How Website Security Certificates Work


When browsing online, you may have noticed that most popular websites have a padlock symbol by their name. Likewise, you may have noticed that some sites use ‘HTTPS’ while other sites use just ‘HTTP’, especially if they’re older and out of date. These indicate the site’s security certificate status, one of the fundamental security checks that every successful website should pass today.

What Are Website Security Certificates?

Website certificates refer to documents proving that a site’s data is properly encrypted when sent and received. They are called Secure Socket Layer (SSL) certificates, though modern versions use Transport Layer Security (TLS) instead.

These certificates are vital for any website that handles customer information and processes transactions. For example, e-commerce stores or sites offering digital services like iGaming should all have up-to-date SSL certificates. That’s because iGaming sites host hundreds of games across many different genres, each with transactions built into them. When users play Wanted Dead or a Wild or similar games online, it’s industry standard to use SSL certificates to protect exchanged data. This is why any mainstream retail or entertainment website will have the padlock symbol by its URL, showing that it’s secure by today’s best security standards. Sites showing ‘HTTPS’ also indicate the presence of an SSL certificate, unlike the inferior ‘HTTP’.

How SSL Certificates Work

To access digital services or process an online transaction, customers must perform a TLS handshake with the website. This is the main authentication process used by security certificates. It’s where the server-side party – the business or site host – verifies that the client is who they claim to be. Your browser also confirms the presence of a security certificate and that its details match the domain, so the user can trust the site in turn.

A communication channel is opened between the server and the client, and a public key is made available. In public key cryptography, the public key is used to encrypt data. That encrypted data can only be decrypted by the private key, which is kept by the server hosting the website. All sent data also uses message authentication codes. Those codes break if the data gets tampered with during its transmission, so it blocks man-in-the-middle attacks.

Lastly, unique session keys are generated for every interaction. This means that the same two parties would use different session keys for subsequent interactions. This makes it impossible for anyone to anticipate these keys and compromise them in any way.

Assuming the site is well-maintained and there are so security concerns, a TLS handshake happens in a matter of milliseconds. It happens automatically while your browser is loading the website. If the site loads, both you and the site have passed the handshake test. Some anti-virus software will warn or block its users from entering sites that don’t have an active SSL certificate.

How SSL Certificates Work

Getting SSL Certificates

Those doing business online should get an SSL certificate to prove that their site is the real deal. Since these certificates are so important today, it’s easier than ever to get a hold of one. To do that, site owners need to register with a certification authority.

There are many authorities, though tech giants and hyperscaler companies like Google, Cloudflare, AWS and IBM are the most reputable. Larger authorities offer certificates to those hosted on their infrastructure.

The process of installing a security certificate happens in four steps. First, owners should perform an ICANN lookup and then generate a certificate signing request using the domain’s information. That signing request is sent to the authority, who then sends the certificate to install into your domain.

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