The difference between free SSL and paid SSL, and why it matters
Ah, the free SSL vs paid SSL question. Since you’re here, it likely means you’ve likely heard about free SSL and may wonder if SSL is free, why would you pay for it? And let us respond to that question by posing one of our own: Email is free, too. So why aren’t you emailing all your partners and customers from a Gmail address?
Because it looks bad for your company. Likewise, using a free SSL certificate is a great way to advertise the fact that you have done the bare minimum to secure the connections on your website. That’s bush league.
But, beyond that, there are other more technical reasons to eschew free SSL. Let’s go through a few of them to determine the difference between free SSL and paid SSL, and why one is better than the other.
Downfalls of Using a Free SSL Instead of Commercial Paid SSL
Free vs Paid SSL: Shorter Certificate Lifespans
If you’re using Let’s Encrypt’s free SSL, you’re using certificates with 90-day lifespans. That might not seem like a big deal because it’s automated, but it adds an additional layer of complexity and means you’re now dealing with four or eight certificates over the same period instead of just one or two.
With paid SSL, it’s nice not to have to constantly keep tabs on your SSL certificates. Even if you’re using ACME, you still need to check regularly to make sure everything is still working like it should with these short-term, free certificates. And when it doesn’t — get ready for a headache.
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Free vs Paid SSL: The Struggle of Certificate Management is Amplified
One of the benefits of using commercial SSL certificates is that they play nicely with just about any certificate management platform. That’s because it behooves the CAs to make certificates easily discoverable so they can be added to your management platform to ensure no interruptions or unforeseen issues as you’re securing your digital infrastructure.
Let’s Encrypt, on the other hand, is like honeybadger — it doesn’t give a s#^! about that. Let’s Encrypt is running a skeleton crew on a crowdsourced, shoestring budget. They’re just trying to keep the doors open.
Free vs Paid SSL: No Customer Support
If you think we’re being jerks now, just wait until something breaks. You’ll have to go sifting through a bunch of old forum posts written by… well, you know what IT guys are like. There’s no phone number, there’s no live chat or ticketing system. There’s only forums and message boards where, hopefully, someone else has solved whatever issue you’re having and has then documented it for you. Maybe they’ll even be polite… No, no, they won’t.
Free vs Paid SSL: No Options
Vanilla ice cream is great, but rarely would anyone be content to eat it every day. This is absolutely nothing like that, except for the fact Let’s Encrypt and other free certificate authorities (CAs) only issue one type of certificate: single-domain validated (DV) certificates, the vanilla of the SSL varieties. Yes, Let’s Encrypt advertises a wildcard, but you need to meet extremely specific conditions (like using the right server, the proper configuration, and having the correct blood type) before they’ll even consider issuing one.
There is no purity test with commercial CAs. You can pick single-domain certificates, multi-domain certificates, wildcards — even a crazy variant called multi-domain wildcards. And you can get them at multiple validation levels, too. Some, such as the extended validation (EV) SSL certificates, even grant your website special browser treatment. That’s some Baskin-Robbins level stuff you just don’t get with free SSL.
Free vs Paid SSL: No Website Identity
As we just covered, you can only get DV SSL from free CAs. That means the certificate only identifies your server. Unfortunately, though, most people don’t know companies by their server identity. So, that’s of limited value. Commercial CAs sell OV and EV certificates that assert actual organizational identity. This can help protect your customers and employees from phishing and also makes a strong opening statement about your brand.
Free vs Paid SSL: No Warranties
Free SSL is fantastic if you’re not a business or aren’t concerned about validating your business beyond the basic domain level. What many people don’t realize is that free SSL certificates don’t have warranties. Only commercial CAs offer warranties on their products. You are more indemnified with a paid SSL certificate than a free one.
There shouldn’t be an economic barrier to encryption for the masses. But you ARE a business. The whole economic barrier doesn’t apply to you because you’re making money. And, as such, you can afford to actually invest in your website’s security instead of just slapping 90-day bandaids on it.
So, the ball is in your court. Put your best foot forward with a premium SSL certificate or just do the bare minimum. It’s only the success of your business that hangs in the balance.
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