Monday, September 16, 2013

Troubleshooting Web Browser Certificate Errors

There are many web browsers to traverse the web, Chrome, Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Opera, and Safari to name a few.  Each browser works a little bit differently and has different features and potential issues.  If you find yourself running into security certificate errors from any browser on more than one website, not just web pages belonging to a single site, but completely different domains like Target AND Walmart, then this troubleshooting tip might help.

Security certificates are used by companies to verify the products they are providing the users of their site and customers are safe.  The intention of a security certificate error popping up in your web browser is to alert you the site you are trying to visit does not have a current or valid certificate registered for their domain.  In easier terms, the web browser is unable to verify what you click on will be safe for your computer.  Seeing these security errors occasionally is normal but you should always proceed with caution when you do see them.  However, if you suddenly start seeing these errors pop up for almost every website you go to, including big names like Yahoo and Google, it is possible something other than the security certificates is wrong.  Before troubleshooting anything else, look at the taskbar on your computer and verify the date and time are set correctly.  If the date and time are incorrect, this can cause the security certificate errors within any browser. 

Why does the time and date affect my web browser?  The time and date will affect your web browser because your browser is looking for the security certificates of each website you visit based on the date and time of your computer, not necessarily the actual date and time.  If your computer thinks it is January 1, 2000, then your browser is going to be unsuccessful at finding security certificates for almost any website you visit.  Security certificates are purchased for time periods, so a two year certificate could be valid from March 1, 2012 through February 28, 2014.  In this example the security certificate would not expire until 2014, but the start date would not appear to be valid to your browser because it was not yet March 1, 2012 so you would still get the certificate error.  

How can I fix the cause of this issue?  To fix the issue, click on the date and time in your taskbar and set the settings to the current date and time.  Once you save the changes, restart your browser and all the errors should immediately quit popping up.  Note, there are other ways to modify the security certificate lists within any browser, but it is best to leave these alone as the browser is pulling the information directly from a registered Certificate Authority (CA).

What caused my system's date and time to be wrong?  If after you changed the date and time on your system you run into the same issue within a short period of time, the CMOS battery on your motherboard might be going bad.  Every computer and laptop has a small battery, like a watch battery, on its motherboard which is responsible for keeping the system date and time even when the machine is turned off.  This battery does not charge when the machine is on so it can eventually quit functioning.  If the battery quits, you can easily swap out the battery with a new one by pulling off the side panel of a computer while it is powered off.  Laptops are a little bit more complicated and usually require removing the keyboard.  If you decide to tackle this task I highly recommend you refer to the manufacturer's website for a model specific advanced user guide which will normally have a step by step set of instructions for breaking down the laptop.  An important side note, if the laptop is under warranty, cracking the case open will usually void the warranty so it is best to speak to the manufacturer first when a warranty is still in place.

As always, happy computing!

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