What Is an Exchange SSL Certificate and How Do I Get One?

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If you’re preparing to install Microsoft Exchange SSL certificates on your server, you’ve arrived at the right place. Because you have so many different types of SSL/TLS certificates to choose from, finding the right one can be a challenge. Before 2007, Exchange servers didn’t mandate SSL certificates, which meant that transmitted data was unencrypted. This left it exposed to attackers listening on the network. Due to this insecurity, Microsoft made it mandatory to install SSL/TLS certificates on future servers (version 2007 and those that followed) to ensure that data in transit remains encrypted over an HTTPS connection.

To help you get moving in the right direction, here’s what you need to know to use Microsoft Exchange server certificates.

An Introduction to Exchange SSL Certificate

Microsoft Exchange Server, developed by Microsoft, is a widely used mail server that’s used as a messaging and collaboration platform in enterprise IT environments. It can only be deployed on systems running Windows operating systems.

The first version of Microsoft’s Exchange Server to launch publicly was Exchange Server 4.0 in 1996. Since then, there have been several other versions:

  • Exchange Server 4.0
  • Exchange Server 5.5
  • Exchange Server 2000
  • Exchange Server 2003
  • Exchange Server 2007
  • Exchange Server 2010
  • Exchange Server 2013
  • Exchange Server 2016
  • Exchange Server 2019

Available as an on-premise solution as well as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solution, it continues to be used extensively worldwide.

An Exchange SSL certificate is also known as Subject Alternative Name (SAN) or Unified Communication Certificate (UCC). It’s a cost-effective solution for securing multiple host services offered by Microsoft as well as domains rather than using individual certificates for each domain. The SAN filed is compatible with exchange servers, webmail, Outlook Web Access/App (OWA), Autodiscover, etc.

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UCCs are ideal for server environments such as Microsoft Exchange but can be used with any other server environment as well. These exchange server certificates are available in all three validation levels, namely domain validation (DV), organization validation (OV), and extended validation (EV). However, all the domains listed on a single certificate will receive the same level of validation.

Benefits of Using an Exchange SSL Certificate

Without a server certificate in place, a lot of sensitive business information transmitted via Microsoft services like Outlook, OWA, ActiveSync, etc. could be intercepted by cybercriminals. SSL certificates set up encrypted communication channels using powerful 256-bit symmetric encryption and a 2048-bit RSA signature key to prevent your data from being read or stolen. Even if it gets intercepted by an attacker, it will appear as garbled values that are not readable without the decryption key.

While this is great in and of itself, let’s look at some of the additional benefits of installing an Exchange SSL certificate on your server:

  • SSL certificates are used to authenticate your MS Exchange server to provide assurance to the client that it’s not communicating with an imposter.
  • UCC/SAN SSL certificates allow enterprises to connect securely to the Exchange Server via a browser using Outlook Web Access/App. The Outlook anywhere protocol does not work with a self-signed certificate.
  • Using a UCC SSL from a trusted CA removes the hassles of installing a self-signed certificate on every client device that accesses your MS Exchange server.
  • Securing multiple domains and subdomains for exchange servers using a single multi-domain UCC/SAN certificate avoids the inherent complexity of managing several unique certificates for every individual domain.
  • Some other benefits include unlimited server licenses, fast issuance, unlimited issuances, warranties, browser, and server compatibility.
  • These certificates are ideal for MS Exchange services such as webmail, OWA, Auto-Discover, etc.

How Do I Get an Exchange SSL Certificate?

Now that we’ve discussed what an Exchange server certificate is and how it works, one question remains: How do you install one on your servers? Let’s break it down into five simple steps!

the mechanism of exchange server SSL certificate
  1. Choose an SSL Certificate. UCC SSL certificates are the best choice when it comes to Microsoft Exchange and Communication server environments, especially since these certificates were designed explicitly for them.
  2. Generate a Certificate Signing Request. After picking the certificate, you’ll need to generate a certificate signing request (CSR). Fill in your information accurately, as the CA will check these details.
  3. Complete the Order Process. Once you have completed the CSR, fulfill the order process and wait for the order confirmation mail from the CA. It will contain a link to submit your CSR.
  4. Await the CA to Complete Its Investigation. Once you send the CSR and the order is complete on your end, the CA will conduct an investigation of your organization to determine its legitimacy. Your certificate’s validation level will determine the intensity of this inspection.
  5. Download and Install Your Certificate. Following the vetting process, the CA will share your certificate files via email. These must be downloaded, and the certificate can then be installed on your server.