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PROTECTING YOUR WEB PAGES


It is no good spending a lot of time and money on a smart new website if it lets you down by not having the right digital certificate to protect both your organisation and your clients against hackers and other predators.

We have all seen “not secure” at the top of the screen, and it is a real turn off. As stated in the last article, recent versions of browsers will highlight errors in the setting up of authentication and encryption to protect users.

The most frequent error I have come across is “not secure”, because the digital certificate (which always has a time limit!) just expired!


Website Certificates, and HTTPS

As previously stated, digital certificates and HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) go hand-in-hand. Neither exists in isolation. In this article, the significance of a particular type: website certificates. We will look at what they are, their role in establishing HTTPS connections, and how data encryption enhances security for users.

Understanding Website Certificates:

Website certificates are digital documents that serve as a credential for a website and enable secure communication between a user's browser and the website's server.

Their importance comes from the Trust they convey (initially provided by the International Banking System), so trusted third-party Certificate Authorities (CAs) really are trusted by the highest authority. The system took a lot of thinking out, and is extremely robust. The certificates themselves contain a lot of information, including an encrypted public key, and the CA's unique digital signature.

When a user accesses a website with a valid certificate, their browser verifies the certificate's authenticity, ensuring they are connecting to the legitimate site and not an imposter, helping to keep your data safe!

Components of a digital certificate:

1. Identity Verification: When a website owner wants to secure their website with HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure), they obtain a website certificate from a trusted CA. The CA verifies the website owner's identity and domain ownership before issuing the certificate. This verification process ensures that the website is genuine and not an imposter. Https works both ways and could be used to verify the identity of the browser user, as well as the website.

2. Encryption Keys: A website certificate contains a public key, which is used for encryption, and a private key, which is kept secret by the website's server. These keys are part of a cryptographic system that enables secure data transmission between the user's browser and the server.

3. Digital Signature: The CA digitally signs the website certificate using its own private key. This digital signature indicates that the CA has verified the certificate's authenticity. When a user's browser receives the website's certificate, it can use the CA's public key to verify the signature and ensure that the certificate hasn't been tampered with.

4. Certificate Details: The certificate also includes information such as the website's domain name, the certificate's expiration date, the CA's name, and more. This information helps users, and their browsers understand the legitimacy of the website and its certificate.


Types of Digital Certificate

Not all website certificates are the same, they come in different levels or classes.

These levels indicate the extent of validation and the information included in the certificate. The three common levels of website certificates are:

1. Domain Validated (DV) Certificates:

These certificates provide the lowest level of validation. They confirm only the domain ownership and don't delve into the organization's identity. DV certificates are relatively easy and quick to obtain. They are suitable for personal websites, blogs, and small businesses where the primary concern is encrypting data during transmission.

2. Organization Validated (OV) Certificates:

OV certificates offer a higher level of validation. In addition to verifying domain ownership, the CA also verifies the organization's identity. This involves checking the organization's legal existence and physical address. OV certificates provide more trust to users, making them suitable for e-commerce websites, online services, and business websites that handle sensitive data.

3. Extended Validation (EV) Certificates:

EV certificates provide the highest level of validation and require the most extensive verification process. Like OV certificates, however this process is more extensive and rigorous. They display the organization's name prominently in the browser's address bar, often turning it green. EV certificates enhance user trust and confidence by confirming not only domain ownership and organization identity but also legal existence and physical location. EV certificates are typically used by financial institutions, e-commerce platforms, and high-profile websites. One example being PayPal’s website.

It's important to note that regardless of the certificate level, all SSL/TLS certificates facilitate encryption, which ensures that data transmitted between the user's browser and the server remains secure and private. The choice of certificate level depends on the nature of the website, the level of user trust desired, and the verification process the website owner is willing to undergo. Many SMEs choose OVs (organizational certificates)

The Role of Website Certificates in HTTPS:

HTTPS, an extension of HTTP, is the secure version of the protocol that encrypts data during transmission. Website certificates play a crucial role in establishing HTTPS connections between a user's browser and a website's server. Here's how the process works:

1. Certificate Exchange: When a user attempts to access an HTTPS-enabled website, the server presents its SSL/TLS certificate to the user's browser during the initial connection.

2. Certificate Validation: The browser checks the certificate against a list of trusted CAs to ensure its legitimacy. It verifies the digital signature and confirms that the certificate matches the website's domain.

3. Key Exchange: After the certificate is validated, the browser and server perform a "handshake" process to negotiate encryption algorithms and establish a symmetric encryption key. This key will be used to encrypt and decrypt data during the browsing session.

4. Data Encryption: With the symmetric encryption key in place, data exchanged between the browser and server is encrypted during transmission using encryption protocols like SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) or TLS (Transport Layer Security).

5. Secure Data Transfer: Throughout the user's interaction with the website, the HTTPS connection remains active, encrypting all data to protect it from potential interception and eavesdropping.

The Significance of Key Exchange and Data Encryption:

The encryption of data during transmission is a critical aspect of online security. It ensures that even if intercepted by malicious actors, the data remains unreadable and secure. Data encryption safeguards sensitive information, such as login credentials, financial details, and personal data, making it significantly harder for unauthorized individuals to access or misuse the data.

Browsers use the certificates to provide visual cues to users, such as a padlock icon or "Secure" label in the browser's address bar, instilling confidence that their connection is secure and trustworthy.


Example from Regola Digital Consulting Website.

To summarise:

Website certificates (SSL/TLS certificates) and HTTPS play integral roles in enhancing online security. While website certificates authenticate websites and establish trust facilitating HTTPS connections, HTTPS employs encryption protocols such as TLS and SSL to safeguard data during transmission. Together, they ensure a secure and private browsing experience, protecting users from potential threats and establishing a foundation of trust in the digital realm.

You may wonder, if it is all as secure as this, why so many people get defrauded via web pages. The answer, as old as fraud itself, is that they use disguise. They make a mock-up of a legitimate website, which actually siphons information supplied elsewhere.

How to beat them? Remember to always look for the padlock icon or "Secure" label in your browser's address bar to verify a website's HTTPS status before sharing any sensitive information. Stay safe and enjoy a secure browsing experience!

** Some of these instructions may be different depending on your browser versions. Regola takes no responsibly or endorses any services or products mentioned. Any interaction is of your own vallation and in no way the responsibility of Regola Digital Consulting.


**To view a website's SSL/TLS certificate, you can follow these steps:

1. Using Web Browsers:

   Google Chrome:

  - Click on the padlock icon in the address bar (left side).

  - Select "Connection is secure". - Click certificate is Valid

   

   Mozilla Firefox:

   - Click on the padlock icon in the address bar.

   - Choose "Connection Secure" or "View Certificate."

   Microsoft Edge:

   - Click on the padlock icon in the address bar.

   - Select "Certificate."

**2. Using Key Combinations:

   Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Edge (Windows):

   - Press `Ctrl + Shift + I` to open the Developer Tools.

   - Go to the "Security" or "Certificate" tab.

   Safari (macOS):

   - Click "Safari" in the menu bar.

   - Select "Preferences," then "Advanced."

   - Check the box that says, "Show Develop menu in menu bar."

   - Now you can click on "Develop" in the menu bar and choose "Show Page Resources." You'll find the certificate under "Security."

**3. Using Online Tools:

   There are also online tools and websites that allow you to check a website's SSL certificate by entering the website's URL. For example, you can use websites like SSL Shopper's SSL Checker or Qualys SSL Labs' SSL Server Test.

When viewing the certificate, you'll typically see information about the website, the organization that owns it, the Certificate Authority that issued the certificate, the certificate's expiration date, and more. This information can help you verify the authenticity of the website and ensure that you're connecting securely.

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