SSL Certificates: What it is & How it Works

SSL Certificates: What it is & How it Works

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In order to operate a secure website, you’ll need an SSL certificate. Let’s explore what SSL certificates are, how they work, and how to install one on your website.

What is an SSL Certificate?

An SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate is a digital certificate that authenticates the identity of a website and enables an encrypted connection.

This is crucial for safeguarding sensitive data transmitted between users’ browsers and the website’s server, protecting against cyber threats like data breaches and phishing attacks.

How Do SSL Certificates Work?

SSL certificates use public key cryptography. This system uses two keys: a public key, known to everyone, and a private key, known only to the recipient of the message.

When a browser accesses a secure website, it retrieves the site’s SSL certificate and checks that it has not expired, that it has been issued by a trusted authority, that it is used by the website for which it has been issued, and that it is digitally signed by a trustworthy certificate authority (CA).

Once verified, the browser and the server establish a secure connection using symmetric encryption.

How Much Do SSL Certificates Cost?

Basic SSL certificates can cost from $10 to $50 per year, while more advanced options, like Extended Validation (EV) certificates, can range from $100 to $500 annually.

Prices depend on the issuing authority and the certificate’s features.

Are SSL Certificates Free?

Yes, free SSL certificates are available and can be suitable for personal blogs or small websites. Services like Let’s Encrypt and Cloudflare offer SSL certificates at no cost.

However, these free certificates typically offer a basic level of validation compared to paid versions, which may include additional security features and greater trust assurance for eCommerce sites.

How to Install an SSL Certificate

Installing an SSL certificate generally involves several steps:

  1. Purchase or obtain a certificate from a reliable CA.
  2. Generate a CSR (Certificate Signing Request) on your web server. This includes your domain name, company, and other identification information.
  3. Submit the CSR to the CA to begin the validation process.
  4. Install the certificate on your server once issued by the CA. This process varies depending on your hosting environment and server setup.
  5. Configure your website to default to HTTPS by adjusting your site’s settings and .htaccess file to redirect traffic.

How long do SSL certificates last?

Typically, SSL certificates are valid for 1-2 years, though some providers offer longer terms.

Is an SSL certificate necessary for SEO?

Yes, Google has confirmed that HTTPS is a ranking factor. Websites with SSL certificates may receive a ranking boost over non-secure sites.

Can SSL certificates be renewed?

Yes, SSL certificates need to be renewed before they expire to maintain website security and data integrity.


SSL certificates are essential for any modern website, ensuring secure transactions and building customer trust. By choosing the right type of SSL certificate and properly maintaining it, website owners can protect their users and enhance their site’s credibility and SEO.