What Is SSL?

The Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) and Transport Layer Security (TLS) is the most widely deployed security protocol used today.  It is essentially a protocol that provides a secure channel between two machines operating over the Internet or an internal network.  In today’s Internet focused world, the SSL protocol is typically used when a web browser needs to securely connect to a web server over the inherently insecure Internet.

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Technically, SSL is a transparent protocol which requires little interaction from the end user when establishing a secure session.  In the case of a browser for instance, users are alerted to the presence of SSL when the browser displays a padlock, or, in the case of Extended Validation SSL, when the address bar displays both a padlock and a green bar. This is the key to the success of SSL – it is an incredibly simple experience for end users.

What Is It Used For?

  • To secure online credit card transactions.
  • To secure system logins and any sensitive information exchanged online.
  • To secure webmail and applications like Outlook Web Access, Exchange and Office Communications Server.
  • To secure workflow and virtualisation applications like Citrix Delivery Platforms or cloud-based computing platforms.
  • To secure the connection between an email client such as Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Exchange etc.
  • To secure the transfer of files over https and FTP(s) services etc.
  • To secure hosting control panel logins and activity like cPanel etc.
  • To secure intranet based traffic such as internal networks, file sharing and database connections.
  • To secure network logins and other network traffic with SSL VPNs such as VPN Access Servers.

What is an SSL Certificate?

SSL Certificates are small data files that digitally bind a cryptographic key to an organization’s details.  When installed on a web server, it activates the padlock and the https protocol (over port 443) and allows secure connections from a web server to a browser.  Typically, SSL is used to secure credit card transactions, data transfer and logins, and more recently is becoming the norm when securing browsing of social media sites.  SSL Certificates bind together.

An organisation needs to install the SSL Certificate onto its web server to initiate secure sessions with browsers.  Depending on the type of SSL Certificate applied for, the organisation will need to go through differing levels of vetting.  Once installed, it is possible to connect to the website over, as this tells the server to establish a secure connection with the browser.  Once a secure connection is established, all web traffic between the web server and the web browser will be secure.  Browsers tell visitors a website is SSL secure via several visible trust indicators.

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