SSL Certificates (Website Security)

Certificates are used to certify that a website is safe for secure communications such as passwords, banking information, credit card transactions, etc. Certificates must be issued by one of the trusted certificate authorities like Verisign or Thawte. The certificate authority will verify that the address belongs to the organization requesting it and will assign the certificate an expiration date.

If you go to a site with an invalid certificate you may be

allowing unauthorized access to all of your activity on that site.


Older Web Browsers (Internet Explorer 6 or Firefox 2)

Certificates are a good reason to update to one of the newer browsers because in older browsers the warnings were less clear and much easier to simply pass by. Here is an example:

CertWarning-old

If you see a warning like this take the time to read it and,
if possible, contact the site owner before sharing any secure information.

In this example the certificate was not issued by a trusted certificate authority and therefore may not be valid. Web browsers will only ask you about certificates that fail to meet some of the criteria so these warnings should be taken seriously.

Internet Explorer

When using Internet Explorer you may see a certificate warning like this:

CertWarning-IE

If you see a warning like this take the time to read it and,
if possible, contact the site owner before sharing any secure information.

Just like the previous example, this website's certificate was not issued by a trusted certificate authority and therefore may not be valid. Web browsers will only ask you about certificates that fail to meet some of the criteria so these warnings should be taken seriously.

Firefox

In Firefox the process of accessing a site with an invalid certificate is somewhat more complex. This is done to ensure that users know that the site is one they intend to trust. When you browse to a site with an invalid certificate in Firefox you will see an error like this:

CertWarning-Firefox

If you see a warning like this take the time to read it and,
if possible, contact the site owner before sharing any secure information.

Just like in the examples above, this website's certificate was not issued by a trusted certificate authority and may not be valid. Web browsers will only ask you about certificates that fail to meet some of the criteria so these warnings should be taken seriously.

If you choose to add an exception you will see a screen similar to the one presented by Internet Explorer:

CertWarning2-Firefox

If you still choose to add an exception, Firefox will bring up the "Add Security Exception" window where you can get the certificate and confirm the security exception:

CertAdd-Firefox

Once again, web browsers will only ask you about certificates
that are invalid so these warnings should be taken seriously.