Secure Sockets Layer (SSL)

Transport Layer Security (TLS) and its predecessor, Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), are cryptographiy protocols that provide secure communications on the Internet for such things as web browsing, e-mail, Internet faxing, instant messaging and other data transfers. There are slight differences between SSL and TLS, but they are essentially the same.

The TLS protocol allows applications to communicate across a network in a way designed to prevent eavesdropping, tampering, and message forgery. TLS provides endpoint authentication and communications privacy over the Internet using cryptography. Typically, only the server is authenticated (i.e., its identity is ensured) while the client remains unauthenticated; this means that the end user (whether an individual or an application, such as a Web browser) can be sure with whom it is communicating. The next level of security—in which both ends of the “conversation” are sure with whom they are communicating—is known as mutual authentication. Mutual authentication requires public key infrastructure (PKI) deployment to clients unless TLS-PSK or TLS-SRP are used, which provide strong mutual authentication without needing to deploy a PKI.

TLS involves three basic phases:

  1. Peer negotiation for algorithm support
  2. Key exchange and authentication
  3. Symmetric cipher encryption and message authentication

During the first phase, the client and server negotiate cipher suites, which determine the ciphers to be used, the key exchange and authentication algorithms, as well as the message authentication codes (MACs). The key exchange and authentication algorithms are typically public key algorithms, or as in TLS-PSK preshared keys could be used. The message authentication codes are made up from cryptographic hash functions using the HMAC construction for TLS, and a non-standard pseudorandom function for SSL.

Typical algorithms could be:

  • For key exchange: RSA, Diffie-Hellman, ECDH, SRP, PSK
  • For authentication: RSA, DSA, ECDSA
  • Symmetric ciphers: RC4, Triple DES, AES or Camellia. In older versions of SSL the ciphers RC2, IDEA and DES were also used.
  • For cryptographic hash function: HMAC-MD5 or HMAC-SHA are used for TLS, MD5 and SHA for SSL, while older versions of SSL also used MD2 and MD4.



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