What is an SSL Certificate and Do You Need One?

SSL stands for “Secure Sockets Layer,” and an SSL certificate provides a secure channel, or encrypted connection, between a web server (website or email system) and a user. If you’ve ever seen a green padlock and the word “Secure” to the top left of the URL in your browser, you were on a site that had an SSL certificate. Another way to tell that a site is secure is that the URL will begin with “https” instead of just “http”.

So, do you need an SSL certificate for your website? Just a few months ago, for most websites, the answer to that question was no. Unless you collected sensitive information from your website visitors (such as credit card or other personal information), there was no real reason to have one.

This past January, that all started to change. Google and Chrome (the most popular search engine and the most popular browser) made some changes, and are now penalizing some sites that aren’t secure. If your site collects any user information at all – even if it’s not sensitive, such as login information to a member’s only section of your site – there is now a “Not secure” prominently posted to the left of the URL. Needless to say, this is not something that inspires confidence in the end user!

You may have also noticed that suddenly, many websites that had never been designated as “Secure” before are now displaying with the green padlock – sites like Wikipedia, Google, and even our own website. This is because Google and Chrome are gradually making changes, working toward the eventuality that every website will be required to have an SSL certificate.

What does this mean for you? That depends. If you collect any user information at all, it’s definitely time to get an SSL certificate. If you don’t, you won’t be penalized… yet. As with many of Google’s changes, they don’t publish their full game plan in advance. So while we don’t know all of the details or specific dates, we do know that soon enough, all sites will be required to have an SSL certificate.

The bottom line is that it can’t hurt to get one now. And eventually, possibly with very little notice, you’ll be required to have one. As always, we’re here for you. Call us with any questions about how to stay on top of things and keep your site secure. 202-409-8113