When privacy is paramount, secure hosting is critical. That is to say, if your website’s users will be exchanging personal or financial information with your site, whether as a customer buying a product or a member using a subscription service, they're going to expect their information to be safe and protected. Ensuring them of that, and maintaining on that promise is pivotal to the success of your business. That's why website owners concerned about security search specifically for secure hosting.
With a secure website, such as one hosted by a secure web hosting company, visitors access it using the Secure Socket Layer protocol (or SSL) which is the standard technology used today to encrypt data transmitted between your site and the user's web browser. This encryption protects that data, both yours and your visitor's, from the prying eyes of hackers and malware like keyloggers. Owners of sites using this technology are issued what's called a "private key" giving them the sole ability to decrypt that data; that means even if hackers are able to access your data, without the private key they still won't be able to decipher and read it.
When you pay for secure website hosting, you get to place an SSL certificate on the pages of your site, indicating to all visitors that their interactions with your site are protected by this data encryption process.
That means you get the dual advantage of secure encryption protection and the instantly recognized reputation for having such technology protecting your customers' data.
The "S" in HTTPS://
You also get to spruce up your domain name.
One of the trademarks of a secure website, and a feature provided by secure hosting, is visible right from the URL bar, before the secure site even loads. It's the inclusion of a little "s" in the usual "http://" that starts out most web addresses (i.e. domains), creating "https://". Most savvy web users seeking to do business with a secure website look for that "s" in the site's domain, often before even clicking through a link to the site or typing it into their browser bar.
Who Uses Secure Hosting
More and more businesses are using secure hosting to attract and appease customers as "privacy" becomes the buzzword of the early-21st century. People are concerned about their online privacy, which spurs them to educate themselves further about their options. More and more, the average consumer looks for that SSL certificate, that "s" appended to the domain; more and more, the average consumer knows, when all else is equal, to choose the company that promises to secure their data. And even when not all else is equal, many consumers are finding that security is even more valuable and indispensable a factor than certain others, like cost or features.
So, with that in mind: Who uses secure hosting? Nearly all ecommerce businesses, for one, are expected to be secure, at least once a user enters their checkout procedure. In-house business networks, schools, civic offices, legal, medical, and insurance companies — wherever there is data being transmitted over the Internet between the server (the website) and the end user (the consumer), that transmission is expected to be secure.
And by "data" we mean:
personal information - name, address, birth date, social security number
financial/billing information - credit card number, credit report data, loans, liens
confidential correspondence - support requests, private health/education communications (e.g. test results), faxes, emails, instant messaging, live chat
Comparing SSL Certificates
All secure hosting companies should offer you an SSL certificate, usually free with signup, and all the protections it promises. Where different secure hosts may differ considerably is in the type of SSL certificate they offer or the conditions and procedures for obtaining them.
You will find that many of even the best secure hosting companies will require you to have a unique IP address and a separate SSL certificate for each and every subdomain you wish to set up securely. In such cases, even the difference between https://www.myname.com and https://myname.com (i.e. without the "www.") would require two separate SSL certificates.
Other secure web hosts may allow "wildcard" SSL certificates that cover all the subdomains for an entire domain. The takeaway: check each secure host you're considering to see how they handle multiple domains and subdomains. The secure hosting plans offering this type of "wildcard" certificate are typically shared secure hosting plans.
This is an important distinction of SSL certificates to be conscious of: between shared and private certificates. Just as they sound, a shared SSL certificate is shared with other users on that same server network; a private SSL certificate represents a domain or subdomain protected not only on a secure server, but a dedicated server shared with no other users (see the article What to Look for in a Dedicated Hosting Company for more).
Two other distinctions of SSL certificates to be aware of are self-signed and signed. If your web host issues you a self-signed SSL certificate for your domain or subdomain, many users visiting your site will see a warning message pop-up to advise them that the certificate might not be trustworthy. This could turn off prospective customers. Therefore, if conducting business online, a signed SSL certificate will give you the most instant credibility. And if you've decided it's worth paying for secure web hosting anyway, you might as well pay for the certificate that will most appeal to your potential customers.
Be advised as well that there are many authorities issuing SSL certificates. You must still prove that your site is hosted on a secure server in order to receive the certificate, but sometimes it may pay to shop separately for your secure hosting company and your SSL certificate issuer.
Comparing Secure Hosts
Secure website hosting companies may also differ in the type and level of encryption offered. For example, the level or degree of encryption provided by a secure host is listed as a number of bit (e.g. 40-bit or 128-bit); the higher the number, the "better" or more complex the encryption.
Other differences between secure hosting companies may lie in their standard web hosting features, like uptime quality, disk space & bandwidth allotments, and customer support.
Disclosure: As is the case with many other industry/topic specific magazines, websites and trade publications, we do receive compensation from some of the companies whose products we review within and outside of the web hosting industry, including, but not limited to, paid advertising placements, referral fees, contextual advertising links and sponsorship packages.