Using a SSL certificate on your school website can have many benefits, and it can be a lot cheaper and easier than you might think.

What is SSL and HTTPS?

Just in case, let’s cover what an SSL certificate is and what it does. If you already know then just skip down a bit.

When you use a computer or mobile device to access something on the web there are generally two ways in which your computer can connect to a website. One is with an unencrypted connection using the HTTP communication protocol and the other, is an encrypted connection using the similarly named HTTPS, where the S stands for ‘secure’.

Unencrypted means that the data your device and the website exchanged is raw, plain data which is not hidden in any way. This is absolutely fine for the types of website where you are simply browsing information such as the BBC News website or searching for a good holiday destination. However, when it comes to entering personalised data such as passwords, bank accounts, or any significantly identifying information then you really want to make sure that the data is protected by encryption. This means that if anyone did decide to try and intercept that data, they would not be able to see the information that was actually being sent.

That’s the purpose of a SSL certificate. It ensures that data sent between your device and a website using HTTPS is encrypted, purely to protect that information from being received and used by a malicious third party. Another aspect of SSL which is worth knowing about is, that in order for it to work, it also verifies that the website you are accessing is actually the website it says it is. So when you go to your bank’s website and type in your account details you can be sure that it is actually your bank and not some other website pretending to be your bank.

You can tell if the website you are accessing is using a secure connection because the browser bar usually turns green with a little lock (depending on your web browser).

How much does all of this amazingness cost?

SSL certificates can range in cost from tens to thousands of pounds. The main difference between these is the amount of background checking that goes in to offering a higher level of verification, and also fraud insurance cover.

The simplest and cheapest certificates offer domain validation which basically just ensures that all the data is encrypted.

Organisations that are dealing with large amounts of financial transactions online will generally require more expensive certificates.

So does your school website need an SSL certificate?

The answer is probably yes, but you will almost certainly be able to use one of the cheapest options.

If your school website is doing any of the following then you definitely should be using SSL:

  • asking users (this could be staff, parents, or students) to enter usernames and passwords, either to access personalised content or to gain access to the admin interface of your website.

  • processing financial transactions through the website e.g. paying for school trips.

  • providing users with the opportunity to submit personally identifying information through the school website, such as logging a child’s absence

There are others reasons to use an SSL certificate, but they probably don’t apply so much to schools. Google looks favourably on websites that use an SSL and will generally display those sites further up search rankings.

The bottom line is that SSL gives the users of the website the confidence of knowing that their communication is private and secure.

If you think your school website could use a SSL certificate then you should speak to your hosting company about your specific requirements to determine which type of certificate is most appropriate.

Published on: 14 November 2016

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