SSL certificates have taken the web by storm. Today, sites of all sizes need an SSL certificate to secure sensitive data and stay relevant in search engines. No HTTPS means no protection and visibility. Whether it’s just a blog or a complex e-commerce platform, SSL security is a core element of successful website building. 

Understanding how SSL certs work is tricky for the less tech-savvy users. Cryptography is a vast and complex topic, but once you grasp the basic principles, everything becomes crystal clear.

With so many types of SSL certificates on sale, one of the most frequent questions users ask is about security levels. A common misconception is that SSL certs provide different kinds of encryption. When there’s a disparity in prices across various SSL brands, it’s reasonable to think that a more expensive cert offers better encryption, but that’s not the case with SSL certificates.

SSL security level is the same across all certificates

All SSL certificates, irrespective of validation type, brand, price, and features, follow the same cryptographic protocol – Transport Security Layer or TLS. An entry-level Domain Validation certificate suitable for basic sites and blogs provides the same encryption as a premium Extended Validation certificate appropriate for a financial institution. 

But if encryption is identical across all certificates, why are there so many types and prices? To bring the utmost clarity to this matter, let’s get a bird’s eye view of how SSL certificates function. 

SSL Certificates and Validation Types

An SSL certificate is a small digital file that verifies and validates a website’s or company’s identity. SSL certs offer several verification levels, from basic Domain Validation where Certificate Authorities check domain ownership only, to Extended Validation, where the entire business undergoes comprehensive authentication.

While both types have the same encryption, they offer different degrees of authenticity and trustworthiness. Domain Validation (DV) certificates are perfect for basic sites, online portfolios, and informational portals; but not suitable for organizations, e-commerce stores, and companies seeking the highest customer trust.

Here’s where Business (BV) and Extended Validation (EV) certificates step in. They verify and validate companies’ official status and are strong indicators of a genuine business operating in good faith.

Issuing a BV or EV certificate requires much more effort and resources than a regular DV cert, which is available within 5 minutes. Moreover, BV and EV certs come with better extra features and higher warranties for your customers’ peace of mind. EV also protects your website from phishing attacks, which are on the rise due to free SSL certificates.

The underlying technology behind SSL certificates

Now that you know what an SSL certificate is, let’s analyze the technology behind it. An SSL cert follows a cryptographic protocol to encrypt the communications between browsers and web servers. The first secure protocol was developed by Netscape back in 1995.

It was called Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), hence the name SSL certificates. Since it was a new technology for the fast-evolving web, SSL had too many vulnerabilities to ensure bulletproof encryption. With cyber-attackers exploiting it relentlessly, the SSL protocol was replaced by TLS (Transport Layer Security), a more stable and safer technology.

While both protocols share many similarities, TLS has proved more secure over the years. The TLS 1.2 release has been in use for over a decade, with TLS 1.3 introducing even tighter security and faster TLS connections. If there’s one thing you should know about TLS encryption, that’s its impressive strength. Cracking TLS encryption is beyond human capabilities.

Unfortunately, attackers may still find ways to intercept users’ sensitive data. From a purely technical point, SSL certificates offer impeccable encryption, but that’s not enough against all the threats.

If you don’t install and configure your certificate properly, you create loopholes for hackers to exploit. Sticking to the best SSL management practices is imperative to prevent SSL connection errors and website outages.

Why so many SSL Certs Are Technically the Same?

A glance over SSL Dragon’s list of certificates reveals similar specifications across different brands and validation types, yet the prices differ. The most prominent example is that of Sectigo (formerly Sectigo).

Sectigo SSL Certificates

Sectigo offers a wide range of SSL certs for every need. They even have a budget-friendly line of certificates branded “Positive SSL.” You won’t find a difference between a Sectigo Positive SSL cert and Sectigo Essential SSL one. Both are Domain Validation products with static site seals and $10,000 SSL warranties, so why is one cheaper?

Well, there isn’t any rocket science behind the pricing. Sectigo is one of the most popular CAs in the world, with over 3 million customers. 

The high demand for SSL certificates from websites of all sizes creates opportunities for product and price diversification. Sectigo’s model has been in place for many years without significant alterations. As long as there’s a high demand, there’s room for flexible prices. Ultimately, it’s all about profits in this instance. The market and competition dictate the pricing policy.

Even so, the example above is more of an exception than a rule. Most SSL providers, including Sectigo, set different prices because of extra SSL features. Take Wildcard certificates, for instance. All Wildcard certs secure unlimited subdomains along with the main domain. But when you consider the brand power and the SSL warranty, it’s clear why some certs cost less than others.

Sectigo PositiveSSL Wildcard and Sectigo SSL Wildcard are technically the same certificates, yet the latter is three times more expensive because of the higher SSL warranty. For many, the SSL warranty is confusing. We’ve already explained how an SSL warranty works in one of our articles. In a nutshell, it covers any damages that may occur from the improper issuance of a certificate.

Thawte and DigiCert SSL Certificates

With premium brands such as Thawte and DigiCert, you get what may seem exorbitant pricing. DigiCert Secure Site Pro Wildcard also protects unlimited subdomains, just like the cheapest Wildcard cert does, but it costs a whopping $3,899 per year. It may seem pricey, to say the least, but it includes a massive $1,500,000 SSL warranty. For banks, large corporations, and financial institutions, such a certificate is a viable investment.

Final Thoughts

All certificates offer the same SSL security level, but the key to healthy encryption is the correct installation and configuration. We selected several SSL certs from various CAs to show you what dictates the price of identical products. 

SSL certificates may follow the same encryption protocols, but not all websites require the same certificate. Validation levels, extra features, and SSL warranties are essential aspects that determine the certificate type and price.