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Recommended Host for Shared SSL
What is Shared SSL Hosting?
Secured Socket Layer (SSL) is a cryptographic protocol that provides communication security over a local computer network or the internet. An SSL certificate is an electronic document used to validate and bind the identity and the ownership of an organization with a cryptographic key, thus enabling secure and trusted communication.
SSL certificates are issued by the Certification Authorities (CAs), who make sure that certificates are issued only to legitimate businesses and websites. Traditionally, SSL certificates are issued for a single domain, but many other options exist when purchasing an SSL certificate.
Most hosting providers offer two very different types of SSL certificates for their customers - private SSL certificates and shared SSL certificates. With inexpensive shared hosting plans, customers usually get a shared SSL certificate for their website.
Shared or Private SSL
A shared SSL certificate points to the hostname of the hosting server and binds to the company name of your hosting provider; it is also shared by all websites hosted on that particular server. Shared SSL may sound like a budget solution, but it’s still sufficient for most users that merely need to secure the administrative part of their websites, such as the control panel.
If your website is geared towards e-commerce, or if it collects sensitive personal data from your visitors for a different reason, using a shared SSL certificate is not recommended. This is because shared SSL certificates point at your hosting provider, not at your company and your website. It breaks the trust of the customers and does not validate your website and company as being unquestionably legitimate. If you use a shared SSL certificate, your domain will not be listed correctly in the address of your e-commerce cart. It will display the hostname of your server instead, and if the customers notice that the URL in the cart has changed, they could potentially see that as a red flag. Ultimately, you will need to get a private SSL certificate to create a serious, trustworthy e-commerce website that will instill confidence.
A private SSL certificate is the more expensive option, but it validates and identifies your business and domain as being legitimate, and gives your customers a greater feeling of security and trust. With a private SSL certificate, your domain will be correctly listed in the address of your e-commerce cart.
Browser warnings with Shared SSL
Using Shared SSL in combination with your domain name will always create browser warning pages. Instead of displaying the requested webpage, Internet Explorer displays a warning similar to “There is a problem with this website’s security certificate”, while Firefox prompts “This connection is untrusted”.
You can see an obvious problem here: Your users probably don’t know much about SSL and underlying technology used on your site, and all they see are browser warnings, telling them your site can’t be trusted!
In order to use the Shared SSL without browser warnings, you must use your hosting provider’s secure server hostname in the URL instead of your domain name, plus your control panel username, similar to:
This way, you will avoid browser warnings, but your control panel username is now exposed and visible.
Why not use Private SSL instead?
Because it’s simply not an option for many people. It costs more, yet many small sites don’t need it. Sure, it would boost security, but in most cases, it would be overkill.
Think of it this way: If you’re building a small hobby site, you don’t need a dedicated server, nor would you stand to gain much from having one. Yes, your site would probably work a bit better, but it wouldn’t make any financial sense.
The same is true of private SSL because a lot of sites simply don’t need it and wouldn’t gain much if they implemented a private SSL certificate. In any case, this is more of a philosophical exercise because small sites are usually hosted on shared servers and come with shared SSL as standard, so private SSL certificates aren’t even a viable option for such sites.
Even though it’s not sufficient for some use-cases, Shared SSL is anything but useless. It does an admirable job of securing the administrative access to your website and it keeps millions of small sites safe.
However, it is simply not meant for public use, e.g. for website visitors.
Keep in mind that Shared SSL certificates are usually only available with shared hosting plans. Many hosting companies include free Shared SSL certificates with their shared hosting plans, while others charge a small fee to activate Shared SSL on their plans.
Private, or dedicated SSL certificates come with a substantially higher fee, but if you’re building an e-commerce site, they are a vastly superior solution, as they can make a huge difference in user confidence. Buyers don’t like security warnings, which is why private SSL is a must in the e-commerce niche (and a few others).
Shared SSL Hosting Frequently Asked Questions
What is SSL?
SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer. It is a technology for setting up an encrypted connection between a website visitor and the website itself.
What is Shared SSL?
Shared SSL is having SSL when your website is hosted on a shared server.
Why would anyone want shared SSL?
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.
It cannot be used for public access. For that, you would need an SSL that is specific to your domain — a private SSL certificate. That would also require that your shared hosting account have its own (non-shared) IP address.
Why do I have to go to my host's subdomain instead of my own when accessing my SSL protected admin area?
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 options 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.
Why does it matter whose name is on the certificate?
Public and private SSL both use the same encryption system; however, if you're visiting a website and its certificate is registered to a different website, your browser cannot verify the certificate is being used by the site it was issued for. 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, it at least raises red flags.
What is the difference between SSL and TLS?
TLS was based on SSL and follows the same principles 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. For one thing, 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 shared SSL connections.
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 Windows, MacOS, GNU/Linux, BSD, Android, iOS, and pretty much every other operating system you can think of. However, shared SSL must be offered by your host, so check with them if you're considering using it.
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.