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- The Basics of SSL and TLS Encryption Technology
Posted by : Amanda Stein Thursday, September 12, 2013
Chances are you’ve seen that little green bar next to a URL in your web browser, especially when doing things like managing your bank account or when inputting personal information for a website. Chances are you also even know what this bar is called: transport layer security (TLS) which is the successor to the secure sockets layer (SSL). These two technologies are used on sites ranging from social media sites to e-commerce sites and banking sites. Although many people assume that TLS rendered SSL obsolete, this is not exactly true and in fact TLS and SSL work in conjunction most of the time as the latest release of SSL (SSL 3.0) supports 99.7% of all websites and the first release of TLS (TLS 1.0) supports 99.3% of all websites.
So what are TLS and SSL? The two are cryptographic protocols and that have the sole purposes of providing communication security over the internet. Although the protocols that make up TLS and SSL are most commonly seen in web browsing and e-mail, they can also be seen in services that use the Internet like voice-over-IP and instant messaging.
In order to understand how SSL and TLS technologies work, it’s important to understand how they get onto a website in the first place. Let’s say that a fictional bank called DEF Bank wants to make sure that their customers are secure while viewing their account and managing their finances, what steps would they have to go through to make this a reality?
DEF Bank would need to obtain an SSL Certificate for their site DEFBank.com. They would begin by creating a Certificate Signing Request (CSR) for their site. DEF Bank would then have a private key generated for them.
DEF Bank would now need to go to a trusted third-party Certificate Authority (such as Symantec, Comodo, Go Daddy, or GlobalSign) that would then review DEF Bank’s CSR and then verify DEF Bank as a trustworthy site and confirm that DEF Bank owns DEFBank.com and that DEF Bank is included in public government records.
Now that DEF Bank has been verified, their Certificate Authority would generate a public key for them (the certificate) which DEF Bank could then install onto their webserver(s). Customers can now securely use DEFBank.com.
So now that customers can securely use DEFBank.com just how does the security work? The way SSL and TLS work are through a series of exchanges between a person’s web browser and a server. This exchange all happens in the blink of an eye and an exchange is detailed below with a fictional customer of DEF Bank named Jeff.
Jeff’s web browser makes a connection to DEFBank.com on a SSL or TLS port. Because DEFBank.com is now secure, Jeff will notice that this connection is denoted with https instead of http like it had been before the site was verified.
DEFBank.com will send the public key that their Certificate Authority generated for them to Jeff’s web browser and now Jeff’s web browser has to determine whether or not it is safe to proceed to the site.
Since Jeff’s web browser has decided to trust DEFBank.com it now receives a unique “hash” from DEFBank.com composed of the public key and private key that it has to decrypt. Decrypting this hash shows both Jeff’s web browser and DEFBank.com that they have a secure connection because only Jeff’s web browser can read the unique hash that DEFBank.com sent.
The connection is secure, Jeff can securely browse DEFBank.com.
Although it might seem complicated, the technology behind SSL and TLS encryption is really quite simple when laid out. So the next time that you see that little green box, take a moment to remember just how much it does to keep your web browsing secure and to keep your personal information safe.
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