Your E-Commerce Site And SSL Certification

An Introduction To SSL
SSL, short for Secure Socket Layer, is an open source protocol that was first developed by Netscape to offer greater security for online transactions. In the early days of e-commerce the biggest challenge for most stores was persuading prospective clients that their website was secure. In general, consumers and subsequently businesses first met online transactions with a high degree of skepticism. However, the potential was clear to many that online shopping could provide a convenient way for consumers to shop and for businesses to profit. SSL was one of the first really positive steps into turning e-commerce into a viable online reality and it has remained popular ever since.

Cross Browser Compatibility
One of the most worrying things Webmasters first feel when they learn that Netscape developed the SSL protocol is whether it has cross browser compatibility. The short but complete answer is yes. Netscape, Mozilla, and Internet Explorer, as well as various other browsers support SSL websites. This means that a website or individual web pages can be developed using SSL without accessibility fears.

SSL Certificate Specifics
SSL effectively encrypts data using two keys. One key is known by all browsers while the other is known only by the SSL certificate on the e-commerce server. There are two strengths of encryption – 40bit and 128bit. You should opt for the 128bit SSL wherever possible because 40bit pages have been hacked in the past making them potentially unsafe for you and your customers.

The Wrong Way To Offer SSL Certification
Unfortunately there are several ways to get an SSL certificate, most of them basically making a mockery of the entire system. Self signed SSL certificates can be created by you personally. Technically speaking, this provides a level of encryption to your website and any secure information that passes through the pages of your site. The problem arises though, because it is unlikely that you can recreate the same level of encryption as a certificate vendor and also because browsers do not consider these to be secure. Your visitors will receive a popup stating that the SSL certificate was not recognized. Many visitors will actually click through this without reading it or paying attention but some will stop their transaction immediately. Open source scripts pose similar problems, although you must also remember that the script author probably has more information than they should regarding any transactions on your site.

Do It The Right Way
The official, and usually most effective way to acquire an SSL certificate is through a certificate vendor. However, this can also be done through the same channels as and when you pay for your hosting. Some hosting accounts offer a free SSL certificate with certain levels of hosting account. This can be an excellent money and time saver while offering your customers the complete security that SSL certificates offer. A hobbyist website that will not be selling any products online does not necessarily need an SSL certificate but if, in the near future, the site will be stepping into the realms of e-commerce then it is easier and quicker to obtain an SSL certificate with your hosting plan.

SSL Certification Conclusion
A large part of e-commerce is about gaining your customer’s trust. It is possible that you could run an e-commerce store without an SSL certificate and you may make sales. However, numerous studies (VeriSign are particularly active in conducting these studies) have shown that potential customers are much more likely to purchase from sites that display a valid and reliable SSL certificate. A site with SSL certification is shown by the use of the URL prefix https: instead of http:. Internet Explorer displays a padlock in the bottom corner while Firefox also displays this padlock in the address bar. With so many ways for visitors to your site to recognize a safe site and with phishing and online theft posing a very real problem an SSL certificate can be the difference between a few sales and a regular, sizable profit from your e-commerce efforts.