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What Is an Exchange SSL Certificate?

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Everything you need to know about Exchange SSL certificates…

What is an Exchange SSL certificate? How do they work? What’s the best SSL certificate for Exchange server? How can I get an Exchange SSL certificate? If you ever wondered about one or more of these questions, then you have come to the right place. In this article, we’ll talk about each and every question that you might have regarding the Exchange SSL certificate – starting from what they are to how you can get one for your Exchange server. So, tighten up your seatbelt and get ready for a ride!

Why a Security Certificate is Necessary for the Microsoft Exchange Server

With over 28% market share, Microsoft Exchange is the second most popular email hosting service provider in the world. This comes hardly as a surprise since Microsoft was one of the pioneers of this industry. It means that a big portion of world’s email communication happens through Microsoft exchange servers. So, when an email is sent to someone, information travels from your exchange server to someone else’s email server. A lot of this information is sensitive in nature and can have an impact on privacy of a person or an enterprise. When this information is transmitting from one server to another, there’s a risk of data interception and tampering – man in the middle (MiTM) attacks in technical terms. That’s why, protecting this data-in-transit is a must, and that’s why you need an Exchange security certificate.

In fact, an exchange security certificate is so important that Microsoft has made it mandatory. Starting with exchange server 2007, Microsoft made it compulsory to have an SSL certificate installed on exchange web servers. Now you might be thinking “what’s an SSL certificate?” Well, the answer’s in the next paragraph.

What’s an SSL Certificate?

An SSL (secure socket layer) certificate, also known as TLS (transport layer security) certificate, is a certificate that establishes a secure connection between a two end-points (server and client). An SSL/TLS certificate does this by means of two things: encryption and authentication.

Here, encryption means that it turns the data into an undecipherable format such that no unintended 3rd-party could see or tamper with the data. For example, “password” could be turned into something like “4%fgh0n=.” Can you take the latter and go back to the original word “password?” You can’t, right? Well, that’s why it’s so effective.

The second important function that an SSL certificate does is the verification of identity, also regarded as “authentication.” It means that an SSL certificate makes sure that you’re communicating to the intended recipient without an unauthorized entity disguising itself. Such verification is made possible because of the technology that it works on: “public key cryptography.”

What’s the Best SSL Certificate for the Microsoft Exchange Server?

When it comes to researching SSL certificates, you will be bombarded with how many different types of certificates there are. But if you’re looking for an Exchange SSL certificate, you won’t encounter this problem because there’s only one type of SSL certificate that’s tailor-made for exchange server environments: Subject Alternative Name (SAN) or Unified Communication Certificate (UCC). These certificates are also known as “exchange server certificates.”

One of the things that makes UCC/SAN certificates a perfect fit with exchange servers is its seamless compatibility with Microsoft’s services such as webmail, Outlook Web Access/App (OWA), Autodiscover, etc. They also allow you to secure multiple host services offered by Microsoft and protect multiple domains so that you don’t need to buy an individual certificate for each of your domains. On top of that, these exchange SSL certificates are quite affordable, saving you a hefty amount of money.

How to Install an Exchange Server SSL Certificate?

Note: Before you get to the installation part, make sure that you have purchased an exchange server SSL certificate.

The exchange server SSL certificate installation process is a fairly simple process. This process can be divided into three major steps, outlined as below. Apply these steps, and you’ll have an exchange server certificate installed in no time.

Step 1: Add Snap-ins in MMC (Microsoft Management Console)

  • First, go to the Start menu, and type MMC.
  • Now, you’ll see Console1 window on your screen.
  • Click on File in the top menu and then click on Add/Remove Snap-ins.
  • Now choose Certificates from Available snap-ins: console and click on Add.
  • Choose a specific computer account and click Finish.
  • Click on OK.

Step 2: Install an Intermediate SSL Certificate

  • First, go to the Start menu, and type MMC.
  • In the left pane, expand Certificate under the Console Root folder.
  • Now, right-click on Intermediate Certificate, and then go to All Tasks > Import.
  • Go to Next > Browse, and select your intermediate Certificate file.
  • Now, you’ll see the Certificate Import Wizard. Before moving ahead, verify your certificate and click on Finish.
  • Click on OK.
  • Finally, save the Console and close MMC.

Step 3: Install the SSL Certificate File

  • First, go to the Start menu, and then go to All Programs > Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 > Exchange Management Console.
  • In the Excel Management Console, go to Microsoft Exchange On-Premises > Manage Databases.
  • Now, click on Server configuration.
  • From the Exchange Certificates window, select your SSL Certificate.
  • In the Actions panel in the right corner, click on Complete Pending Request.
  • Now in the Certificate Pending Request window, click on Browse and find the SSL certificate file.
  • Choose your correct SSL certificate file and press Open.
  • Now, press Complete > Finish.
  • In the Exchange Management Console, choose your SSL certificate.
  • Now, assign services to certificate from the Actions menu in the right-hand side corner.
  • Select the Server that you wish to assign service from Assign Services to Certificate window and press Next.
  • Now, select the services you wish to assign to your certificate and press Next.
  • Click on Assign and then click on Finish.

Voila! You just installed an Exchange SSL server certificate. Easy, wasn’t it?

Last Word

We’ve all heard headlines of unprotected emails getting leaked, haven’t we? As an outsider, we can only guess how bad things could be, but as anyone who’s faced such attacks themselves, it can be ugly, depressing and frightening. And believe us, you never want to be the victim of one. That’s why, it’s always better to stay a step ahead and not give any scope for infiltrators to access your data by installing an exchange SSL certificate.

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