to phishing scams.

6. Secure Online Transactions:

If your website involves online transactions, such as e-commerce or financial transactions, an SSL certificate is essential. It ensures that sensitive payment information is encrypted, providing a secure environment for customers to make purchases.

7. Stay Ahead of Competitors:

As online security becomes a growing concern for internet users, having an SSL certificate can give your website a competitive advantage. It demonstrates your commitment to data protection and sets you apart from competitors who haven't implemented SSL.

8. Mobile Device Compatibility:

With the increasing use of mobile devices for browsing, having an SSL certificate is crucial. Many mobile browsers display warnings for non-secure websites, potentially discouraging visitors from accessing your site.

Types of SSL Certificates with Benefits and Drawbacks

Single Domain SSL Certificates:

These certificates are designed to secure one fully qualified domain name or subdomain. In other words, they provide security for a single URL. For example, if you purchase a Single Domain SSL Certificate for www.example.com, it will secure the communications between your website and your users' browsers specifically for that domain.

While they are the simplest form of SSL certificate, Single Domain SSL Certificates still offer full 2048-bit encryption and can be either Domain Validation (DV), Organization Validation (OV), or Extended Validation (EV) certificates.

The encryption ensures that sensitive information such as credit card details, login credentials, and personal information shared on the website is secure from cyber threats. Meanwhile, the level of validation varies - DV offers the least amount of validation and EV the most. This type of SSL certificate is typically used by small businesses, blogs, and personal websites that require security for one main domain.

Benefits:

  • It offers a high level of security and encryption for a single domain, which is ideal for small businesses or personal websites.

  • It's simpler and faster to issue than other types of SSL certificates because it only needs to verify one domain.

  • It's less expensive compared to multi-domain or wildcard SSL certificates, making it a cost-effective choice for businesses with a single domain.

Drawbacks:

  • It only secures one domain or subdomain. If a business operates multiple domains or subdomains, they would need to purchase additional SSL certificates, which can be more costly and challenging to manage.

  • It may not provide the highest level of trust and authentication to visitors, particularly if a DV Single Domain SSL Certificate is used, as it offers the least validation. This could be a concern for businesses where customer trust is crucial.

Multi-Domain SSL Certificates (also known as SAN or Subject Alternative Name SSL certificates):

Multi-Domain SSL Certificates, also known as Subject Alternative Names (SAN) SSL Certificates, allow you to secure multiple domain names with one certificate. They are a practical solution for businesses that operate more than one domain and want to simplify their SSL management. For example, with a Multi-Domain SSL Certificate, you can secure www.example.com, www.example.net, and www.example.org, all within one certificate.

This type of SSL certificate is especially useful for organizations with multiple first-level domains. They can secure multiple domains and hostnames with one certificate, making it easier to manage. Like Single Domain SSL certificates, Multi-Domain SSL certificates can also come in Domain Validation (DV), Organization Validation (OV), or Extended Validation (EV) forms.

Benefits:

  • Efficiency and convenience in securing multiple domain names with one certificate. This can simplify SSL management and reduce administrative overhead.

  • Flexibility in adding, changing, or removing any of the SANs in the SSL certificate, catering to the changing needs of the business.

  • Cost-effective as compared to buying separate certificates for each domain, reducing overall expenses.

Drawbacks:

  • If one domain is compromised, it could potentially affect the security of all other domains protected under the certificate, as they share the same certificate.

  • They can be more expensive than a single domain SSL certificate, especially if only a few domains need to be secured.

  • The certificate would need to be reissued whenever a domain is added or removed, which could lead to more frequent updates and management.

Wildcard SSL Certificates:

Wildcard SSL Certificates are designed to secure a domain and an unlimited number of its subdomains. For example, if you buy a Wildcard SSL certificate for *.example.com, it will cover the main domain (example.com) and any subdomains like blog.example.com, shop.example.com, or mail.example.com.

Wildcard SSL certificates use an asterisk (*) as a placeholder for all possible subdomains. The primary advantage of this type of certificate is its flexibility and simplicity of administration - you can secure all current and future first-level subdomains on a single, typically cost-effective certificate.

Like the previous ones, Wildcard SSL certificates can come in Domain Validation (DV) or Organization Validation (OV) forms, but not Extended Validation (EV) forms.

Benefits:

  • A Wildcard SSL certificate can secure an unlimited number of subdomains at a specific level on a single certificate, making it cost-effective and simplifying SSL management.

  • It provides flexibility for growth. As your business grows and you need to add more subdomains, they will automatically be secured under the existing Wildcard SSL certificate.

Drawbacks:

  • If one subdomain is compromised, it potentially puts all subdomains at risk because they share the same certificate.

  • Wildcard SSL certificates do not support Extended Validation (EV) SSL certificates, so they cannot display the organization's name in the address bar, which might provide a lower level of trust to the website visitors.

  • It only secures subdomains at the level you specify. For example, a wildcard certificate for *.example.com will not secure second-level subdomains like blog.shop.example.com. For this, you would need a wildcard for *.shop.example.com.

Multi-Domain Wildcard SSL Certificates:

Multi-Domain Wildcard SSL Certificates are among the most versatile SSL certificates. They allow you to secure multiple domains and an unlimited number of subdomains under those domains. This means you could secure www.example.com, www.example.net, and any subdomains under those, like blog.example.com or shop.example.net, all with one certificate.

This type of SSL certificate combines the benefits of both Multi-Domain and Wildcard SSL certificates. It is a practical solution for businesses that operate multiple domains and subdomains and want to simplify their SSL certificate management.

Multi-Domain Wildcard SSL Certificates are available in both Domain Validation (DV) and Organization Validation (OV) forms. However, similar to single Wildcard certificates, they're not available as Extended Validation (EV) SSL certificates.

Benefits:

  • A Multi-Domain Wildcard SSL certificate provides comprehensive coverage for multiple domains and their subdomains, simplifying SSL management.

  • This certificate is flexible and cost-effective, especially for businesses managing multiple sites or platforms.

  • It streamlines the process of adding, changing, or removing any domain or subdomain in the SSL certificate, catering to the evolving needs of the business.

Drawbacks:

  • If one domain or subdomain is compromised, the security of all domains and subdomains under the certificate could potentially be at risk, as they share the same certificate.

  • These are usually more expensive than single domain or wildcard certificates due to the extended coverage they provide.

  • They do not support the Extended Validation (EV) SSL certificates, which could result in lower user trust because the organization's name doesn't appear in the address bar.

Understanding SSL Certificate Validation Levels

i. Domain Validation (DV):

This is the most basic level of SSL certificate validation. The CA checks the right of the applicant to use a specific domain name. This is typically done through email verification, where the CA sends an email to the owner of the domain and asks them to confirm the SSL certificate request. DV certificates are typically issued quickly and are the least expensive type of SSL certificate.

They provide the same level of encryption as the other certificate types, but they don't vet the organization behind the website, which can make them a less trustworthy option for users.

ii. Organization Validation (OV):

With OV certificates, the CA not only validates the domain ownership but also some organizational information like the name, city, and country to ensure that the website is connected to a legitimate business. This process requires more documentation and takes longer than a DV certificate, but it provides a higher level of trust.

OV certificates provide an extra level of trust compared to DV certificates because they confirm that the organization behind the website is legitimate. However, the vetting process isn't as rigorous as it is for EV certificates.

iii. Extended Validation (EV):

This is the highest level of SSL certificate validation. The CA conducts a thorough investigation to authenticate the organization's identity. This process includes verifying the physical and operational existence of the company, verifying that the identity of the business matches official records, and verifying that the organization has exclusive right to use the domain specified in the EV SSL Certificate.

EV certificates provide the highest level of trust because they require the most rigorous validation process. Users can see this validation directly in their browser, where the company name appears next to the URL in the address bar, usually highlighted in green.

Choosing the Right SSL Certificate for Your Website

Choosing the right SSL certificate for your website is critical for securing your data and boosting the trust of your visitors. The best type of SSL certificate for your needs depends on the structure and scale of your website, as well as the level of trust and security you want to establish with your users. Here are some factors to consider:

1. Number of Domains or Subdomains:

If you're operating a single website or domain, a Single Domain SSL Certificate might be sufficient. However, if you manage multiple domains or a complex network of subdomains, a Multi-Domain or Wildcard SSL Certificate may be more suitable. A Multi-Domain Wildcard SSL certificate offers the highest flexibility, securing multiple domains and their associated subdomains.

2. Validation Level:

Choose the validation level that best suits your business. If your website doesn't handle sensitive information and you're primarily concerned with encrypting users' connections, a Domain Validation (DV) certificate might suffice. If you run a business website where user trust is important, consider an Organization Validation (OV) or Extended Validation (EV) certificate. EV certificates offer the highest level of trust and are recommended for large businesses or e-commerce websites.

3. Business Size:

For small businesses or personal blogs that operate under a single domain, a Single Domain SSL Certificate may be the most cost-effective and practical choice. Larger businesses with multiple domains or subdomains to secure might find a Multi-Domain or Wildcard SSL certificate more suitable.

4. Cost:

SSL certificates range in cost, depending on the validation level and the number of domains or subdomains they cover. While cost should not be the only factor, it is important to consider it. DV certificates are generally the cheapest, while EV certificates are the most expensive due to the extensive validation process.

5. SSL Provider:

Choose a reliable SSL provider or Certificate Authority (CA). Make sure the provider offers good customer support, easy certificate management, and clear instructions for certificate installation. Check customer reviews and ratings to ensure you're selecting a trusted provider.

Final Words

Knowing about SSL certificates and their validation levels is key to keeping your website secure and building user trust. The best choice depends on your site's needs, your business size, and the trust level you want. No matter what, SSL certificates are important for a safe online experience.

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