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SSL vs TLS – What are the Difference?


SSL and TLS protocols work on the handshake process taking place between the client and browser. TLS is the ensuing version of the SSL that works like an SSL.

SSL vs. TLS is a concept that remains the talk of the town. Many people have a dilemma regarding these security protocols. However, SSL and TLS are security protocols that create a secure connection between the client and the server. Still, there are some differences in terms of cipher suites, handshake processes.

In this article, we attempted to bring some differences between SSL vs. TLS to clear misconceptions.

History of SSL

SSL was developed in 1994 to provide security for online communication between the server and the client. Netscape developed SSL; however, SSL 1.0 was never released due to a serious flaw in the protocol, while SSL 2.0 was deprecated due to security flaws.

After 2.0, SSL 3.0 came into force and was published by the IETF, represented in RFC 6101. However, SSL 3.0 was also found vulnerable against POODLE attacks; as a result, it was deprecated in 2015.

History of TLS

TLS is a succeeding version of the SSL protocol named Transport Layer Security. TLS also comes with different versions. TLS 1.0 was the successor of SSLV. 3.0 was released in January 1999 but was replaced with TLS 1.1 soon due to a downgrade connection vulnerability.

TLS 1.1 was able to protect against Cipher Block Chaining attacks. However, Google and Microsoft, along with Apple, announced to deprecate both TLS 1.0 and 1.1 versions. After that, TLS 1.2 was released in 2008, considering the specification of hashing and client and server algorithm. Moreover, it allows authenticated encryption.

TLS 1.2 can estimate the length of data on the base of the cipher suite. After TLS 1.2, TLS 1.3 was released in 2018, with different features that separate it from previous TLS versions.

Few features of TLS 1.3 are discontinuing of SHA-224 and MD5 algorithm, requires digital signature during old configuration, need of PFS (public forward secrecy) during the public key exchange, encrypted handshake messages. The below image shows a simple explanation of the encryption and decryption process.

history of TLS

Why do you need an SSL/TLS certificate?

SSL security is the backbone of any website, whether you run a small business, blog, forum website, or any medium to large website. Without an SSL certificate, your website is at risk of data theft, phishing, MiTM attack

SSL secures in-transit data with strong encryption between the client and the server. SSL certificate turns HTTP URL into HTTPS URL- a secured site on which visitors can put complete trust. The rising threat scenario has made website owners think about site security. SSL certificate works on a few factors including, algorithm, encryption, public, and private key sizes.

However, SSL was misjudged due to its high latency and protocol overhead, but with the introduction of HTTP/2, the overall latency is reduced, and the website speed also increased. 

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and few minutes of cyber-incident to ruin it.” 

– Stephane Nappo

Cyber attackers can find loopholes in your site and take advantage. If there is no SSL then, the information flowing between two ends remains in plain text that can be easily read and altered. 

An SSL certificate works as an encrypted tunnel that allows encrypted connection and avoids any third-party intervention to overcome this issue. There are a few statistics we share below that show how SSL is adopted around the globe for website security.

Few Facts About SSL Security: 

According to the Builtwith report, nearly 156,979,428 SSL certificates have been deployed on the entire internet.

ssl providers

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According to the SSL Pulse report, 45.9% of sites are secured out of Alexa’s list of 150,000 top-ranked websites.

ssl security summary

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There are 136,108 that come to 99.3% sites that use strong cipher suites (128-bit or more) and only 962 sites that are still using weak cipher suites.

cipher strength

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According to Google Transparency Report, there are 95% of the total websites are encrypted with SSL/TLS certificates.

transparency report

Besides the statistics below are a few reasons that reveal the reason to have an SSL/TLS certificate for our website.

  • For better search ranking
  • Protection of confidential data
  • Identity Assurance
  • Comply with PCI/DSS requirement 
  • Improves customer trust
  • Security for PII (Personally identifiable information)
  • Strong encryption for online information
  • Reduces MiTM, data theft attacks
  • Proves Business Authentication
  • Creates a safe shopping experience

SSL vs TLS: How SSL and TLS Establish Connections?

SSL and TLS are different in their functionality, and to establish a secure connection, a specific cipher suite is required. A cipher suite includes a key exchange algorithm, authentication algorithm, bulk data encryption, message authentication code (MAC). 

Each SSL and TLS version has its supported cipher suites, and upcoming updates make both stronger than their previous versions. In addition, you can check how the TLS handshake is performed.

ssl and tls establish connections

  1. The client connects to the server for beginning a communication using a “client hello” message. It alerts the server about the client’s TLS version and cipher suites. A “client random” is named as a string of random bytes is included in the client hello.
  2. The server replies with a “server hello.” It includes the SSL/TLS certificate and the server’s selected cipher suite. Here, the server also sends “server random” (a string of random bytes).
  3. The client then verifies the server’s TLS certificate as well as the server’s identity.
  4. Now, the client sends ‘premaster secret,’ also known as a string of encrypted information bytes. The client uses the public key to encrypt the ‘premaster secret.’
  5. The server with its private key decodes the premaster secret.
  6. With the client and server’s random string of information and the premaster secret, both the client and the server create session keys.
  7. The client sends a ‘Finished’ message with its session key regarding completing the client-side handshake process.
  8. The server also sends a ‘Finished’ message with its session key regarding completing the server-side handshake process.
  9. Further communication between the server and the client continues with session keys.

Differences between SSL and TLS:

SSL and TLS are both protocols to provide online security. However, SSL is now an obsolete protocol, and TLS is in use, but users still recognize a digital certificate as an SSL certificate instead of a TLS certificate. Below is a difference between SSL and TLS protocols.

  • SSL signifies Secure Socket Layer, while TLS is named as Transport Layer Security.
  • SSL was introduced in 1995 by Netscape, while TLS was introduced in 1999 by IETF (Internet Engineering Taskforce).
  • SSL works on Fortezza cipher suite while TLS works on advanced cipher suites like Triple DES, AES, IDEA.
  • Three versions of SSL have been released (SSL 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0), while TLS comes with TLS 1.0, 1.1, 1.2, and 1.3 versions.
  • SSL is no longer used in certificates due to vulnerability, while TLS 1.0 and 1.1 have been found vulnerable, and TLS 1.2 is presently in use.
  • SSL uses MAC (Message Authentication Code) after each encrypted message, while TLS uses HMAC (Hashed Message Authentication Code).
  • SSL works on Message digest while TLS works on Pseudo-random function that creates a master secret.
  • SSL supports Ad-hoc message authentication, while TLS supports standard message authentication.
  • SSL versions are vulnerable, while TLS 1.0 and 1.1 versions are vulnerable against POODLE and BEAST attacks.

SSL vs TLS: Do you Need to Replace Your SSL Certificates with TLS Certificates?

There is no need to replace your existing SSL certificate as SSL and TLS are the same. Both X.509 certificates authenticate the server with a handshake process for establishing a secure connection. 

Many people consider a TLS certificate as an SSL certificate. The configuration of the version depends upon the server, not by a digital certificate. If your server supports the TLS version, then the certificate will work. 

Your server should support a high level of encryption. The reason to do so is the ever-changing technology and encryption strength. No matter which protocol you use, the strength of encryption will remain the same.

In the Absence of SSL or TLS:

If you do not choose SSL or TLS during server configuration, the information passed remains in plain text, and an eavesdropper can take advantage of it and misuse it. The login information and data will not remain encrypted in the absence of an SSL certificate. 

There may be a chance that the client is connecting to an intermediary rather than the intended server. A lack of security can cause data theft, eavesdropping attacks, identity theft.

Final Thoughts:

It is time to understand the importance of website security. Meanwhile, the concept of SSL vs. TLS and the importance of SSL certificates is now comprehended. In this rising threat environment, the digital certificate is of utmost importance. Therefore, buying an SSL certificate for your website is an indispensable step if you missed it anyhow in early time. 

Thanks for your time.

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