AffirmTrust enters the SSL market with free certificates

A new SSL certificate authority may be set to shake up the market by offering free 3 year domain validated certificates. AffirmTrust announced its entry into the SSL market yesterday, with an interesting mission statement:

"To give away as many free certificates as possible because we can - also it is just a lot of fun. We want to move an industry forward making security more available to every legitimate merchant on the Internet. AffirmTrust is not just a business - it's a quest to make meaningful change that benefits both merchants and consumers."

Although the company is new to the market, AffirmTrust's management team already has several years of relevant experience behind it – they were responsible for co-founding SSL company GeoTrust, which was later acquired by VeriSign in 2006 for $125 million. Today, the GeoTrust brand is owned by Symantec, which acquired VeriSign's security business last year.

AffirmTrust is not alone in giving away free SSL certificates. Eddy Nigg's StartSSL also offers free domain validated certificates, although these are only valid for a period of 1 year. Both companies also sell Extended Validation certificates, which require a more costly vetting process to ensure they are only issued to legally established businesses or organisations.

Domain validated certificates are generally the cheapest type of certificate available. This is because the issuance process can be automated to a high degree, as the applicant does not have to prove their identity – all they have to do is prove that they own (or control) the domain in question. This has no doubt played a large part in the popularity of domain validated certificates compared with Extended Validation certificates, particularly amongst low-traffic, low-revenue websites.

Despite the free alternatives, the paid-for domain validated certificate market still looks extremely healthy today: Netcraft's latest SSL Survey shows Go Daddy having the largest net growth in domain validated certificates during each of the past 4 months. With that in mind, it will be interesting to see the impact that AffirmTrust will have on the market, and whether any other companies will follow suit by offering free domain validated certificates.