TLS is short for Transport Layer Security. It is a form of security protocol that offers high levels of privacy, as well as data integrity when it comes to communication using networks and the internet. TLS is the standard for use in secure web applications and websites around the world since its introduction in 1999. It is the successor and replacement for the older SSL (Secure Socket Layer) system. It is often still referred to as SSL when it comes to businesses explaining the safety features they have in place for their websites and data security. While TLS is most commonly associated with browsing the web, it is also used for a range of other forms of applications where security is a requirement, such as instant messaging, email, VoIP networks, and similar functionalities. Its widespread use and development have provided additional security, privacy, and better performance – especially since the release of TLS 1.3, the most recent version of the TLS Protocol. TLS is used actively in the majority of browsers, as indicated by the padlock symbol, which suggests encryption of the sites you are viewing. HTTPS is designated as the more protected form of websites, thanks to its use of the TLS protocol to protect visitors whenever data is exchanged.
A TLS Protocol is a form of security protocol, as its name suggests. Often, TLS is combined with other security protocols like TCP in order the provide an optimal level of integrity and safety when and where it is. The TLS Protocol is made up of three main elements, each of which is vitally important to the process of securing information and data. These three components are:
The encryption element of TLS works to hide any data that is transferred from third parties or unauthorized individuals and systems. This is the element that ensures your data cannot be accessed by outside sources, whether it’s day-to-day information like your name and address or highly sensitive data like bank details or payment information.
Unlike two-factor authentication, which requires direct input from the user, TLS has authentication built-in to its protocol. This element of authentication works to ensure that those sending and receiving information are who they say they are, to protect data from access via hackers or third parties.
As mentioned in the description of TLS, one of the significant components of the TLS protocol is offering data integrity over any form of digital and internet-based communication. This process verifies that data that is exchanged is not forged, tampered with, or otherwise altered as part of the process. Data integrity is a vital part of the protocol, as it ensures that data is verified in addition to users being authenticated. Alongside the specific elements that the TLS Protocol covers, the actual process of the TLS connection also involves particular actions and requirements. Known as the ‘TLS handshake,’ this process begins upon initiation of the individual visiting a website or otherwise transmitting data. This handshake forms a cipher suite for every communication, at which point all session keys – also known as encryption keys – will be matched to meet the three elements of TLS stated above. The actual initiation and completion of the handshake occurs within the first few seconds but involves multiple highly involved processes such as authentication through confirming server identity, as well as verifying the integrity of data. At its introduction, SSL and TLS were both relatively slow-moving, causing the time between initiation and completion to be longer. This load time and level of power required has been reduced as TLS becomes more streamlined, and as computers have become more powerful. Nowadays, the majority of websites utilize TLS protocol, in addition to instant messaging systems, emails, and more. As the norm across the majority of internet communications, TLS is now seen as included as an essential part of the ‘internet experience’ instead of being an extra layer of security.
As with many technologies, TLS has evolved over the years since its announcement as the successor to SSL in 1999. The original version of TLS was known at TLS 1.0, and this version featured very little difference between TLS and SSL, though some marked security improvements were included upon transition. Beyond this initial launch, TLS has been updated and published twice, and version 1.3 is currently considered a working draft as of January 2016. The versions of TLS thus far are as follows:
Released in 1999, TLS 1.0 has several similarities to SSL 3.0, and simply upgraded or modernized specific protocols and processes to make the system more suited to early-00’s computers and internet communications. This version of TLS was published under RFC 2246.
TLS 1.1 represented the first real development of the TLS protocol, released in 2006. Several significant changes and differences were included with this update, including replacing the implicit IV, or Initialization Vector, with an explicit version to provide greater protection against cyber attacked, such as Cipher Block Chaining. This version of TLS also changed some of the ways error handling is completed, and updated registries to be up-to-date and relevant to 2006 internet use. Notes and clarifications were also included in regards to new forms of cyberattacks. This version of TLS was published under RFC 4346.
TLS 1.2 was the second significant update of the TLS protocol and is the standard form of TLS still used to this day. Released in 2008, TLS 1.1 and 1.2 are the closest of any TLS updates, providing significant security improvements as well as improving the speed and capability for servers and clients to work through the handshake and accept all algorithms related to the TLS process. The most significant enhancement TLS 1.2 included was the use of more secure algorithms to better data safety overall. This version of TLS was published under RFC 5246.
TLS 1.3 is the latest form of TLS protocol and is currently in working draft form since its announcement in 2016. This update aims to improve significantly upon the existing security protocol, ensuring a safer internet and overall more secure method of data transfer. This latest evolution of TLS is in response to increasingly sophisticated hacking techniques used to gain access to private, sensitive data such as bank details or payment information. Some of the planned improvements include allowing the length of cookies to increase, improving the process of the handshake, and requiring digital signatures for all data communication. As TLS 1.3 is still in draft form, a great deal may change – but the overall goal of this update is to improve upon the existing system and update it to meet the needs of current-day users.
As TLS is the successor to SSL, the main differences between the two are improvements that have happened over several versions since 1999 onwards. The first version of TLS held very few differences to SSL. However, the currently-used version of TLS – version 1.2 – and the upcoming version 1.3 both hold marked improvements over the original SSL. These improvements include better encryption, the inclusion of features to combat modern problems with security, and a more comprehensive ‘TLS handshake,’ all of which serves to make TLS a more advanced version of SSL as a whole. Some of the specific differences between the two are support for particular cipher suites. SSL, for example, offers support for Fortezza, while TLS doesn’t – but is more standardized, which makes it suitable for a whole host of newer cipher suites. TLS also has no specific certificate-related alert messaging, which was something included as part of SSL. The differences between SSL and TLS are minor, which is why many people use both terms to mean the same thing – TLS is simply more modern, and therefore far more widespread as it is more up-to-date.
The TLS algorithm uses a host of different cryptography functionalities to achieve its ultimate goal. It utilizes both symmetric and asymmetric forms of cryptography. The first of which, symmetric cryptography, means that data is secured and encrypted on both ends by the sender and the recipient, either through 128 or 256 bits. Asymmetric cryptography, by contrast, utilizes a pair of keys – one public, one private. These keys allow the sender to encrypt data, which must then meet the private key of the resident to be decrypted. While TLS can sound complicated, in essence, it is a method of sharing information through secure channels with the use of specific keys. Similarly to how a key would unlock a door in real life, the virtual keys that TLS uses unlock data. This prevents private or personal information from being visible or accessible to third parties, overall improving the safety and security of the user’s experience.
TLS is used in lots of different ways and locations online. The most common place we see TLS being used is on websites. Any website you visit that uses HTTPS:// in its URL is making use of that all-important security that TLS Protocol offers. This is often indicated with a locked padlock in many browsers. But while the most commonly-known use of TLS is through websites, this isn’t the only place where this security mechanism is implemented. TLS is also used in various messaging and mail functionalities, including the sending and receiving of instant messages and emails, whether through a specific browser-based application or through external software. Also, TLS is commonly implemented for VoIP phone systems that use the internet to directly communicate with customers, in offices, and with other employees as well as to record conversations and more. As a multi-purpose tool, TLS has plenty of uses in various digital mediums.
TLS encryption is highly necessary when it comes to any time where information or data is passed over from the sender to the receiver. It ensures that data reaches the specified location without any loss of integrity and no intervention from a third party. TLS encryption is very much the standard when it comes to most forms of the digital medium, especially when it comes to websites. This is so much so today that failing to have a website with an HTTPS URL, or failing to use quality encryption methods, can have a severe impact on businesses and their perception both for their specific audience and the general public. The understanding of the severity of cybercrime and hacking is more common knowledge than ever before, and the use of digital certificates for authentication is now commonplace when it comes to any platform on which data may be sent or received. For peace of mind and consistent security, TLS encryption is more important and visible than ever before. The ultimate purpose of the TLS Protocol is to provide that level of safety and security, and it achieves these using encryption methods that protect valuable, private or personal information from third parties at all points in the data transfer process.
For many businesses, TLS is the minimum that is expected in terms of data safety and security. With data breaches and hacking more common than ever for services and websites that aren’t up-to-date with their digital certificates and additional encryption security methods, it’s essential to be aware of what TLS is and does. Choosing services and websites that state their use of TLS, whether through the use of the HTTPS:// URL or specific acknowledgement for their service, you can ensure a higher level of standardized safety for the integrity and delivery of data. This is especially true when it comes to websites that require payment information to deliver a product or service. TSL is the bare minimum needed to ensure the safety of that highly sensitive data. However, it is always suggested that building on top of the TSL foundation is the ideal way to provide up-to-date safety and data security versus current-day risks and cyber threats.