SSL Security: Symptoms of Errors, Causes, and Remediation

May 04, 2024

1. The Importance of SSL and Security Certificates

SSL, short for Secure Sockets Layer, is a cryptographic technology utilized to safeguard information during transmission over the internet. It establishes a secure connection between a client and a server, enabling data to be encrypted before transmission and decrypted upon arrival, thwarting attackers from intercepting or understanding transmitted information. SSL is commonly employed in data transmission protocols such as HTTPS to protect personal information, banking details, login credentials, and other critical data on the internet. SSL plays a crucial role in encrypting information between a user’s computer and a web server, ensuring that data transmitted over the network is secure and cannot be stolen or altered.

Security certificates (also known as SSL certificates) are integral components of SSL. These are sets of digital data provided by a Certificate Authority (CA) to authenticate the identity of an entity on the internet, typically a web server. Security certificates contain information about the server, public key, details of the certificate owner organization, and the CA’s digital signature to validate the certificate’s legitimacy. SSL security certificates verify the legitimacy of a website and assist users in determining whether they are connecting to a secure website or not.

2. SSL Operation Mechanism

SSL operates by establishing a secure channel between a client and a server, thereby safeguarding data during transmission over the internet. The fundamental operation of SSL involves the following steps:

  • Identification and initiation of secure communication session: When a client connects to a server, the process begins with the client requesting the server to authenticate its identity. The server sends an electronic certificate to prove its identity.
  • Certificate authentication: The client verifies the certificate provided by the server to ensure its validity and authenticate the server’s identity.
  • Data encryption: After authentication, the client and server employ encryption methods to establish a secure communication channel. Data is encrypted before being sent from the client and decrypted upon reaching the server, preventing any intermediaries from intercepting the information.
  • Secure protocol during transmission: SSL utilizes secure protocols to ensure the security and integrity of data during transmission.
  • Termination of secure connection session: Once the data transmission process is completed, the secure connection session is terminated. Encrypted information is no longer accessible to anyone outside the client and server.

SSL creates a robust protective layer for data transmitted between the client and server, ensuring that personal information, banking details, and other critical data are securely protected during transmission over the internet.

3. Browser Security Warning Indicators

When SSL certificates expire or are misconfigured, browsers issue security warnings to users regarding potential security risks:

  • “Insecure Connection” Notification: Browsers typically display a clear warning notification indicating that the connection is either not protected or insecure. This may erode user trust in the website’s security.
  • Display of Red Padlock Icon or “Not Secure” Warning: Browsers often show a red padlock icon or a “Not Secure” message near the web address, drawing attention and diminishing user confidence.

4. Causes of Certificate Expiry Issues

Certificate Expiry and Update Procedures

  • Forgetting or Delaying Certificate Updates: When SSL/TLS certificates expire, if system administrators forget or delay updating the certificates, web browsers will not recognize the current certificate as valid. This leads to warnings about the website’s lack of security.
  • Suboptimal Certificate Update Processes: Occasionally, certificate management and updates may not be automated or may be performed manually, resulting in forgetting or overlooking timely updates.

Incorrect SSL Configuration and Customization

  • Misconfiguration of Certificates: Incorrect configuration during SSL certificate installation or deployment can lead to certificates not being recognized or becoming invalid.
  • Incorrect SSL Configuration Customization: Incorrect settings or improper customization of SSL configuration can also compromise the security of certificates, prompting browsers to display insecure warnings.

These causes frequently result in SSL/TLS certificate incidents, rendering websites insecure and impacting user experience and website credibility.

5. Remediation and Resolution Strategies

Certificate Verification and Timely Updates

  • Automate Update Processes: Employ automation tools and services to update SSL certificates, mitigating the risk of oversight in certificate management.
  • Regular Checks and Reminder Notifications: Establish reminder notification systems or periodic check schedules to ensure that certificates are updated promptly, avoiding incidents related to certificate expiration.

Adjust Configuration and Set SSL Properly

  • Utilize Official Guides and Resources: Configure and set up SSL according to official guides and reliable resources provided by service providers to ensure accuracy.
  • Conduct Regular Configuration Checks: Periodically inspect and reassess configurations to ensure they adhere to the latest security standards and remain free of compatibility issues.

Organizations can implement these measures to address issues related to SSL/TLS certificates. Ensuring timely updates and accurately adjusting configurations will help maintain the security and trustworthiness of the website in the eyes of users.

6. Consequences Impacting the Website

Diminished Security

Browsers alert users that the connection is not secure, displaying a red or yellow warning icon or message in the address bar, signaling potential risks. This warning indicates to users that the information they transmit and receive from the website may not be encrypted or protected securely. It instills a sense of insecurity and mistrust, reducing the likelihood of continued usage of the website. Users may exit the website and seek alternative options they perceive as more reliable, resulting in significant loss of traffic and revenue for your website.


Google and other search engines increasingly prioritize security as a ranking factor for websites. Having an expired SSL certificate is one of the factors Google considers to ensure user safety while browsing the web. When SSL certificates expire, websites may lose security points in the eyes of search engines. This can lead to a drop in search engine rankings, reducing visibility on important search result pages. Moreover, Google has announced that they prioritize websites with SSL and HTTPS in ranking compared to those without SSL. Therefore, an expired SSL certificate not only affects security but can also decrease the SEO ranking of your website, significantly impacting traffic and discoverability online.

Loss of Secure Payment Acceptance Capability

Particularly for websites involved in online payment transactions, maintaining a secure connection through SSL is paramount. Most payment systems and payment gateways require a secure connection via SSL to safeguard users’ payment information. When SSL certificates expire, the website may fail to meet the security requirements of payment systems. This can lead to the inability to execute secure payment transactions, causing users to be concerned about providing personal payment information. The absence of an SSL certificate may result in payment systems rejecting or encountering difficulty in verifying the security integrity of the website, thus impacting the capability to accept payments securely.

Loss of Customer Trust and Reputation

In the absence of SSL or with expired certificates, sensitive information transmitted over the internet becomes vulnerable to attacks and theft. Personal data such as usernames, passwords, payment details, and other sensitive information become insecure during transmission over the network. An environment without SSL facilitates attackers to monitor, steal, or even interfere with the transmission of information. This opens up significant risks of losing critical and sensitive data. Additionally, when crucial data like personal information, payment details, or important documents of customers are stolen or disclosed, it results in severe damage to trust and credibility from the customers’ perspective. This consequence not only impacts the website but can also affect your business operations and brand reputation in the long term.

Potential for Phishing Attacks

Attackers can utilize information from expired certificates to create counterfeit websites, impersonating as your official website. This tactic is often used to deceive users by creating websites with interfaces and information similar or closely resembling your genuine website. Users may be misled into believing that they are accessing the official website when in fact, it is a phishing site. Once users enter crucial information such as personal information, accounts, or payment details into these counterfeit websites, this information can be stolen and exploited unlawfully. This poses a significant risk to the personal and financial information security of users, while also negatively impacting the reputation and security of the official website. This consequence not only erodes user trust but can also result in substantial losses to your business operations and brand, particularly when critical information is stolen and exploited unlawfully.