Meaning & Definition
SSL (Secure Sockets Layer)
SSL, or Secure Sockets Layer, is a protocol used to secure and encrypt data transmission over the internet. It ensures that the data exchanged between a user’s web browser and a website’s server remains private, integral, and authenticated. SSL is the predecessor to the Transport Layer Security (TLS) protocol, and the term “SSL” is often used interchangeably with “TLS.”
Key features and functions of SSL include:
- Data Encryption
SSL employs encryption algorithms to encrypt data transmitted between the user’s browser and the web server. This encryption makes it extremely difficult for unauthorized parties to intercept and read the data.
- Data Integrity
SSL provides data integrity by using cryptographic hash functions to ensure that data is not tampered with during transmission. If any alteration occurs, the recipient can detect it.
SSL enables authentication, ensuring that the user’s browser is connected to the legitimate website server. It does this through the use of digital certificates, which are issued by trusted Certificate Authorities (CAs).
- Trust and Security
SSL relies on a system of trusted CAs that vouch for the authenticity of websites. When a user’s browser connects to a website with a valid SSL certificate, it displays a padlock icon or a similar indicator to indicate the site is secure.
- HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure)
Websites that use SSL are accessed via the HTTPS protocol. HTTPS is the secure version of HTTP, the standard protocol for web communication. It ensures that the data exchanged between the user and the website is encrypted and secure.
SSL is crucial for securing sensitive information transmitted over the internet, such as login credentials, personal information, financial transactions, and other private data. It is widely used for various online services, including e-commerce websites, online banking, email services, and social media platforms, to protect user data from eavesdropping, interception, and data breaches.
The SSL/TLS handshake is the process that initiates a secure connection between a web browser and a web server:
- Client Hello
The process begins with the client (web browser) sending a “Client Hello” message to the server. This message includes the client’s supported encryption methods and other details.
- Server Hello
The server responds with a “Server Hello” message, selecting the strongest encryption method both parties support.
- Certificate Exchange
The server provides its digital certificate, signed by a trusted CA, to the client for authentication.
- Key Exchange
Both the client and server generate a shared secret key to be used for encryption and decryption of data.
Both parties exchange a “Finished” message to confirm the establishment of a secure connection.
Once the SSL/TLS handshake is complete, data is encrypted and secured during the entire communication session between the client and server.
SSL and its successor TLS are integral to online security, ensuring that sensitive information remains confidential and safe from interception by malicious actors. Websites and online services that handle personal or financial data should use SSL/TLS to protect their users and maintain trust in the security of their platforms.