With reports on cyberattacks flooding the news and social media, ramping up the protection of your website and customers alike has become more crucial than ever. A website security certificate can be a precious tool to help you secure your website and customers’ data

Organizations and security teams worldwide are bracing for new, potentially devastating cyberattacks, and governments worldwide are issuing warnings and recommendations on how to prepare for this growing concern. In early March, the U.S. Senate passed the Strengthening American Cybersecurity Act, a new piece of legislation that aims to help keep both public and businesses safer online. The European Union has set up a cyber rapid response team (CRRT) to assist member states in increasing their cyberattacks defense.

All this is reassuring at a high level. But considering that the average cost of a cyberattack rose to $4.24 million in 2021, you as a website owner or user need to know that there’s something that can be used at the website level to make sites more secure. This is where a website security certificate comes into play.

What Is a Website Security Certificate?

A website security certificate is an essential ally to website owners and users alike. It helps site owners assert their digital identity in a way that users’ browsers can verify as being legitimate. It’s akin to handing over your driver’s license or official ID whenever you rent a car to prove your identity — because it comes from a central authority, it’s trusted as being legitimate.

While browsing the web as a web user, have you ever wondered what the small padlock in the address bar means? It indicates that the website you’re browsing has a secure, encrypted connection that’s enabled, in part, through the use of a valid security certificate. The certificate itself is a digital file that’s issued by a trusted third-party called a certificate authority (CA).

The certificate, which helps to facilitate the use of the HTTPS protocol, is also called all of the following:

  • SSL certificate
  • TLS certificate
  • SSL/TLS certificate
  • HTTPS certificate
  • Website security certificate

To receive one, the website proprietor must prove ownership of the domain and go through a specific authentication process. But what exactly does it do? In short, a website security certificate has two main purposes:

  1. Providing identity that helps validate that the website is legitimate, and
  2. Encrypting communications between the server and the client to protect sensitive information transferred during online transactions.

An Overview of the Different Types of Website Security Certificates

Knowing the different types of security certificates for websites and their safety levels can contribute a great deal to a more secure online experience. But what you may not realize is that website security certificates are typically categorized in one of two ways:

  1. By the functionalities they provide
  2. By the level of validation required prior to a certificate’s issuance

Let’s start by having a look at the four major types of SSL/TLS certificates based on their functionalities:

Single Domain SSL Certificates

  • Offering inexpensive, strong encryption for a single domain only.
  • Generally used by forums, blogs, and basic websites.

Wildcard SSL Certificates

  • Protecting an individual base domain and unlimited single-level subdomains with a single certificate.
  • Much cheaper than buying individual SSL certificates for individual sub-domains.
  • Typically used by companies with multiple subdomains on a single level.

Multi-Domain (SAN) SSL Certificates

  • Providing encryption for many domains with a single certificate.
  • It includes the combination of unique domains with different top-level domains (TLDs), and it can be installed on multiple servers.
  • Mostly used by websites with a different domain for each country they’re operating in.

Multi-Domain Wildcard SSL Certificates

  • Enabling you to encrypt many individual domains along with their respective subdomains on all levels with a single certificate.
  • Often used by big corporations owning multiple sites with thousands of subdomains.

Certificate Validation Levels

The above-mentioned website security certificates can be purchased in one of three validation levels:

  1. Domain validation (DV),
  2. Organization validation (OV), or
  3. Extended validation (EV).

Every organization should choose their certificates’ validation levels based on the level of security required for the site they wish to secure. Of course, cost is another important factor; different certificates come from different brands and have different price ranges to meet organizations’ budgets.

A graphic that illustrates the three levels of website security certificate validations
A quick side-by-side visual comparison of website security certificates types and their trust levels .
 Domain Validation Certificate (DV)Organizational Validation Certificate (OV)Extended Validation Certificate (EV)
Trust LevelMinimal — with the lowest level of trust, free DV certificates are often used by cybercriminals.Moderate — also known as basic business validation, this requires some validation to show that the requesting organization is legitimate.  High — this level of validation offers the highest level of security through a more extensive verification process. EV goes above and beyond DV and OV validation.  
How to Get OneThe website owner only has to confirm that they own or control the domain.  The applying organization must prove that the business is legitimate and that it’s the legal owner of the domain to the CA issuing the certificate. This requires additional steps and providing documentation for the CA to review and verify.  The applicant must go through a strict, standardized identity verification process, and detailed review before being approved. They also must prove they’re the legal owner of the domain.  
What Displays in Users’ BrowsersPadlockHTTPSPadlockHTTPSWebsite owner’s information (in the certificate details)PadlockHTTPS Name of the businessVerified location information
Each Certificate’s Ideal UsagesBlogs or websites not involving data collection or payments, like portfolio and CV websites.Commercial websites to ensure that customers’ sensitive information is encrypted during transactions.All websites handling customers’ sensitive information and online payments.
CostVery inexpensive.Cheaper than the EV certificate.The most expensive certificate among the three due to its high level of validation and the manual verification processes involved.

As a business owner, understanding the difference between the types of certificates and how to use them is crucial. After all, using SSL/TLS certificate is one of the most effective ways to add your organization’s verifiable identity to your website, which helps avoid scams, increase their trust in you, and enhance sensitive data while it’s in transit. But how does a website security certificate work? This is what we’re going to discover next.

Security Certificate for Website: How It Works Behind the Scenes

We already know that a website security certificate is used to establish an encrypted connection between a server and a web browser. This is done through a TLS handshake, a complex process involving specific encryption and decryption keys. We won’t get into all of the specifics here. But let’s take a quick look at the whole process through an example.

When a user goes to a website that has a security certificate, the following “conversation” takes place between their browser and the website’s server that it’s trying to connect to:

  1. The user’s browser sends an authentication request to the webserver. It’s like saying, “Hi! I want to connect with you.”
  2. The web server responds by sending a message with info to help the two parties communicate. It then also sends the browser a copy of its SSL certificate together with its public key, along with a random number that can be used to generate a separately agreed-upon key that only the server and browser will use.
  3. The browser checks the legitimacy of the SSL certificate’s digital signature and other information.
  4. The user’s web browser sends encrypted data to the web server along with its own value that will be used to generate the secret session key.
  5. The web server uses its private key to read the data and generates a matching secret key using the provided data.
  6. Some other session key generation-related steps happen next. But the takeaway here is that from now onward, the browser and the server will share encrypted data using the shared encrypted key. This makes the information unreadable to hackers and protecting it from man-in-the-middle (MitM) attacks. 
A graphic that illustrates the back-and-forth communications that occur between a web browser and server when establishing a secure, encrypted connection
How a website security certificate aids in establishing a secure, encrypted SSL/TLS connection.

All these steps take place behind the scenes in a matter of milliseconds. Amazing, right?

But that’s not all! There are many reasons why using a security certificate for a website can be beneficial to your business and customers alike.

Why Website Security Certificates Matter to Your Business

Bolster’s 2022 State of Phishing & Online Fraud Report shows that more than 10.5 million phishing and fake web page were identified in 2021. That’s 153% more than they’d observed in 2020! Furthermore, their research shows that they detected an average of 29,000 pages per day! Scam and fraudulent attacks were also on the rise, in some cases being four times higher than the previous year. 

Website security certificates can be an important ally against skilled scammers who create convincing fake websites to lure your unsuspecting victims and steal their personal information.

This simple yet secure channel to transfer data has become even more valuable in a world where online security can’t be taken for granted. Why? Let’s find out the top reasons why you can’t do without a website security certificate as a business owner.

Protects Your Data with Strong Encryption

As already discussed at the beginning of this article, an SSL certificate protects all server-to-client communications encrypting every bit of information. Once encrypted, the data can only be read by the intended recipient, cutting the bad guys out of the equation. As a result, your customers’ IDs, passwords, credit card numbers used in the transactions will be safe from prying eyes.

Boosts Your Search Engine Ranking

Did you know that Google changed its search algorithm to give priority to HTTPS websites back in 2014? Taking into account how difficult it is to stand out in a crowded online market, reaching a higher ranking on search engines thanks to a website security certificate is something that can’t be ignored. After all, you can have the best brand in the world and a fantastic website, but what good does it do if no one can find your site?

Confirms to the World That You’re Really You

Not everything on the web is what it seems. Among the billions of websites available, there are tons set up by scammers taking advantage of the anonymity of the internet to exploit and deceive users. A valid security certificate for a website will confirm your customers that the page they’re visiting is yours and is authentic.

In addition, your users will be able to verify the certificate information of the site (in the next chapter, we’ll show how to do that), to make sure that the owner truly is who he claims to be.

Enhances Customers’ Trust in Your Site and Brand

Customers are becoming increasingly wary about how their sensitive data are handled. According to the Axway Global Consumer Survey, 68% of consumer respondents said they wouldn’t buy from an online website lacking in private data security. The number goes up to 75% in case of online retailers fall victim to a breach or cyberattack. Using a website security certificate will show your customers that you care about their data, thus helping you to increase trust in your brand and organization.

A screenshot of a pie chart graphic from Axway Global Consumer Survey shows how an online retailer's lack of security affects customer purchase rates
Image Source: Axway Global Consumer Survey
A screenshot of a pie chart graphic from Axway Global Consumer Survey shows how an online retailer's reported breach or cyber attack affects customer relationships
Image source: Axway Global Consumers Survey

Contributes to Meeting the PCI DSS Security Standards for Secure Payment Card Data

Did you know that having a website security certificate is one of the primary requirements set forth by the Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council (PCI SSC)? Yep! No certificate, no credit card transactions, and with the e-commerce sales expected to cross $1 trillion for the first time this year in the U.S. alone, you don’t want to miss that, right? 

Increases Website Conversions

Your website’s conversion rate tells you how often a visitor to your page is completing a specific, desired action, (e.g., buying one or more items you sell). One of the most used marketing strategies to boost conversion is to add a security seal on websites and you can do that only if you own a website security certificate. This way, you’ll be able to show your visitors that data security is your priority and see your business grow.

Prevents “This Website Is Not Secure” Browser Warning Messages from Displaying

Since Google made the use of SSL/TLS certificates mandatory in 2018, all sites without a website security certificate installed are being flagged by all major browsers with a message warning the users that the site is not secure. Do you really want your website marked with that? I don’t think so.   

Helps You Avoid Lawsuit Threats in the Event of a Data Breach

Facing official litigation is one of the worst nightmares for any website owner and can dearly cost you and your organization. Equifax, the credit agency, intimately knows this uncomfortable situation after an update on its massive data breach settlement made news once again earlier this year. If you’ll ever experience a data breach, having measures in place protecting your customers’ data can contribute to avoiding or at least minimizing the risks of a costly legal battle.

As you can see, owning a security certificate for a website can do wonders for your business and online presence, but you’ll have to choose wisely as they’re not all the same.

Free Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Safe

Do you remember when we talked about the different types of certificates? One in particular, the domain validation certificate, has a very low level of trust and it’s often used by scammers to make malicious sites look like genuine ones.

Why? Because it’s easy to obtain, it’s cheap (in some cases it’s even free), and usually the users either don’t know the differences among the certificates (or don’t know how to check the information about the organization behind it). Now, we’re not saying that any legitimate website shouldn’t use DV certificates; we’re just saying that you should be sure to assess your website’s security needs to determine which certificate validation level would be the best fit.

And this takes us to the last chapter of this article, where you, as a user, will learn how to check who owns and operate the website you’re visiting to ensure that the website’s owner is really who he claims to be.

How to Check an Organization’s Information Through a Website Security Certificate

Checking the information included on a website security certificate is easy and doesn’t take long.

  • Go to the website of your choice to confirm that the website is using an SSL certificate. If there’s a padlock on the URL address bar, you’re good to go.
  • View the general certificate information. Click on the padlock and access the drop-down menu.
  • View additional information. To visualize more details like the name of the organization that issued the certificate or its validity, you’ll have to follow a slightly different procedure depending on the browser you’re using.

How to View Certificate Information in Firefox

  • Click on the padlock. Under the Connection secure text, you should see verified company information displaying:
A Firefox screenshot of the verified company information for Citigroup, Inc., which owns citi.com
  • Click on the arrow next to Connection secure.
  • Select More information
A Firefox screenshot of the website security certificate information for Citigroup, Inc., which owns citi.com
CitiGroup website security certificate additional information

Note: Clicking on the View Certificate button will open an additional page, including even more details about the certificate.

A Firefox screenshot of the website security certificate information that displays verified organizational info for Citigroup, Inc., which owns citi.com and related SAN domains
A screenshot of the information you’ll find about both the certificate and the subject alternative name (SAN) domains that are covered under the certificate.

How to View Certificate Information in Chrome

  • Click on the arrow next to Connection is secure.
  • Click on Certificate is valid. Next to the text, you should see the following verified organizational information displaying because this site is using an EV website security certificate:
A Chrome browser screenshot of the verified company information for Citigroup, Inc., which owns citi.com
  • In the pop-up, select the Details tab and then the information you want to view.
A Chrome browser screenshot of the website security certificate information that displays verified organizational info for Citigroup, Inc., which owns citi.com and related SAN domains
Chrome website security certificate additional information

That’s all!

Final Thoughts on What Is a Website Security Certificate

Since last year, all major browsers started offering an option for HTTPS-only mode to better protect organizations and users alike from phishing threats. Once activated, it automatically upgrades all connections to HTTPS and makes all those unsecure websites using only HTTP temporarily unreachable with a secure connection.

Next time you go to a website, make sure you check its website security certificate details to ensure that your data are secure. If you’re a website owner, don’t miss the opportunity to take advantage of all the benefits of a secure encrypted connection. It will give your customers another reason to choose you instead of the competition.


Welcome to Savvy Security, a blog focused on providing practical cybersecurity advice for website owners and small businesses. Our team brings you the latest news, best practices and tips you can use to protect your business...without a multi-million dollar budget or 24/7 security teams.