The importance of SSL digital certificates for e-commerce

Johannesburg, 03 Jun 2003
Read time 3min 30sec

Any company with aspirations of becoming a successful e-commerce business needs to clearly identify the security implications of conducting business over the Internet, and in turn, to address these by constructing a secure infrastructure for trusted e-commerce.

An essential component of such an infrastructure is digital certificates. Using encryption, digital certificates are able to provide authentication, privacy and data integrity thereby facilitating trusted e-commerce.

But what is a digital certificate and why is it so important for e-commerce? According to VeriSign, a digital certificate is an electronic file that uniquely identifies individuals and Web sites on the Internet and enables secure, confidential communications.

It is a primary tool to ensure e-commerce security as it definitively ties up the name of a participant (such as an e-mail address) in a secured transaction with the public key that is used to sign communication with that entity in a cryptographic system.

A trusted third-party, or Certificate Authority (CA) such as VeriSign, is typically the `signer` of the digital certificate. The CA issues, creates and signs certificates and becomes the agreed custodian of the associated private signing key. A CA may even be involved in the distribution of the digital certificates.

All parties that trust the CA can likewise be confident that the public keys appearing in certificates are valid, greatly simplifying the problem of trust between participating parties unknown to each other. In effect, the digital certificate serves the same purpose as a passport or credential - it is a secure, reliable method of authentication.

In the context of e-commerce, it is SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) digital certificates that form the basis of an Internet trust infrastructure. They offer secure information exchange and satisfy the requirements of confidentiality, and authentication for commercial Web sites, as oppose to individuals. SSL certificates are also available from trusted third-parties, and have become the accepted standard on the Web for authenticating Web sites to users and securing the communications between such users and the Web servers.

SSL server certificates help to establish e-commerce trust by fulfilling two functions:

* SSL server authentication: Users are able to confirm the identity of a Web server by checking the authenticity of the server certificate. Most Web browsers perform this check automatically, validating against a list of trusted CAs built into browser software. This process is vital for secure e-commerce transactions as users can rest assured that they are sending confidential information, such as credit card details, to a verified server.

* SSL encryption: SSL server certificates establish a secure channel for the transmission of information between Web browser and Web server, using encryption and decryption. They are also capable of detecting data tampering while in transit, ensuring user confidence in the integrity of private data sent via the Internet.

However, companies with multiple servers due to multiple divisions and locations, often find the management of the SSL certificates problematic. Managed PKI for SSL certificates provides a simple solution; it makes organisations their own CA, allowing them to issue multiple SSL certificates quickly using Web-based tools. Businesses appoint responsible individuals as Managed PKI administrators, while a company such as VeriSign continues to handle all the necessary back-end services.

The benefits of using Managed PKI for SSL certificates in an e-business environment include:

* Convenient one-step purchasing as there is a single enrolment process.

* Easy set up and configuration.

* Cost effectiveness. There is no need for investment in the expensive hardware and software required to establish a server certificate system from scratch.

* Fast and simple to use.

* Efficient and centralised ID management for multiple servers within an organisation.

For any company serious about e-commerce, a SSL certificate provides the ultimate credibility required for a trusted online business.

Editorial contacts
Namitech Victoria Sayers (011) 458 0052
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