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What are SSL certificates, and why do we need them?

Image showing a digital red locked padlock with code in the background
Photo by Jack Moreh on StockVault

You might have overheard your IT team talking about certificates and wondered what they’re referring to. Have they completed a new course and are showing off to their team? Surely not, but then how can a website use a certificate?

In this blog we explore what SSL certificates are, why you need them, and how Jisc can help your organisation to put these in place, while saving you some serious money.

What are SSL certificates?

In short, an SSL certificate is a public key certificate; a digital document used to prove the validity of a websites identity. SSL certificates authenticate a website’s integrity, enabling you with an encrypted, secure connection. This is vital to instilling trust if you have consumers or customers accessing your website.

SSL itself stands for Secure Socket Layer. This means an encrypted link between a web server and a web browser, keeping all of your information safe between systems. It is the digital certificate that authenticates your website, proving that it really is you!

More information is available through our partner, Sectigo, who have a handy resource library.

Why do you need one?

Your website will need an SSL certificate to keep user data secure, verify ownership of the website and to prevent attackers.

SSL certificates create a public/private key pairing that SSL certificates facilitate. Without an SSL certificate, your website will become vulnerable to hackers.

Most importantly, having a protected site creates user security, builds customer trust and meets browsers latest standards. If you don’t have certificates in place then users will be met with a message highlighting your website’s vulnerability, like in the example shown below.

This photo by unknown author is licensed under CC BY-SA

Around 30% of internet traffic in 2022 is insecure. In an age where digital security is prevalent, it is crucial to ensure that all of your information is encrypted, protected and secure.

How can you get an SSL certificate?

[Insert shameless plug for the Jisc Certificate Service]. Seriously though, it’s well worth exploring! Since November 2020 we’ve saved our customers over £7million!

This is all thanks to our partnership with Sectigo, one of the leading global certificate providers. We’ve aggregated sector demand to offer an exclusive savings deal to Jisc members, saving you 30-60% on average vs other leading providers.

There’s also a host of other features such as the network discovery tool (allowing you to manage all certificates on your network, whether purchased through Jisc or other providers) and Automatic Certificate Management Environment’s (ACME) handy automation features.

It’s also worth being aware of free providers like LetsEncrypt. Their certificates only last for 3 months, and you won’t get any dedicated support. Still – handy in a crunch, or if you just need a certificate for internal systems or projects!

To find out more information, check out Emily’s blog on the 10 most frequently asked questions about the Jisc certificate service, or feel free to get in touch via certificates@jisc.ac.uk

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