Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) and Transport Layer Security (TLS) certificates—also known as digital certificates—are data files hosted in a website’s origin server that ensure the secure transmission of data between that web server and visitors’ browsers. SSL/TLS certificates encrypt all the data sent between a user’s browser, a website, and the web server. This helps protect sensitive information such as login credentials, personal information, and financial transactions.
These certificates also verify the identity of the domain that an end user is visiting, ensuring they’re connecting to a legitimate website and not a fraudulent or malicious domain. Finally, all websites with an SSL/TLS certificate can use the HTTPS protocol, which is the most secure protocol for sending data between a website and a browser.
Using HTTPS not only enhance security, but it also displays to end users that your website is legitimate and secure; without HTTPS, users may decide to browse elsewhere.
SSL/TLS certificates are issued by Certificate Authorities (CAs), which verify the ownership and legitimacy of a website. After successfully validating the domain owner, the CA provides a digital certificate that can be installed on the server. This certificate contains information such as the domain and any subdomains that the certificate was issued for, which CA issues the certificate, and the certificate’s issue and expiry dates. Because digital certificates expire, organizations using them must make sure to keep track of which certificates they have in place and renew them when needed. For larger enterprises that may require multiple certificates, this can be a time-consuming and tedious task.
That’s where SSL/TLS certificate management software comes in. Certificate management software helps organizations to keep track of their SSL/TLS certificates, ensuring they’re configured properly, automatically renewed, and revoked if they become compromised.
In this article, we’ll explore the top 10 SSL/TLS certificate software platforms. We’ll highlight the key use cases and features of each solution, what levels of validation and certificate types are offered, automation alerting, and encryption. To help you find the right software for your website, we’ve included both solutions that offer full certificate lifecycle management, and some that offer the certificates themselves.
Everything You Need To Know About SSL & TLS Certificates Software (FAQs)
What Are SSL/TLS Certificates?
Before we can talk about what SSL & TLS certificates are, you need to know what SSL & TLS are. When you send information over the internet, it passes through multiple computers to reach its final destination. In the past, data wasn’t encrypted, which meant that any of those computers could read your data along its journey. To protect data being transmitted over the internet, security experts developed a protocol for sending and receiving internet traffic. That protocol was Secure Sockets Layer (SSL).
Over the years, several security vulnerabilities were found in the SSL protocol. Eventually, this led to the protocol being replaced by another, more secure protocol called Transport Layer Security (TLS).
Today, most certificate providers still use the term SSL, because it’s more widely known. However, all “SSL” certificates that you see advertised are really SSL/TLS certificates, which means that you can use both protocols with it. So, if your organization is using SSL certificates, you don’t need to worry about replacing them.
Now, the SSL/TLS certificates themselves—which are also known as digital certificates—are data files that are hosted in a website’s origin server. They help ensure that data is sent securely over the internet, without being stolen or tampered with. They do this in three ways:
- They encrypt all data sent between a user’s browser, the website a user is visiting, and the web server.
- They verify the identity of the website’s owner, which helps prevent domain spoofing and ensures users are connecting to a legitimate website.
- They enable websites to use HTTPS, the most secure protocol used to send data between a browser and a website. When a user connects to a website that uses HTTPS, SSL/TLS verifies the website server’s and encrypts their connection. This prevents threat actors from reading any data sent between the browser and the website.
To do all this, SSL/TLS certificates contain specific information:
- The domain name that the certificate was issued for and the person, organization or device that it was issued to
- Details of any associated subdomains
- Which certificate authority (CA) issued it, along with that authority’s digital signature
- The certificate’s issue date
- The certificate’s expiry date
- The public key (we’ll get into this more later)
How Do SSL/TLS Certificates Work?
SSL/TLS certificates work using public key cryptography. Every website that has an SSL/TLS certificate creates a mathematically related pair of encryption keys, which are long strings of characters used for encrypting and signing data. Each pair of keys consists of a public key and a private key. These keys are used to authenticate a web server, and to let that server encrypt and decrypt data.
When a browser connects to a website, the web server creates a digital signature using the private key. The browser then verifies that signature using the public key stored in the SSL/TLS certificate. This verification process ensures that the user is connecting to a legitimate server belonging to the domain name they’re visiting, and not a spoofed website. If the website’s certificate isn’t valid and doesn’t pass the verification check, the user may be presented with a message warning them that their connection isn’t private, which could cause the user to leave the website altogether.
Once the server’s identity has been verified, the web server authenticates a key exchange, which enables the transfer of encrypted and authenticated data between the server and the user’s browser.
What Features Should You Look For In SSL/TLS Certificate Software?
There are a few key features that you should look for in a strong SSL/TLS certificate management solution:
- Certificate validation levels. Your chosen solution needs to offer domain validation at a suitable level for your website. There are three levels of validation that an SSL/TLS certificate can offer: Domain Validation (DV) validates domain ownership, providing the lowest level of validation. This is most suitable for personal websites and blogs. Organization Validation (OV) validates the organization behind the domain and is suitable for business websites. Extended Validation (EV) offers the highest level of validation and is suitable for eCommerce and websites that handle sensitive data.
- Wildcard and multi-domain (SAN) certificates. If your website has subdomains, you can secure them—as well as the main domain itself—using a wildcard certificate. If you need to secure multiple domain names, you should look for a solution that offers multi-domain certificates.
- Strong encryption. Your chosen solution should offer strong levels of encryption to help protect your data and your users’ data in transit.
- Root trust. Make sure that any certificates are issued by a trusted Certificate Authority (CA) that is recognized and trusted by major browsers and operating systems.
- Alerting and automatic renewal. Your chosen SSL/TLS certificate software should alert you to any certificates that are about to expire, as well as any possible misconfigurations. It should also automatically renew expired certificates to help reduce administrative overhead.
- Certificate revocation. The solution should provide an easy way of revoking certificates if they become compromised. This may include adding revoked certificates to a Certificate Revocation List (CRL), so clients can check against that list.
- Online Certificate Status Protocol (OSCP) stapling. Your chosen solution should allow the web server to check the revocation status of a certificate and deliver this information to users. This can help improve load times and privacy.
- Compatibility and integration. The certificates that your provider offers should be compatible with all major web servers, browsers, and mobile devices. Additionally, the software itself should integrate seamlessly with your existing environment.