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An SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate is a digital certificate that authenticates the identity of a website and encrypts information sent to the server using SSL technology. Encryption is the process of scrambling data into an undecipherable format that can only be returned to a readable format with the proper decryption key. A certificate serves as an electronic ‘passport’ that establishes an online entity's credentials when doing business on the Web. When an Internet user attempts to send confidential information to a Web server, the user's browser accesses the server's digital certificate and establishes a secure connection.
An SSL certificate contains the certificate holder's name; the certificate's serial number and expiration date; a copy of the certificate holder's public key; and the digital signature of the certificate-issuing authority.