SSL Certificate High-Level Best Practices

SSL certificates are an essential part of online security. They protect websites against hackers who try to steal information such as credit card numbers and passwords. In addition, they ensure that customers trust the site and its content.

Almost 50% of the top one million websites use HTTPS by default (they redirect inquiries of HTTP pages to URLs with HTTPS). ( such, even pages that don’t deal with confidential data are being deployed using SSL. The underlying certificates to power the encryption are available from a variety of commercial providers, and even the pro-bono resource No matter where you get your certificate from, here are a few resources for high-level best practices.

Trust Your Certificate Provider

Since certificates provide the basis for the cryptography for your site, their source is important. You can find a trustworthy list of providers for certificates here. Beware of commercial providers not found on this list, as some of them may be sketchy at best, or dangerous at worst. Remember, the Let’s Encrypt project above is also highly trusted, even though they are not a commercial firm.

Manage Versions and Algorithms

Make sure you disable SSL and TLS 1.0 on the server. That version has known vulnerabilities. If possible, and there are no impacts on your users, consider removing 1.1 and 1.2 as well. 1.3 fixes a lot of the known issues with the protocol and supports only the known secure algorithms.

In cryptography, cipher suites play an important part in securing connections by enabling encryption at different levels. You shouldn’t be using an old version of a cryptographic protocol if there’s a newer one available; otherwise, you may put your site’s security at risk. Using secure cipher suites that support 128-bit (or more) encryption is crucial for securing sensitive client communications.

Diffie Hellman Key Exchange has been shown to be vulnerable when used for weaker keys; however, there is no known attack against stronger keys such as 2048-bits. Make sure you use the strongest settings possible for your server.

Manage and Maintain Certificate Expiration

As of Sept. 1, 2020, Apple’s Safari browser will no longer trust certificates with validity periods longer than 398 days, and other browsers are likely to follow suit. Reducing validity periods reduces the time period in which compromised or bogus certificates can be exploited. As such, any certificates using retired encryption algorithms or protocols will need to be replaced sooner. (

Maintain a spreadsheet or database of your certificate expiration dates for each relevant site. Make sure to check it frequently for expiring certificates to avoid user issues and browser error messages. Even better is to use an application or certificate management platform that alerts you in plenty of time to upcoming certificate expirations – thus, you can plan accordingly. Best of all, if possible, embrace tools and frameworks for automating certificate management and rotation – that makes sure that you are less likely to have expiration issues. Most popular web frameworks now have tools and plugins available to perform this for you.

Protect Your Certificates and Private Keys

Remember that your certificate is not only a basis for cryptography, but is also a source of identification and reputation. As such, you need to make sure that all certificates are stored properly, securely and in trusted locations. Make sure that web users can’t access the private certificate files, and that you have adequate back up and restore processes in place.

Make sure that you also protect the private keys used in certificate generation. Generate them offline, if possible, protect them with strong passwords and store them in a secure location. Generate a new private key for each certificate and each renewal cycle.

Revoke your certificate or keys as quickly as possible if you believe they have been compromised.

Following these best practices will go a long way to making your SSL certificate processes safer and more effective. Doing so protects your users, your reputation and your web sites. Make sure you check back with your certificate provider often, and follow any additional practices they suggest.





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