What Is an Encryption Certificate and How Do I Get It for My Website?

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Encryption certificate. These two words, together, form a term that sounds pretty straight-forward but could actually have a few different meanings. Let’s break down what an encryption certificate is, what it does, and how you can get one for your website.

What is an Encryption Certificate?

Well, it depends on whom you ask and in what context. For example, the most common example, however, is known as an SSL/TLS certificate. This refers to a digital file known as an X.509 digital certificate that you can use to facilitate a secure, encrypted connection via the SSL/TLS secure protocol. However, the term “encryption certificate” could also refer to certificates that are used to encrypt files, documents, and emails.

If you were to go by the definition cited by the NIST Computer Security Resource Center, an encryption certificate is:

A certificate containing a public key that is used to encrypt electronic messages, files, documents, or data transmissions, or to establish or exchange a session key for these same purposes.”

For this article, however, we’ll discuss encryption certificates in terms of those digital certificates that establish secure, encrypted channels for clients (users’ web browsers) and websites (your web server) to communicate and transfer information through.

How an Encryption Certificate Works

If you know how an SSL/TLS certificate works, then you already know how an encryption certificate work. If not, let’s take a moment to break it down.

An SSL/TLS certificate is just one part of the data encryption process that works based on public key infrastructure (PKI) and public key encryption. It’s a digital file that contains information that helps your web server validate and establish a secure, encrypted connection.

To help it do this, every SSL/TLS certificate contains two asymmetric cryptographic keys — a public key and a private key — which are used to generate a third unique, symmetric key known as a session key. Because symmetric encryption is faster than asymmetric encryption, it makes communication between the two parties faster and more efficient. (“Faster” is a relative term when you’re talking about milliseconds, but it’s still faster nevertheless.)

Once that secure connection is established, your website visitors can interact with your website securely.

How Do I Get an Encryption Certificate for My Website?

The answer to this question is two-fold: You can get a free SSL certificate from a free provider, or you can purchase one from a reputable certificate authority.

So, what’s the difference? Well, the first is obvious — a free SSL/TLS certificate is free, whereas a commercial SSL/TLS certificate is one that you buy (although you can get it at a significantly reduced rate when you purchase through CheapSSLsecurity.com).

Another difference between the two is in terms of what the certificate does and its validation level. Paid SSL certificates have far more options — both in terms of validation levels and functionality. Want to choose between domain validation (DV), organization validation (OV), and extended validation (EV)? You can with a paid certificate. With a free one, you only get domain validation.

Looking for options such as multi domain wildcard? Yeah, you can only get those by buying commercial SSL/TLS certificates.

How about a warranty — want one of those? You can only get an SSL/TLS certificate warranty with a commercial/paid SSL certificate.

Want support? You can only get that by buying an SSL/TLS certificate as well. That’s because the free guys don’t offer support. So, you’re left dealing with forum trolls and searching through a mess of unhelpful, mind-numbing documentation.

This is why we always recommend buying an SSL/TLS certificate from a reputable reseller such as ourselves.

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