Transport Layer Security (TLS)


Transport Layer Security (TLS) and its predecessor, Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), are cryptographic protocols which are designed to provide communication security over the Internet. They use X.509 certificates and hence asymmetric cryptography to assure the counterparty with whom they are communicating, and to exchange a symmetric key. This session key is then used to encrypt data flowing between the parties. This allows for data/message confidentiality, and message authentication codes for message integrity and as a by-product, message authentication. Several versions of the protocols are in widespread use in applications such as web browsing, electronic mail, Internet faxing, instant messaging, and voice-over-IP (VoIP). An important property in this context is forward secrecy, so the short term session key cannot be derived from the long term asymmetric secret key.

As a consequence of choosing X.509 certificates, certificate authorities and a public key infrastructure are necessary to verify the relation between a certificate and its owner, as well as to generate, sign, and administer the validity of certificates. While this can be more beneficial than verifying the identities via a web of trust, the 2013 mass surveillance disclosures made it more widely known that certificate authorities are a weak point from a security standpoint, allowing man-in-the-middle attacks (MITM).

In the TCP/IP model view, TLS and SSL encrypt the data of network connections at a lower sublayer of its application layer. In OSI model equivalences, TLS/SSL is initialized at layer 5 (the session layer) then works at layer 6 (the presentation layer): first the session layer has a handshake using an asymmetric cipher in order to establish cipher settings and a shared key for that session; then the presentation layer encrypts the rest of the communication using a symmetric cipher and that session key. In both models, TLS and SSL work on behalf of the underlying transport layer, whose segments carry encrypted data.

TLS is an IETF standards track protocol, first defined in 1999 and last updated in RFC 5246 (August 2008) and RFC 6176 (March 2011). It is based on the earlier SSL specifications (1994, 1995, 1996) developed by Netscape Communications for adding the HTTPS protocol to their Navigator web browser.