Let’s Go Technical – What SSL Certificates On Your Browsers Mean

What SSL certificates mean
What SSL certificates mean

Have you asked for once, what SSL certificates on your web browsers mean? I have searched it out for you and most especially, how it works.

The 3 letters SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer. Simply put, SSL creates an encrypted connection or encrypted link between the web browser you use to visit a website and the web server (that website you’re visiting), allowing for private information to be transmitted without the problems of eavesdropping, data tampering, or message forgery.

Let’s just say, immediately SSL comes to your mind, think about secure, safe connection or link between your web browser and your web server.

SSL allows sensitive information such as credit card numbers, social security numbers, and login credentials to be transmitted securely.

Normally, data sent between browsers and web servers is sent in plain text—leaving you vulnerable to eavesdropping. If an attacker is able to intercept all data being sent between a browser and a web server they can see and use that information.

More specifically, SSL is a security protocol. Protocols describe how algorithms should be used; in this case, the SSL protocol determines variables of the encryption for both the link and the data being transmitted.

All browsers (Chrome, Opera, Safari, Moxilla Firefox etc.) have the capability to interact with secured web servers using the SSL protocol.

For a secure connection to be established between your web browser and the server there’s a need for an SSL Certificate. At this point we can say that some websites are secure and some are not. The safe ones are secured by SSL.

Secure Sockets Layer Certificates have a key pair: a public and a private key. These keys work together to establish an encrypted connection. The certificate also contains what is called the “subject,” which is the identity of the certificate/website owner.

How Does the SSL Certificate Create a Secure Connection?

When a browser attempts to access a website that is secured by SSL, the browser and the web server establish an SSL connection using a process called an “SSL Handshake” (see diagram below). Note that the SSL Handshake is invisible to the user and happens instantaneously.

Essentially, three keys are used to set up the SSL connection: the public, private, and session keys. Anything encrypted with the public key can only be decrypted with the private key, and vice versa.

Because encrypting and decrypting with private and public key takes a lot of processing power, they are only used during the SSL Handshake to create a symmetric session key. After the secure connection is made, the session key is used to encrypt all transmitted data.

  1. Browser connects to a web server (website) secured with SSL (https). Browser requests that the server identify itself.
  2. Server sends a copy of its SSL Certificate, including the server’s public key.
  3. Browser checks the certificate root against a list of trusted CAs and that the certificate is unexpired, unrevoked, and that its common name is valid for the website that it is connecting to. If the browser trusts the certificate, it creates, encrypts, and sends back a symmetric session key using the server’s public key.
  4. Server decrypts the symmetric session key using its private key and sends back an acknowledgement encrypted with the session key to start the encrypted session.
  5. Server and Browser now encrypt all transmitted data with the session key.

There’s a cue that will help you know if your connection to a web server is secure or not. Look at the top left space on your browser, where you type a website address, websites with a green color like these below are secure.

Site Secure Lock - The Green lock on websites indicates the reliability and security of a web page

It could be only a green lock symbol with “https” as well

Site secure lock

If you have a website, Site SSL Certificates protects your site from malware scanning and the transfer of any sensitive data.

One of the most important components of online business is creating a trusted environment where potential customers feel confident in making purchases.

This SSL certificate also reassures your customers that their information is safe, helping to improve conversions. SSL certificates are a wonderful tool that enhances safety of our personal information online.