Wildcard SSL Explained for Multi-level Subdomains Security

If you are purchasing a wildcard certificate for the first time and are clueless about this SSL type, don't worry. We know how overwhelming this phase can be, especially for those who have no technical background and are trying to stay safe on a budget.

Under such circumstances, you probably have many questions popping up at the back of your mind. Like, what are the perks of buying a Wildcard SSL? Are there any drawbacks to it? Will this do, or should I get a more advanced SSL?

Over time, we have come across a lot of folks who are in the very same place as you. Some of them don't even know what a Wildcard SSL can do and what it means to encrypt subdomains on a single level.

So, we decided to get around the basics in the simplest manner possible and build them right up. By the end of this article, you would know everything about Wildcard SSL certificates and would be able to make the right choice, so let's get started.


What is a Wildcard SSL?

A wildcard SSL certificate is a premium solution that lets the user encrypt a primary domain and all of its subdomains with a single SSL. This eliminates the need to use multiple domains validated (DV) SSL certificates that can be expensive and difficult to manage.

Wildcard SSL

As the internet recognizes each domain and subdomain as an individual domain, some businesses use a separate DV SSL for each subdomain. This is not only expensive and inefficient from an administration perspective but also dangerous for the business.

It increases the possibility of insider threats because with each SSL comes a private key. This is the secret key that decodes the data transmitted to the webserver on which the SSL is installed and must therefore remain confidential.

A Wildcard SSL overcomes these concerns, a one-stop solution for businesses that stick to a single FQDN but use several subdomains. Such websites usually include small and mid-sized drop-shipping businesses, print-on-demand, e-commerce retail, and consulting businesses. Since these businesses work on a budget, using a single Wildcard Certificate to encrypt all the subdomains becomes a feasible option.

The Wildcard SSL makes this possible through the wildcard character, which is an asterisk defined while requesting the certificate. So, if you own a website called www.Website1.com, then your application would request for a Wildcard SSL to be issued for *.Website1.com. This asterisk denotes all your domains on a specific level and on that level only. Let us now understand this with an illustration.

Let us assume that your request for a wildcard certificate in favour of your website *.Website1.com has been successfully processed. In this case, you would be able to encrypt the following:

  • login.Website1.com
  • payment.Website1.com
  • cart.Website1.com

The asterisk, by default, encrypts all the first-level subdomains created during the validity of the Wildcard certificate. So, there is no need to encrypt any of your existing or future first-level subdomains specifically. However, there is one drawback with Wildcard SSL certificates. You can only encrypt subdomains on a particular level.

That means, with the SSL which was issued for *.Website1.com, you cannot encrypt the following:

  • my.login.Website1.com
  • cart.payment.Website1.com
  • admin.login.Website1.com

The above-listed subdomains are on another level and are therefore not covered under the Wildcard SSL issued for *.Website1.com.


Is there a Multi-Level Wildcard Certificate available?

Multi-Level Wildcard Certificate

Yes, there are SSL certificates that let you encrypt multi-level subdomains with a single certificate. These versatile SSL types are sometimes referred to as Subject Alternate Name (SAN) SSL certificates or SAN-enabled Wildcard SSL certificates.

It is an ideal option for businesses that make use of multi-level subdomains, which could be to classify region-specific content, security purposes or to comply with some other internal protocols. The best part about this SSL type is that you can use it to encrypt multi-level subdomains, even if those are hosted on separate servers.

With a multi-level Wildcard Certificate, you can encrypt the following subdomains:

  • payment.Website1.com
  • cart.payment.Website1.com
  • login.Website1.com
  • admin.login.Website1.com

As you can see, both first and second level subdomains can be encrypted with just one multi-level wildcard SSL, which is not possible with an ordinary wildcard certificate. Now that we have discussed the various subdomain levels and how you can encrypt them, it's time to sum up the benefits of the Wildcard SSL to evaluate them in a more precise manner.


Benefits of Wildcard SSL Certificates

Benefits of Wildcard SSL Certificates

1

Easy Administration

Imagine installing a DV SSL every time you create a subdomain for your website. Therefore, having a wildcard certificate installed on your website is recommended. With this SSL, you don’t have to take any further action to encrypt your existing and future subdomains.

2

Convenience of Use

Itis a convenient option for those with lower technical skills because there is no need to define every subdomain explicitly.

3

Cost-efficient option

The Wildcard SSL is a pocket-friendly solution for businesses with a single primary domain but multiple subdomains. Such businesses can install a Wildcard SSL and forget about it. No need to contact the IT Admin for SSL installation every time a subdomain is created.

4

Better Security

Over 66% of businesses have stated that they feel more threatened by insider threats and accidental breaches than by external threat actors. In the case of SSL certificates, protecting and limiting access to private keys plays a pivotal role in ensuring data security. The Wildcard Certificate makes this easier by limiting the number of SSL certificates as each comes with a unique private key.

The above-stated benefits are available with all wildcard certificates, but if you pick ones that encrypt multi-level subdomains, there's one more benefit you get. In addition to the above stated, a multi-level wildcard SSL lets you encrypt subdomains even if those are hosted on separate servers.


Final Takeaway

We have discussed wildcard certificates and their benefits in detail, which should help you make the right decision. For those with subdomains hosted on a single level, the regular Wildcard SSL would suffice. Others who host subdomains at multiple levels can choose the multi-level wildcard SSL certificate.

If you have different single domains, consider opting for a multi-domain SSL, also known as a SAN or UCC SSL certificate. It is the most advanced SSL type that lets the user encrypt multiple primary domains, subdomains, mail servers, and more.

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