The Benefits and Drawbacks of Self-Signed Certificates

September 2021

Your website’s safety is paramount, especially when it comes to keeping sensitive data safe and avoiding breaches. One of the simplest and most effective ways to optimize security on your site is to utilize Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificates. Of course, SSL certificates cost money to implement – which is why some website owners and administrators explore alternatives like self-signed certificates instead.

Still, it’s essential to understand that self-signed certificates are not always the best option to keep your site safe. By having a better idea of what self-signed certificates are and when it may or may not be appropriate to use one, you can make the right security decisions for your website.

What Is a Self-Signed Certificate?

When you purchase a “traditional” SSL certificate, you know that it is has been signed off by a reputable certificate authority (CA). By contrast, a self-signed certificate is not signed off by an authority like SSL or TLS; instead, it’s created, implemented, and signed off by a third-party software developer.

Using a self-signed certificate may seem like a good alternative to paying for an SSL certificate, especially when you consider that self-signed options are free and can successfully encrypt incoming and outgoing data. Still, there are very few instances where using this option is a good idea.

When Is a Self-Signed Certificate Appropriate?

In general, a self-signed certificate may be a suitable option when it is being used for an internal (intranet) site or testing a website before it’s available to the general public. This approach can save site owners and developers the cost of purchasing a CA-signed certificate while still providing some security benefits. However, as soon as the site goes live, a CA-signed certificate from a reputable third party is strongly recommended.

Potential Drawbacks to a Self-Signed Certificate

Using self-signed certificates comes with a host of potential drawbacks that you simply don’t want to mess around with. For starters, self-signed certificates are not verified by a reputable third-party, so you’re taking a bit of a gamble when it comes to their authenticity and effectiveness.

Additionally, a self-signed certificate will not display the “HTTPS” designation and padlock symbol when users visit your website like a legitimate SSL certificate does. As a result, visitors may feel uncomfortable using your website because they can’t trust that their information is safe. This, in turn, could affect your web traffic and even cause you to lose business.

Get Unparalleled Protection with the Right Hosting Plan

While using a self-signed SSL certificate may seem like a good idea to save some money, the reality is that implementing a legitimate and reputable SSL certificate on your site is almost always worth the slightly higher cost.

Keep in mind that SSL certificates are only a small piece of the puzzle when it comes to web security. For the most robust protection, you must make sure you have the right hosting plan. This means upgrading to a dedicated server with ReliableSite if you haven’t done so already. Contact us to learn more about our dedicated hosting plans!