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The Pros and Cons of Different SSL Options

posted on Jul 18, 2018
HTTPS Web Page

SSL - What it Does

Website SSL provides a more secure way to interact with a website. With an SSL site, the URL starts with https instead of http - the "s" stands for "secure". SSL improves security in two ways: authentication and encryption.

  • Authentication ensures that the domain being displayed in your browser's address bar is indeed the website you are seeing. This prevents users being victimized by a variety of hacking techniques designed to trick them into entering private information to a website that is not what it appears to be. SSL is not a cure-all, as there are many ways hackers and con-artists can trick people, but it does prevent some of the more insidious methods, such as DNS highjacking and man-in-the-middle attacks.
  • Encryption prevents potential eavesdropping, which is especially important if you are accessing the internet over WIFI. Without encryption, your logins, passwords, and other sensitive information could be obtained by anyone able to intercept or listen in on your network traffic.

SSL - Why It's Become So Important

It's the need for encryption that has driven the adoption of SSL in recent years. Increasingly, browsers warn users whenever information is about to be entered on a website that is not using SSL. If you want users to trust your website and feel at ease, SSL has become a must-have.

Another huge motivator for encryption is the increased use of mobile computing. The ease and convenience of WIFI means it is also much easier for somebody nearby to listen in on your network traffic. The need for website SSL was made all the greater in October 2017 when it was discovered that WIFI's built-in security standard, WPA2, is highly vulnerable to attack, affording little protection against eavesdropping.

SSL - What are the Options?

SSL certificates are traditionally issued by a commercial certificate issuer, with prices ranging from tens to hundreds of dollars per year. In 2016, a new system for issuing free automated certs was created by Let's Encrypt, using a protocol called ACME. Commercial SSL certs are typically good for one or two years. Free ACME certs are good for at most 90 days but are renewed automatically.

So if there are expensive SSL certs, and cheaper certs, and very cheap certs, and even free certs, what's the difference?

The good news is that when it comes to encryption, there is no difference. All SSL certificates regardless of cost., support the same enterprise-level 2048-bit data encryption. And as we've seen, encryption is the main issue.

One way SSL certificates can differ is the level of website authentication they provide. The most basic level is domain validation (DV). This means that the domain on the cert matches the domain of the website, so if the browser address bar says https://www.somesite.com then you really are at www.somesite.com. All SSL certs provide this. For the vast majority of websites, this is all you really need.

Commercial SSL certificates can, at additional cost, provide organization validation (OV), and there's an even fancier version of this called extended validation (EV). While DV authenticates the domain, OV and EV also authenticates the legal business name of the organization, providing assurance that the people running the website really are who they claim to be.

With an OV cert, users can inspect the certificate in their browser and see the name of the organization, although most people won't know how to do that. With the even more expensive EV cert, the organization name appears in the browser's address bar in green, making it completely obvious. EV certs are what you normally see with banks and other financial institutions where trust is most important. Twitter currently uses an EV cert, but Facebook and Google don't bother, and just have OV certs. If your domain is widely recognized, then an EV cert doesn't add much.

There are a several other distinguishing features of SSL certificates:

Commercial SSL certificates provide liability protection, covering losses due to a flaw in the certificate. It's like insurance for the cert. For a basic GoDaddy cert, losses up to $100,000 are covered. Free certs do not have this at all, while more expensive certs typically cover higher amounts. It's debatable how useful this is.

Another consideration is reliability. SSL works because each browser - Chrome, Firefox, IE/Edge, Safari, etc - is programmed to trust the various certificate issuers. However if an issuer fails to exercise acceptable levels of security and diligence, they can have this trust revoked at the discretion of the browser makers. This could render invalid some or all of the SSL certificates that they've issued. While such occurences are rare, major websites typically use the more established and reputable issuers, which also tend to be more expensive.

Prestige and reputation can be a factor. Users who are very discriminating and technical may look at the issuer and level of a certificate, and use that to judge the trustworthiness and credibility of a website. A free or bargain-basement cert might be looked down upon.

For organizations wanting SSL on more than one domain, then a multi-domain SAN cert is an option. These support up to five different domains. Prices fluctuate, but if you have three or more domains, then a SAN cert is usually cheaper than three individual basic certs from a commercial issuer.

Do you have EU Citizens or Contacts in your database?

posted on Apr 20, 2018
The GDPR affects EU citizens and organizations who collect data on EU citizens

On May 25, 2018, the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will come into effect.

The GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) pertains to EU citizens and any organizations that collect or process data on EU citizens. If your membership database includes EU citizens, you will want to understand the GDPR, how it affects you, and what your obligations as a data controller are.

    1. You must obtain consent to track personal information about individuals. Normally this is not a big deal, because people who actively fill out forms to apply for membership or other website services are generally well aware of what they are signing up for. But if you intend to use that data for other purposes, or if you have old historical data in your database that was not collected in such circumstances, or you are creating records yourself to track information about people without their knowledge, then the situation is not so clear.
    2. If you have a privacy policy or terms of usage, they should state what information you collect and what you are using it for in simple, unambiguous language. If you find that you have old data in your records for which you do not have consent to use for your current purposes, that data should be removed.
    3. Even in cases where you have collected personal data with proper consent, the GDPR makes it clear that people can withdraw their consent, and you have to respect their wishes in that regard. The GDPR even allows them to request that you delete their personal data – this is called their right to be forgotten. If you receive such a request, you should know how to find their data records and either:
      • delete the records entirely
      • if you cannot delete the records, blank the personal data fields
      • if you cannot blank the fields (for example, if it is a required field), then anonymize the data (change it to something that is no longer personally identifying)
    4. When removing data, it is important to distinguish between their personal data, and your organization’s business records. You do not need to eliminate all traces of their existence, only the personal data that you do not require to do your own work. For example, if the individual made a purchase from you, the records of that purchase are your business records, and it is reasonable to keep them on file for your own accounting. But if you are tracking personal information like photographs, birthdates, or education history, and those data are not pertinent to your organization's ongoing work, then that data should be removed on request.
    5. Individuals have a right to know what information you collect about them. If the person is a current member or guest on your system, they may already be able to access their profile, which shows most of the data that is collected. If they have been archived or do not otherwise have a login, and they request a copy of the data you have on file about them, you should:
      • verify that you are releasing the data to the person in question (sending it to an address that you already have on file for them is a reasonable approach)
      • use your Report Builder to build a custom report for just that member. Select as many fields to display as are likely to be relevant, and add a single condition to select information only where member_id = that member’s ID.
      • export the results of that report, and send it to the person
      • you can also go to the Payments module, pull up their account history, and email their account statement, so they can see their purchase history with the organization.

As noted above, they can request that you delete personal profile data, but their purchase history is part of your accounting records, and you can retain that information if you wish.

Read more about the GDPR here.

Google Drives The Internet: Technology Changes that Impact all Website Owners

posted on Sep 22, 2016

SSL

Starting in January 2017, Google will be making aggressive changes in an effort to increase SSL adoption on the internet. 
 
What is SSL? 
SSL is a technology that encrypts communications to and from your website. When you use SSL, the beginning of your web address changes from http: to https: and many browsers show a green lock icon by the web address.
 
What is driving this change?
Several years ago, people surfed the internet from private access points such as their office or home landlines. However, with more mobile devices in use and the widespread usage of public WIFI, security is becoming increasingly more important. People are now shopping and surfing while riding transit, sitting in coffee shops or in hotels. Using public WIFI opens the door for unscrupulous hackers to monitor what you're doing and steal your information.
 
By putting your entire website behind SSL, it protects your visitors/members by:
  • preventing eavesdropping on your internet communications, increasing your privacy
  • blocking many types of hacks and security intrusions
  • verifying to the visitor that your website is really you, and not some "spoof" that was set up to trick people
Why is Google Pushing This Change?
Google wants everything on the web encrypted (protected by SSL) because it provides for a safer visitor experience while also allowing them to roll-out new features and functionality that requires this level of security. For example, wider usage and applications for location tracking, etc.
 
Can Google Force me to use SSL?
Not exactly but they can make it so your visitors/members demand that you use it. Google's Chrome browser will start to indicate sites that are not using SSL by adding the following in the address bar:
 
Google has said that they eventually intend for the padlock to turn red. Eventually, they may make the message even more noticeable. With Chrome having 53% market share according to the August 2016 projection of web tracker Net Market Share, one can expect that other browsers will follow suit.


ATTN: Exware Clients - contact us to find out how this affects you directly and the options available.