The amount of time we all spend online means the question of how secure our virtual activities are is never very far from the headlines.
Whether it is the threat of an exploit such as the recent Heartbleed bug scare or the seemingly endless revelations about the extent of Big Brother surveillance, most people now take an interest in how safe our electronic communications and web transactions actually are.
What is SSL?
Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) is a method that allows data encryption on the internet and the most common use is to protect communications between web browsers and web servers. It can also be used for server to server communications and for web-based applications as well.
The system works by using SSL certificates and an authentication process to verify domain control validation in tandem with a mathematical process of coding and decoding information.
File encryption can come in varying levels of complexity by using different sizes of ‘keys’. 40-bit, 56-bit, 128-bit, 256-bit tags relate to how big a key is and larger ones are harder to crack, much in the same way that a longer password presents a greater challenge than a short one.
The encryption level of any particular action or transaction is determined by a mix of factors including the capability of the web browser, SSL certificate, web server, and client computer operating system.
When a browser connects to a secure site it retrieves the SSL certificate and checks that it is in date, has been issued by a Certificate Authority the browser trusts and that it is being used by the website for which it has been issued.
If any of these tests are failed the browser warns the user that the site may not be safe.
It is easy to see if an SSL process is in use as the beginning of the URL web address changes from http:// to https:// and a padlock symbol on the browser window changes from open to closed.
With some many complex and clever methods being used by scammers and hackers, knowing that you are using a trusted website that hasn’t been cloned or imitated plays a large part in day to day safe online practice.
The use of SSL by businesses not only gives an extra layer of security but also a feeling of confidence to customers and end users.
Featured image credit: Digital Security Padlock/ShutterStock