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Q. How do certificates and SSL work?

A. Certificates are used to verify a customer’s identity, while SSL and encryption ensure secured, private communication.

The most common cryptographic technique used on the Web today is the public key system. This algorithm uses two keys to secure transmitted data, a public key and a private key. One key is used to encrypt a message and the other is used to decrypt it. For example, say John wishes to securely communicate with his bank. John will use the bank's public key to encrypt his messages and the bank will decrypt John's messages with their private key.

Now John also wants to be certain that he is indeed communicating with the bank and not an imposter. The best method the bank can use to convince John that they are really the bank is to use a certificate signed by a trusted agency (certificate authority). This means John can view the certificate contents and decide if the public key he is going to use to encrypt his messages really belongs to the bank.
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