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What is Shared SSL?

A secure socket layers (SSL) certificate protects information transmitted across the Internet by encrypting it. Many hosting packages offer this valuable service in two varieties: private, which is associated with your own domain name and suitable for eCommerce, and shared, which is often used with shared hosting accounts to provide secure access for site owners to their site files.

When you’re choosing a hosting package, one of the biggest concerns you’re likely to face is security. How safe is your information? Will there be a secure way to access your site’s content for maintenance and updates? What about eCommerce; will your customers’ information be protected as it travels from your site to the payment processor?

All of these questions can be answered with the help of a secure socket layers (SSL) certificate. An SSL certificate is not a type of hosting, but rather a software encryption protocol that helps protect information being sent to and from a specific server. The certificate issued lists the domain name, company name, address, expiration date, and stated purpose of the certificate (these details are verified by customers’ browsers with the certificate issuer in order to determine whether their connection is secure; a status generally indicated by a small padlock icon in the browser’s status bar). Typically, SSL certificates are offered in two varieties: shared and private.

A shared SSL certificate is generally provided to shared hosting customers who are not planning to engage in eCommerce on their site. With a shared SSL, your certificate will usually bear the name of your hosting company’s servers, and will be limited to secured access by you to your site’s files stored on their server. With this kind of certificate, you have protected access to your host server to update your site, configure email and other accounts, etc. But it is a poor solution for eCommerce, because the associated certificate is issued to everyone on your particular server, and is not earmarked for the secure transmission of financial information.

A private SSL certificate is one you purchase yourself, and is associated with your domain. It is ideal for eCommerce not only because your business is identified (correctly) as the vendor with whom your customer is doing business, but also because your domain (rather than your host’s) is listed in the address of your eCommerce cart software, giving your customers a greater feeling of security as well as true protection for their financial information.

Shared SSL certificates are often included with the cost of your shared hosting package, but some hosting providers do charge a small fee to activate it. Private SSL certificates have associated fees and may or may not be available for purchase through your host. If your site will rely on eCommerce, you’ll definitely want to inquire with your host about the options available—both for your security, and your customers’.

Shared SSL Hosting Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why would anyone choose shared SSL?

    We all need security, even if we’re not storing or transmitting information for our site visitors. If you’re logging into the admin panel on your website, you want that to be as secure as possible. Shared SSL can make sure it is. If you’re running a small business and need a secure site for your employees to share information, shared SSL can be an inexpensive solution. Shared SSL can be used for a number situations where you don’t require public access.

  • I’m using a shared SSL certificate to access my admin panel. Why do I have to go to my host’s subdomain instead of my own?

    Shared SSL utilizes the domain name of the host, so it makes sense for hosts to utilize their own domain when providing free SSL-secured access to admin panels. If your admin panel was accessed through a sub-domain of your own, you would receive a warning every time you tried to log in because the domain would not match the certificate.

  • How long does an SSL certificate last?

    SSL certificates vary in length, depending on where you purchase the certificate, the packages they offer, and option you selected. Just as you can select from different time frames when you purchase hosting, SSL authorities often offer a longer-term certificate at a lower rate. Of course, if your host offers shared SSL for free, your certificate will last as long as you remain with that host.

  • What sort of data can be secured using SSL?

    SSL can be used to secure any type of data, from text documents to images to financial information. Its technology is not type-specific but instead encrypts any data using a combination of public and private key cryptography to send and receive information over the internet.

  • What does a browser check for when it connects to an SSL site?

    When a browser identifies an SSL site, it sends a request for the SSL Certificate and verifies that it has not expired, was issued by a trusted Certificate Authority, and is being used by the website it was issued for. If any of these checks fail, the browser will display a warning to let users know the site is not secured by SSL.

  • Can I allocate only some directories for my shared SSL, or do I have to secure my entire site?

    Depending on the hosting package you purchased and the hosting software you installed, you may be able to designate a subdomain, which can be used as your secure site. Because shared SSL is typically used on shared hosting plans, you are more likely to have a restrictive hosting plan than users of private SSL, who tend to be using a private hosting plan. You cannot designate specific pages on your site for SSL under the same subdomain.

  • Why does it matter whose name is on the certificate? Don’t private and public SSL both use the same encryption system?

    They do both use the same encryption system; however, if you’re a visiting very-cool-store.com and its certificate is registered to Great Big Hosting Company, your browser cannot verify the certificate is being used by the site it was issued for (because it wasn’t issued for a specific site). Trust is broken, and the browser will warn you as such. Even if you can verify that the site is using a shared SSL plan, you should question how much you trust a store that chose the budget security option.

  • What is the difference between SSL and TLS?

    TLS was based on SSL and follows the same principals for data security; however, TLS added a number of security measures not previously provided by SSL. This is not to say you should go on a hunt for a host that provides TLS certification because you might have a hard time finding one. TLS and SSL are now all but synonymous. If you purchase SSL or receive open SSL free through your hosting plan, you are actually receiving an SSL/TLS certificate.

  • Do all browsers accept shared SSL?

    SSL covers over 99% of internet users and is supported by all major browsers. Provided you’re not using an obscure, homegrown browser or trying to update your website with your Amiga 2500, you should have no problem accessing your shared SSL connection.

  • Can I use shared SSL on any platform?

    SSL is the standard system for securing internet connections; as such, it is available on all hosting server platforms, including Linux, Windows, BSD, MacOS, etc. However, shared SSL must be offered by your host, so check with them if you’re considering a shared certificate.

  • If I have multiple domains through a host, can I use shared SSL for all of them?

    That will depend on the hosting plan you have selected, but it shouldn’t be a problem since a shared SSL certificate can be shared by anyone using that server.

  • Can I use shared SSL for any site that doesn’t include eCommerce?

    Unless your host has placed a restriction on how you use shared SSL, you should be able to use it for any site. However, just because you can use it doesn’t mean you should. If your site requires collecting any data from your users, particularly if that data includes personal or financial information, you owe it to your users to provide the best security possible. A private SSL certificate will promote far greater trust and loyalty from your website visitors.

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