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SSL stands for "secure sockets layer." SSL is a technology that encrypts data before it is sent from one computer to another over the Internet. SSL encryption is essential to any site that requests personal information - address, Social Security numbers, credit card number, etc. - because without it, that information is available not only to the sender and the intended recipient, but to all the servers that information goes through on the way to its final digital destination.
One data transmission could have 30 server "stops" along the way - that's 30 opportunities for sensitive information to be commandeered, for just one transaction. Multiple that by the millions of data exchanges that take place over the Internet every day, and you've got an identity thief's dream.
When you're surfing the Web, you can tell when you're on a secure site, because the Web address should begin with https:// rather than plain old "http://", and there should be a padlock icon in the window of your Web browser. (An icon on the Web page itself is meaningless - make sure your browser is recognizing the site as secure.)
So if you're running website that requests personal information from your users - and especially if you're running an e-commerce site, you must protect your site with SSL. It's good for your customers, and it's good for your business because savvy Web consumers won't go near a commerce site that doesn't have a valid SSL certificate.

How Do I Get an SSL Certificate?

VeriSign is definitely the industry leader, with over 90 percent of the market, according to some estimates. But there are dozens of SSL certificate vendors out there, with multiple security solutions in various price ranges. As when you're dealing with any vendor, take the time to do some research on the companies you're considering - how long they've been in business, what type of technology they're offering, whether their pricing structure makes sense, etc. The most important thing is that you get your SSL encryption in order before you ask users for their personal information; it's a sign of professionalism.
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