SSL certificates do more than encrypt data, they also authenticate websites. This is an important and fundamental function because it builds trust. Website visitors see the SSL padlock or HTTPS and they believe that the site is genuine.
In the fight against fake sites, phishing and fraud, trustworthy SSL certificates are essential.
This is why domain-validated certificates can be dangerous.
What is domain validation?
Certificate Authorities (CAs) will issue a domain-validated certificate to anyone who is listed as the domain admin contact in the WHOIS record of a domain name. They just send an email to the contact email address and that’s it.
It is the lowest level of authentication used to validate SSL certificates. Higher levels include organisationally-validated and extended validation certificates which require more detailed checks.
Why can they be dangerous?
The problem with domain validation is that internet criminals can easily get SSL certificates for phishing sites with misspellings of a legitimate domain name. For example, if they were targeting BankOne.com they could register bank1.com and, using a free webmail account, get a domain validated SSL certificate for that site.
When a regular visitor is tricked into visiting the phishing site, they see the comforting https, SSL padlock and don’t necessarily spot the misspelled address.
How to spot a domain-validated certificate
It is actually very difficult to tell if a certificate is domain validated. Therefore users are equally likely to trust your site as the cloned phishing site, and when they find their details have been stolen, may well blame you.
Practices vary from CA to CA on how exactly they verify website owners, but Extended Validation certificates are certain to have higher levels of authentication, and this is shown to your visitors by turning their address bar green (see examples from the most popular browsers below).
The trusted alternative
With fake sites using easily-obtained SSL certificates becoming so common, website owners can’t afford to take a risk with domain-validated certificates. Especially if the site asks for particularly sensitive or personal user information, where users will be more likely to look for extra reassurance.
Choosing a certificate from a reputable CA, such as Symantec, and selecting a high-assurance validation method, such as Extended Validation, delivers a more trustworthy alternative. And certainly that can be better for your business than the alternative.
For more information about SSL, from how it works to how to set up on your servers, download our interactive resource, SSL Explained, now.