Have you heard about TLS and been wondering what the meaning of this acronym is? Do you want to know how it can help to better protect your website from cyberthreats?
Luckily, we have all the details. Let’s take a deep dive into what TLS is, how it works, and why you need it.
What Is TLS?
Transport Layer Security or TLS for short is a protocol used to encrypt data that’s being sent online end-to-end, securing the users’ information.
If you see a padlock in the left-hand corner of the address bar, chances are that the page is using TLS to keep you and the company that’s running the website safe and secure.
It comes into play, for example, when your browser is accessing a site. It can be used to protect everything from emails and messages to voice calls conducted over the internet.
What Does TLS Do?
Transport Layer Security increases the safety of online communications by ensuring that they’re authentic and encrypted, using a secret key that’s only known to the sender and the end user receiving the data.
It uses maths to do away with the need for secure encryption key sharing, meaning that data can be transferred safely and quickly.
The process a TLS protocol follows in order to encipher end data online is as follows:
Encryption —> Authentication —> Integrity
To achieve this, TLS uses both asymmetric and symmetric cryptography to maximise both speed and security when transferring data online.
In symmetric cryptography, a secret key is used to encipher the data being sent. It’s usually sent as a 128 bits key, but many companies aim for one that’s around 256 bits long as it’s more secure.
Only the data sender and the recipient will know this secret key, enabling transfers to be safe, provided that the key is relayed securely.
In asymmetric cryptography, a public and a private key are created. The public one is exchanged between sender and recipient, while the private one can be used by the end user to decrypt the public one.
Both keys are related mathematically, but because the lowest key length is 1,024 bits (2,048 is what many now aim for), it enables keys for every session to be quickly and securely transferred between parties.
For this reason, asymmetric cryptography is normally used to generate keys for every session.
What Is the Purpose of TLS?
The TLS protocol is just another form of online security that can be used to prevent the hacking of systems and stealing of data.
Organisations who use it can be more confident that the credit card numbers, client data and private communications they handle are kept private.
How Does TLS Work?
In order to use TLS, you’ll have to download and install a TLS certificate on your server.
Once that’s done, it’ll use a unique handshake sequence to establish a connection with the other party you’re sharing data with.
The TLS handshake sequence will look approximately like this:
- Work out which version of TLS is being used
- Choose the cipher suites that are to be used
- Authenticate the server’s identity
- Generate a key to encrypt the messages sent during that session
- Create a cipher suite for that session alone
- Use public keys to verify your server’s identity to the end user
- Use a message authentication code to verify the data’s integrity
Now the data can be transferred freely, without any tampering or interception concerns.
TLS vs SSL: What’s the Difference?
There’s another important acronym you’ll come across when looking into this topic—SSL.
So, what does SSL mean? It stands for Secure Socket Layer, a form of security protocol originally developed by the Netscape Corporation.
And how does it relate to TLS? Basically, TLS is an updated version of the SSL protocol.
In fact, TLS was originally named SSL version 3.1, but the name was changed when the Netscape Corporation stopped being involved in its development.
Although SSL and TLS are interlinked, they aren’t entirely the same thing. The main difference between the two you’ll need to be aware of is that the TLS protocol has a better level of security than the SSL protocol does.
This is owing to its far more robust encryption algorithms that are used to verify all kinds of cyber-based communication channels.
Moreover, pre-shared keys and remote-access passwords can be used with the TLS protocol.
Therefore, if you’re wondering which one to use, TLS is the natural choice due to it being able to protect against the same security flaws as the SSL protocol—and more. It’ll help to keep your data safe in the most effective and efficient way possible.
How Does TLS Affect Web Application Performance?
If TLS is doing all this heavy lifting, you may be wondering whether it’ll slow down your computer.
The short answer is that the latest versions of TLS barely impact performance at all when it comes to online applications.
Some users experience a drop in the speed at which their internet pages and applications load, and some will notice a spike in the amount of computing power necessary to run their applications when using a TLS connection.
However, if you use a TLS handshake sequence—the TLS False Start is a popular option—it’ll help to get your data transfers up to a normal speed, so you won’t really notice it.
Bottom Line: Better Safe Than Sorry
Transport Layer Security is an effective tool for keeping communications watertight, preventing data breaches and transferring information quickly.
By learning the answer to the question “what is TLS” and implementing it, you can greatly and immediately improve your website’s performance, security and privacy.
1. How do I add TLS to my website?
In order to add TLS to your website, you’ll need to obtain a TLS certificate from a certificate authority and then install it on the webserver by following the provided instructions.
2. What is an example of TLS?
Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) is an example of TLS that will apply encryption to web pages.