Differences Between Wildcard SSL and SAN SSL Certificates

Wildcard SSL and SAN SSL Certificates


With the many types of SSL certificates available in the market, many website owners end up with a standard SSL on their website, which is often inadequate. They don’t realize how important it is to choose a premium SSL like the Wildcard SSL or the Subject Alternative Name (SAN) SSL. Each of these certificates has its strengths and is suitable for certain web architectures.

However, you need to choose carefully because any mistake in doing so can leave portions of your website vulnerable. It could be a subdomain whose SSL has expired or another primary domain that’s experiencing a glitch. Such unforeseen instances can result in credential theft, packet sniffing, man-in-the-middle, and several other types of cyberattacks. To ensure that you don’t have to go through all of this, let’s nail down the two most popular SSL types — SAN SSL and Wildcard certificate.

Understanding a Wildcard SSL Certificate 

A wildcard SSL certificate can protect not just the primary domain but also its first-level subdomains. That makes it a convenient option for website owners having an advanced web architecture involving multiple subdomains. This SSL gets its name from the wildcard character (*) that denotes all the subdomains attached to a primary domain.

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This is defined while applying for an SSL from a Certificate Authority and covers all existing and future subdomains on a specific level. Let us assume you apply for a Wildcard Certificate for the website www.YourDomain.com. In this case, you would request for an SSL to be issued to *.YourDomain.com. This will encrypt all the existing and future subdomains of the primary domain www.YourDomain.com throughout the Wildcard SSL’s validity.

You can use it to encrypt subdomains like payment.YourDomain.com, login.YourDomain.com, and so on, but you will not be able to encrypt subdomains on another level. For instance, if you have date.login.YourDomain.com, you will need another wildcard SSL or a SAN SSL. As you can see, the ‘date’ is on another level.

What is a SAN SSL Certificate? 

A Subject Alternative Name (SAN) SSL certificate is one of the most versatile SSL types that let users encrypt multiple primary domains and subdomains with a single digital certificate. It is sometimes referred to as Unified Communication Certificate or Multi-Domain Certificate. Let us now discuss what you can do with the SAN SSL certificate.

Secure Multiple Primary Domains

Businesses that use multiple domain names for marketing or security purposes are often required to maintain multiple SSL certificates. This can be overwhelming because SSLs expire, and keeping track of multiple certificates and renewing them periodically can be time-consuming.

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Multi-domain and Multi-level Subdomain Security

While using a SAN SSL, you can easily encrypt the subdomains on any level by defining them because the internet identifies a subdomain as a distinct domain. However, check for the number of domains you can encrypt with the SAN SSL you wish to purchase.

Comparing a SAN Certificate vs. Wildcard Certificate 

Now that you know what a SAN and a Wildcard certificate can do, let us discuss some key differences between the two.


As discussed, the Wildcard certificate can only encrypt server-client communication from a primary domain and its subdomains on a specific level. This makes it ideal for small businesses that operate with a single website but have several subdomains that must be secured.

On the other hand, SAN SSL comes with an unlimited number of server licenses that lets you encrypt multiple primary domains and subdomains at different levels. It is the best choice for Application Service Providers who provide multiple services to their clients. Also, it is ideal for affiliate marketers, e-commerce businesses, and other businesses that operate multiple websites.

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All SSL certificates provide two main benefits — encryption, which we have already discussed, and validation. Speaking of validation, all types of SSL certificates go through domain validation which involves confirming domain ownership. However, others come with superior validation levels. These include Organizational Validation (OV) which confirms the legality of a business or an even more advanced SSL, the Extended Validation (EV) SSL.

The validation levels are add-on features to the SSL types we have already discussed. So, if you decide to buy a Wildcard SSL certificate, look for one that comes with the OV feature. You can easily find this type of hybrid SSL and get two for the price of one. Likewise, if you choose to buy a SAN SSL, look for an EV Multi-Domain SSL certificate which is a SAN with extended validation.

Final Takeaway

The SSL is symbolic of trust, and having one on your website increases its creditworthiness and ensures data security. However, you must choose one that is appropriate for your website to create a strong defense mechanism. Therefore, we have discussed two of the most reliable options — the Wildcard SSL and the SAN SSL — that can secure your website in the truest sense.

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