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What is Private SSL Hosting?
Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) is a protocol designed to secure communication online. Shared SSL and Private SSL are used to encrypt data when it travels between an internet-connected device and a server, thus allowing users to protect confidential data like credit card credentials.
Shared SSL uses the hosting company's SSL certificate to authenticate users and secure data, while private SSL requires the user to employ a dedicated IP address to run an SSL server. Private SSL certificates are purchased individually and they are more costly than shared SSL certificates.
One benefit of using a private SSL certificate is that it allows you to display your own domain name in the URL, thus enhancing the credibility of your website. For example, the URL to your website with shared SSL would look like this - https://secure.hostingprovider.tld/~yourcompany. However, with private SSL you can end up with a much more attractive and professional looking URL, such as https://secure.yourcompany.com/.
Private SSL is not just about appearances
SSL uses double encryption to secure communications. The public key is available to everyone, but the private key is only made available to the recipient of the message, providing an additional layer of security. Data transmitted between your browser and server is encrypted and includes information about the certificate holder.
A private SSL certificate is also helpful to users forced to rely on public or unsecure networks to access your website. In addition to adding credibility, private SSL can also help your website attain higher search rankings by offering superior security. The site will rank higher because it is certified by a trusted authority and a private SSL certificate with a neat URL is good for marketing.
SSL certificates have evolved over the years and two decades ago 40-bit keys were standard, but they eventually gave way to 128-bit keys and today 1024-bit keys are the norm, although 2048-bit keys are starting to replace them.
Poor deployment can compromise security
Regardless of the complexity of the crypto key, it is important to stress that proper deployment of private SSL is crucial to maintaining security. Outdated standards such as SSL v2 are practically useless today.
SSL v3 and TLS v1.0 can be vulnerable depending on how they are deployed, so they have to be configured carefully. TSL v1.1 and v1.2 are considered secure, but many platforms still lack support for these protocols.
Since SSL is used by countless financial institutions and online retailers, there is never a shortage of white hat and black hat developers trying to beat the standards, which is why they always need to evolve and address new exploits.
Hosts see SSL as a competitive edge
The rise in the volume of encrypted internet traffic has prompted many hosting providers to start marketing SSL services, which is a positive development - hosts can save you time and offer invaluable expertise.
Many hosts provide free shared SSL, which provides them with a couple of benefits.
Firstly, their domain name ends up in your URL, as we explained earlier. Since they secure their main domain and an unlimited number of sub-domains at a flat fee, it doesn't cost them much to offer the functionality, yet their name is displayed in thousands of URLs, like an ad.
The second angle involves marketing - deploying private SSL can be prohibitively expensive for a lot of small companies and most individuals, hence they are more likely to choose a host that offers free shared SSL, regardless of what it does to their URL.
The cost of private SSL
Purchasing a private SSL certificate with a certificate authority (CA) can cost a few hundred dollars a year, without the added cost of deploying the certificate.
Private SSL certificates can also be purchased via hosts, who act as resellers and usually offer discounts and other incentives, such as technical assistance or even free setup. Others charge you for the setup and you should always inquire about the combined cost of purchasing and deploying a private SSL certificate.
If you are already a hosting customer, buying a private SSL certificate from a CA probably doesn't make much financial sense, as your host should be able to provide significant discounts and you could eventually end up paying just a fraction of the cost compared to a direct CA deal and in-house deployment.