Secure Webpages: Secure Socket Layers

Most people know that they should be wary when giving out their personal information over the internet since they don't always know where it's going and who can access it. You should only ever fill in personal information to be sent over the internet when the site you are on has a secure connection. This safeguards your privacy and information so that not anyone can access it. Using a secure site is an important step to protecting yourself from identity theft and fraud.

What is a Secure Connection?

Any time you view a web page, information is sent from your computer to the web server and from the web server to your computer. Each piece of information transverses many servers before it reaches its final destination. It's not uncommon to for it to stop off at 20-30 servers along the way! This means that the information being sent to and from your computer is accessible to anyone who has access to those servers.

Most data is sent out in "plain text" format. This means that to anyone along the way, the information is easy to access and understand because it looks the same way it did on your computer. If you had just inputted your name and credit card number into a form, it would be readable (and useable) to someone who saw this information along the way in plain text.

So how is your personal information protected when you are shopping, banking, etc online? The solution is to encrypt the data for transmission. This means that the information is turned into code that cannot be read by anyone along the way to its final destination. Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) was created for the purpose of encrypting data so that it remains private. Web pages that use SSL are known as secure we pages, and these are the only pages it is safe to submit personal information to.

How Can You Tell Your Information is Secure?

There are a number of ways you can tell of you are on a secure web page:

  • Check the URL: If it starts with "https" instead of "http" it means that the web page is secure. Just think S for security.
  • Look for the lock icon: If there is a working lock icon in the status bar of your browser, the web page is secure. But be careful - spammers can make the icon appear in your browser for a non-secure site. That's why you should double-click the icon to make sure it works. If an information window pops up when you click the lock icon, it is a working icon and the site is secure.
  • Check for the "Site Seal": SSL vendors often provide their clients with seals they can put on their site to show that it's secure. These seals are normally highly visible, difficult to duplicate, and they have some functionality when you hover over them with your mouse (ex: provide information about the site you are visiting).
Just be aware the site seals shouldn't be trusted on their own, and you should always check the URL and the lock icon before you trust a website that calls itself secure.

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