GlobalSign Blog

25 Oct 2019

The Battle of SSL Certificates: Free SSL vs. Paid SSL

SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer; it was developed to protect the information transmitted between a web server and a browser. SSL adds the letter “S” after HTTP, which means the website is secured. It also projects the padlock symbol when a secured connection is established. SSL keeps your information secured in two separate ways: encryption of data and identification. Without encryption, the information is transmitted as a plain text that anyone can read. Meanwhile, identification gives a technical and visual reassurance that a website is authentic.

In the market, web users can get their SSL certificates from different sources and at different prices too. Website owners and developers can source free SSL certificate providers and paid SSL certificates issued by Certificate Authorities (CAs).

Free SSL Certificates

As the name suggests, free SSL certificates don’t require payment, and web owners can use them as much as they want. They are considered quick, convenient, and appealing to website owners because they allow them to maximize the profit of their websites. A user can download multiple SSL certificates for his/her website without the rigorous vetting process as one free SSL certificate can only secure one domain.

It’s available in two options: Self-Signed Certificates and SSL Certificates signed by a Certificate Authority. Its level of encryption is comparable to paid SSLs. Both free and paid SSL certificates provide 256-bit certificate encryption and 2048-bit key encryption. Here are the things you’ll get when you choose to install free SSL certificates to your website:

  • Domain Validation SSL only – As we’ve defined free SSL, it’s only limited to domain validation (DV). This is ideal for small websites and blogs that don’t need data collection from their website visitors. These websites only require a basic level of authentication.
  • Limited Use – Free SSL certificates are suitable for basic blogging websites with no financial data collection, but they’re not ideal for businesses. Dedicated business owners and website owners must go for Organization Validated or Extended Validation certificates instead, to prove their legitimacy.
  • Short Validity Period – A basic free SSL certificate issued by a CA can be used up to 30-90 days, and website owners must renew the certificates frequently.
  • Insubstantial Technical Support – Since it’s available for free, users cannot expect technical support when trouble comes in. They must rely on forums where other free SSL users gather to provide tips and guidance on how to fix SSL related issues.
  • Ambiguous Level of Trust – Not all SSL certificates are created equally. Since open-source SSL certificate providers offer these for free, users don’t have the assurance of proper encryption and protection. There were occurrences that free SSL certificates had major cybersecurity issues in the past.
  • Warranty – No warranty comes with this option. When data breaches and cyber-attacks happen to the website, the warranty money becomes a last resort to rebuild the company’s website and pay for the data breach penalties that the government mandates. Without the warranty money, the company becomes vulnerable to bankruptcy.
  • Ranking Factor – Based on Google’s blog, they encourage the use of any SSL certificates in general.

Paid SSL Certificates

A website owner can purchase SSL certificates from Certificate Authorities (CAs) or authorized third-party resellers. It may come in different variants, but Domain Validated (DV) SSL, Organization Validated (OV) SSL, and Extended Validation (EV) SSL are the most purchased types of SSL certificates.

  • Domain Validated (DV) SSL – This has the lowest level of validation among the three SSL certificates because it’s only checked against the domain registry. It provides the “S” in the HTTPS connection, and the CA doesn’t require a meticulous vetting process to acquire this certificate. Also, this is compatible with 99.99% web and mobile browsers.
  • Organization Validated (OV) SSL – OV certificates comply with the X.509 RFC standards that show all important information to validate an organization. The CA authenticates the organization’s identity before certificate issuance, which may require a few days of verification.
  • Extended Validation (EV) SSL – The CA conducts a strict validation in this type of SSL certificate. Trained professional agents authenticate the business identity using the business registry databases that the governments host.

Different SSL certificates provide a varying degree of trust to website users. Aside from those features, you’ll get the following benefits from paid SSL certificates:

  • Variety of Choices – Paid SSL certificates are best used on e-commerce websites, social media websites, and lead generation websites. These websites collect sensitive information from their website users. Paid SSLs have three options: Domain Validated (DV), Organization Validated (OV), and Extended Validation (EV). Each of these has different levels of authentication and Extended Validation SSL is considered the strongest. Aside from the three popular types of SSL certificates, users may also purchase single-domain, wildcard, and multi-domain certificates that provide website security.
  • Level of Validation – CAs conduct an intensive validation process to make sure the paid SSL certificates (OV and EV) go to a legitimate, trustworthy owner.
  • Extended Validity Period – Paid SSL certificates are valid up to 27 months only. It must be renewed after every validity period to make sure its components are up-to-date and compliant to industry standards.
  • Technical Support – The money that a user invested in a paid SSL certificate comes with notable technical support from their CA. They have a committed team of trained technical experts to support the users throughout the certificate’s life cycle. Users may also choose to contact their CA technical support team through email, chat, or call.
  • Level of Trust – As we’ve mentioned before, paid SSL certificates come in different variants, namely DV, OV, EV, and many more. Depending on the level, these certificates can show the organization’s name, country, city, and state. Also, the website visitors can see which CA issued the certificate. If the website visitors are still in doubt, they may visit the CA/B Forum’s list of members for further details.

Another visual indicator that proves a website’s legitimacy is through the “https” and the “green bar” found on the search bar when you access the website.

  • Valuable Warranty – Given the level of encryption that CAs promise, users can expect full protection from data breaches. However, if a data breach happens, the user is insured and can receive an amount of US$10K to US$1.5M – depending on the type of certificate they own. It is the payment for damages that the user lost from the data breach.
  • Ranking Factor – Free SSL certificates and paid SSL certificates can both improve the search ranking of websites on Google.

Invest in Your Online Presence

To sum things up, using free SSL certificates has more drawbacks to offer rather than benefits.

They can potentially inhibit your websites from performing at their optimal conditions. That’s why investing in paid SSL certificates provides additional protection and a different level of security for eCommerce websites regardless of your size. You can be sure that CAs want the best for your website and will guide you throughout the way.

GlobalSign offers a variety of SSL certificates for your different requirements. Visit our website for more details.

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