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.
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 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.
Machine learning is one of the biggest growth leaders in technology, giving computer systems greater ability to understand and interact with the world and with society. Machine learning has traditionally been used for things like identifying faces or other objects in photographs, automatic translation, transcribing handwriting, and data forecasting. But now it is being applied in an ever-greater range of applications and businesses.
Machine learning is a technology in which a computer system is fed large amounts of data to analyze, as well as the outcomes or goals it is expected to achieve from that data. It builds an internal model of how to process the data, usually random and meaningless at first, and then applies that model to the data repeatedly. It adjusts the model as it goes, and gradually improves its performance over time. Such systems can learn to disregard irrelevant information, and find patterns that more traditional methods can miss. In some cases, the systems can match or even exceed the abilities of a highly-trained human, or deal with volumes of information too great for a person to process.
Benefits of machine learning are increasingly finding their ways into our day-to-day lives. Our phones have better voice recognition and predictive text, services like Netflix, Amazon, and Google are giving us recommendations that better match our wants and needs, while the latest automobiles come with driving assist features to make our roads safer.
In the future, member associations will be able to use tools like these to better understand and meet their member's needs, plan and organize better events, improve marketing and member retention, reduce spam in their inbox, and benefit from better website security.
What’s this mean to Exware clients?
At Exware, our research team is actively investigating machine learning tools to find ways they can improve our AMS system and benefit our clients. Stay tuned for updates.
With cloud computing becoming common-place, many Canadian Associations have not been able to take advantage of it due to The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) which is a Canadian federal law that applies to the collection, use, and disclosure of personal information in the course of commercial activities in all Canadian provinces. It requires that all personal data is stored and hosted in Canada.
This goes against the nature of cloud computing where the specifications and the location of your servers is immaterial. The benefits of the cloud computing approach is that you do not need to concern yourself with low-level IT details like server hardware and hosting facilities, and related issues like hardware maintenance and server migrations. But the very abstraction that makes cloud computing attractive also makes it problematic when you do need to state with some specificity where your data is located.
Cloud vendors are starting to allow some flexibility in their services. Starting a year ago, Amazon has allowed their cloud customers to confine their instances to their Canada (Central) Region, which means that stored data and cloud servers will be located in the Toronto-Montreal region, and will be geographically isolated from other Amazon facilities in the U.S. and abroad. Amazon claims to have two availability zones in Canada, meaning that even if one of their facilities suffers a serious problem, the other can pick up the slack and ensure continuity of service.
What does this mean for Exware clients?
Exware is researching cloud hosting options to determine the specific pros/cons for our clients before introducing new packages. For those not ready for cloud hosting, Exware will continue to offer its traditional physical server options.
You may have heard about how the Internet is running out of IP addresses, and about the move to a new address space called IPv6. All computer systems on the Internet have an IP address, and the old addressing scheme, IPv4, only allows for around 4.3 billion possible addresses. Those are gradually getting used up, and with demand for IP addresses continuing to grow, the Internet is slowly moving to a new scheme called IPv6, which provides a virtually unlimited number of addresses.
The transition to IPv6 is proceeding slowly across all industry sectors, but the increasing scarcity of IPv4 is not an immediate concern to Exware clients.
If you have questions or concerns, please contact us.