Get your money for nothing, get your certs for free

Startup AffirmTrust to offer free SSL certificates until the end of the year

A new SSL certificate authority squeezes so much overhead out of supplying certs that it plans to give them away starting next month and to continue at least through the end of the year.

AffirmTrust says its domain control validation certificates will cost customers nothing as an introductory offer to attract customers, but it will also offer more secure extended validation (EV) certificates for about $50 to $75 per year -- a tenth of what they generally go for.

BACKGROUND: Where EV SSL came from

The company hopes smaller businesses that are put off by the hassle of obtaining EV certificates will jump in at the lower price, and that eventually when they see the savings that are possible, larger companies will buy them, too, says AffirmTrust Chairman Neal Creighton.

The company is run by a team that founded SSL certificate provider GeoTrust in 2002, then sold the company to Verisign, which was later bought by Symantec. And the business model is similar -- create inexpensive certificates by automating the registration process and sell them to small businesses, Creighton says.

Since they sold GeoTrust, AffirmTrust's founders have discovered even cheaper ways to automate cert registration including use of cloud computing (both private and public) as well as less expensive encryption software and a less expensive certificate-management platform, Creighton says. And they have extended the cost-cutting to EV certs.

The company has already built the infrastructure for its domain-control validation certificates with private investments, and has very low costs for producing the certificates. "Our marginal costs are basically zero," Creighton says, making possible the offer of free certs. "We can give these things away for a very long time and do fine."

Cranking out EV certs is more complicated and requires documentation that can call for attorneys or CPAs to help out, he says, which means it can take weeks to get one issued. The documentation is intended to assure that the entity receiving a certificate is legitimate. When an EV certificate SSL session is set up, the fact that it is an EV session is indicated by green lettering on the browser's address bar.

Online customers have come to recognize the green type as assuring a connection with the business they think they are dealing with, but smaller businesses don't have the wherewithal to get the EV certs, Creighton says.

AffirmTrust has filed for patents on its new automation processes, Creighton says.

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