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The Role of SSL/TLS in Securing Online Data

Understanding SSL and TLS

TLS and SSL both are encryption protocols. They are used to protect communication between two parties online. These two parties can be servers, individuals, government agencies or organizations. While SSL is defined as secure sockets layer, TLS is defined as transport layer security. They are important elements of domain hosting. These encryption protocols define the structure, tools and rules of both the sides. SSL can be considered as the predecessor of TLS. However, these two words are utilized or perceived interchangeably.

Today, people rely heavily on online applications. Even government agencies move their systems online to make things more accessible and more efficient. Be it education, automobile or healthcare, every sector runs on applications or systems which are connected to the cloud such as software for daily functions, cloud-based SaaS solutions for everyday operations, etc. With the increasing use of online applications or systems, your data is in transit constantly, which increases the risk related to data to be poached by unauthorized resources. The same data could be utilized for fraud, or identity theft. In the corporate world, if the data is unsecured, sensitive employee information, client’s details, etc. can be easily stolen or lost. This is where SSL and TLS both play their role. These powerful encryption protocols help encrypt and transfer data between two parties, which again can be client or server. 

As per the record, SSL was introduced for the first time in the year 1995 to encrypt traffic using the HTTP, hypertext transfer protocol. HTTP is used by the browsers to render websites on various devices utilized by users. After its three versions had been released, TLS got released which is an upgraded protocol of SSL. The current version is more efficient and secure. Thus, when a user witnesses HTTP, he or she can be assured that all data he or she enters into the website remains secure and encrypted.  

How SSL/TLS works

An SSL certificate is defined as a digital identity card. It allows online users or browsers to recognize the authenticity of website. These certificates are issued by CA, a certificate authority, a third party which verifies how authentic the website is. After verification, an organization is provided with digital SSL certificate. The certificate features:

  • Details of domain and subdomain names
  • Name of an associated organization 
  • Information related to CA issuance 
  • Registered website’s public key

SSL or TLS protocols manage all communication after you have got your certificate. As per the TLS handshake, the server and client both agree to encryption protocols. The receiver happens to be a website hosted on a server while sender is the browser. 

Key Features of SSL/TLS

A secure online presence is a crucial need for every business. For a safe and consistent modern internet communication, SSL or TLS are needed. The encryption offers many features which can be leveraged by organizations or individuals. 

  • Firstly, SSL certificates can authenticate the business servers. The TLS handshake facilitates easy transfer of data between the client and business server. This reduces possibilities of attacks. 
  • It is easier to install and execute SSL or TLS. The process is a streamlined one. Most of the web server hosts have their own SSL certificate registration service. Hence, the configuration process is easy and quick. Here, businesses or website owner may not have to undergo various services to install as well as maintain HTTPs. 
  • SSL implementation is standard. It does not differ based on client, server and user. So, there is no need to customize it to suite different environments. 
  • It helps to maintain or enhance integrity of communication because it ensures hashing which means compressing data into a particular length sequence. It adds hashed version for every communication before encryption. When the receiver receives a hashed string different from the one which is attached to the main message, it indicates that the message is tempered. Thus, SSL helps to maintain integrity of communication. 
  • Moreover, SSL or TLS is flexible. They can accommodate different security needs as well as capabilities for various applications and systems. This allows clients and servers to agree upon the secure methods to encrypt data while ensuring data integrity.
  • TLS provides a visual indicator to show if a website uses SSL encryption. Users who want to explore more details about the SSL certificate can click on the icon, perceived as a digital ID card for the security of website. The certificate shows that the site is genuine. It helps to ensure that data shared between the browser and the site is encrypted. 

Various Types of SSL Certificates

There are two types of authorities which issue SSL or TLS certificates. The first is root certificate authority, the highest CA. It issues certificates not only to the applying clients but also to the intermediate certificate authorities. The intermediate certificate authority issues the certificates to applying servers. As a part of security, certificates are issued at different levels. One can classify SSL certificates based on various domains or subdomains. 

Single-domain certificate: The certificate is used to secure one subdomain or domain link. While one may secure www.easyworks.com, it is not possible to secure help.easyworks.com. 

Multi-domain certificate: This certificate could be used to secure different domains and subdomains. As per the above example, it is possible to secure both help.easyworks.com and www.easyworks.com. 

Wildcard certificate: It is a single-character symbol which represents a placeholder. The wildcard character is an asterisk. It is typically mentioned in the wildcard certificate in website URL. It can secure multiple domains or subdomains. 

SSL Certificates can be Categorized into:

Domain-Validated (DV) certificate:

It confirms that application controls the requested domain name. It verifies domain ownership. However, it does not validate business behind the website. DV certificates facilitates basic encryption. These are quick to obtain. 

Organization-Validated (OV) certificate:

The certificate is issued after the domain ownership and basic business information are issued. The process confirms or validates the existence of an organization behind the website. OV certificates are considered more trustworthy compared to DV certificates.

Extended Validation (EV) certificate:

EV certificates act as the highest level of assurance to users. They carry a rigorous validation process. The certificate authority verifies domain ownership as well as business details. At the same time, it checks the legal as well as operational validity of the organization. Not only the physical location or legal status of a business is verified, but the issuance takes a few days which makes SSL certificate most trustworthy. 

Benefits and Challenges Associated with SSL/TLS

Easy implementation:

TLS/SSL is flexible and easy to set up. Many certificate authorities issue SSL certificates. The process of getting the one is straightforward. All it takes is a smooth experience. 

Greater compatibility:

SSL or TLS can work seamlessly across all browsers and client services. There is no need for specific configuration changes for every platform. This simplifies the management for administrators. 

Combining authentication and encryption:

SSL certificates verifies that website belongs to the authentic organization. It utilizes a perfect combination of various encryption methods to secure data. This ensures privacy and authenticity in communications. 

SEO rankings:

The major search engines such as Google favor websites that use HTTPs over HTTP in rankings. If you implement SSL or TLS, your website’s visibility can be enhanced. This could help you get better ranking. 

Compliance with regulations:

Today, all industries are focused on data privacy regulations. As per these regulations, it is necessary to encrypt sensitive user data. 

Challenges

Compatibility – client version:

All clients don’t want to use the latest SSL or TLS versions. This can leave older versions vulnerable to cyber-attacks. Attackers always wait for the opportunity to exploit these vulnerabilities. 

Traffic Visibility Issues:

The encryption may complicate the detection of malicious commands as well as data exchange. This can pose challenges for security monitoring. 

Ethical Concerns with Decryption:

Decrypting encrypted traffic at the entry point can result in some ethical concerns. The encryption aims at protecting important data. Besides, decrypting may violate industry regulations which have been designed to protect user privacy. 

Migration to HTTPS:

The transition from HTTP to HTTPs could affect website traffic as well as functionality. There are adjustments required in Google Webmaster and plugins to provide comprehensive support to HTTPs. A few plugins or content sources do not support HTTPS initially. This can cause compatibility issues as well as security warnings for users.   

Final Thoughts

SSL/TLS protocols are essential for online security and authenticated communication between websites and users. These protocols serve as comprehensive protection against unauthorized access. At the same time, they bring in some challenges such as ethical considerations, compatibility issues around decryption, etc. Despite these hurdles, they are indispensable to maintain confidentiality and regulatory compliance of online communications. Hire professional web developers Indiafor robust implementation and maintenance of SSL or TLS and protect your digital assets.

Neel Networks is a trusted and renowned providers of domain hosting and web development services. We specialize in integrating secure web solutions to provide comprehensive and reliable protection to your digital assets.

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