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Web Hosting With SSL
WEB HOSTING WITH SSL
(SSL = secure socket layer protocol)
In many web applications the use of the secure socket
layer (SSL) protocol is required. If you are a frequent user
of e-commerce sites, you are undoubtedly familiar with the concept
- basically, the URL of the page will start with https://
(as opposed to the "normal" http://) and the browser will
encrypt all information sent to the site.
But not only! SSL also plays an important role as a mechanism
for authenticating your data's destination.
enter your credit card number while buying books, for example, you
want to make sure not only that the information is encrypted,
but also that you are submitting your card to a real bookstore
(let's say, Amazon.com) and not to some illicit web site which
Thus, the SSL protocol helps accomplish two different
and equally important tasks:
SSL is based on the notions of public-key cryptography
and central certificate authority (CA) - the latter is for
- Encryption. Making sure that information you
submit is encrypted in a way that makes it impossible
to be intercepted by a third party.
- Authentication. Making sure that the
target destination site for your (encrypted) information
is really what it says it is.
So, how does one get started with creating a secure web
First of all, you will need to create
a web site and
put web site online.
We strongly recommend using a dedicated server for any type of secure
hosting. The reason being that it is much more difficult to
break into a separate computer than it is to compromise one of
the accounts on a shared server. (Remember - if somebody gets
to data directly
on your server the fact that you used a secure server
to collect the data does not help you at all.)
The second step is to acquire an SSL certificate. There are
two options here:
The option of having a CA-signed certificate does not come
free. In fact, it often costs hundreds of dollars per year.
One such CA is Verisign
which, as of August 2003, offered a CA service for the
price of $349/year. (There is a way to get a 10% discount using a
special offer from RedHat.)
- If you think that only a few people
whom you already know will access your SSL-enabled web site,
then the easiest (and the cheapest) way to create a certificate
is to generate it yourself.
However, the problem is that you are NOT a recognized certificate
authority. While self-signed certificates are fine for small
private sites (e.g. intranets or extranets), they are not
appropriate for the general public. Simply speaking, your
visitors will get security warnings (a result of the fact that
you're an unknown certificate authority) and will have the
option of either importing or rejecting the certificate.
So, for public web sites, you will need a real SSL
certificate. In order to obtain it, you generate a
certificate signing request (CSR) and submit it to the
certificate authority of your choice. The CA should verify
your identity (usually by calling) and issue a digitally signed
certificate, which you can start using on your web server.
This way, the CA guarantees that your certificate really
belongs to you. Since the CA will be automatically recognized
by all web browsers, your site's visitors will not get
any security warning while transmitting secure data on your
Now, onto the ever-important "technical details".
- The creation of public/private keys and certificate signing requests
is usually done using software packages such as "OpenSSL".
- Communication with a CA is usually done through its web site.
- Incorporation of an SSL certificate into your web site
depends on the web server used and typically does not pose too many