Understanding SSL: The What, Why and When of Secure Sockets Layer

When it comes to running an e-commerce site—whether based on the WordPress platform or not—you can never devote too much attention to security. Just browse the news of the past several years and the number and frequency of major data breaches is enough to inspire panic: massive losses of customer information, credit card numbers, banking information, healthcare details, social security numbers etc., all to enterprising and crafty hackers who can wreak havoc on a world-wide scale.

Thankfully, for more than 20 years there’s been a standard security technology in place for establishing an encrypted link between a server (whether for a website or email) and a client. It’s called Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), and it allows for any and all sensitive information to be transmitted safely and securely by enabling complex algorithms that scramble data while it’s moving around our virtual world.

Most of us who are even remotely paying attention while we surf the web, buy online or volley emails back and forth associate online security with an icon that looks like a lock or a URL that begins with “https” instead of just “http.” And certain sites even display a different sort of scroll bar—green often—that gives a quick visual cue to users that the site is safe and can be trusted to protect private information and communications.

Recognizing the importance of this technology begins with the SSL Certificate. In order for a browser—such as the one your customer or client is using while accessing your site—to communicate safely with the server running your page, a certificate is required to establish a secure connection. The certificate comes with two keys—one private and one public—that work together to make a safe connection. And to obtain a certificate the website owner needs to create a Certificate Signing Request via their server to create these keys. Once they’re created you install the certificate on your server and your connections are now secure.

Once a website owner or administrator understands how critical an SSL connection is, they may still be asking the question “why do I need it?” In short, having this level of security creates an environment of trust between you and your customers, giving them the comfort of knowing that they can safely browse your site, enter their personal information and make purchases away from prying eyes and eavesdroppers.

Indeed, so trusted is the SSL protocol that, if your website collects credit card information from customers, you’re required by law to have a certificate. And if your site has a login section or if you collect addresses, phone numbers or emails, it’s absolutely a smart idea to have a certificate to protect that data from identity thieves.

In the end, having that familiar lock icon let’s users who access your site—and who are becoming more security savvy all the time—know that you care about protecting their information, and that level of trust can go along way in establishing a solid relationship with your clientele.

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