How Transport Layer Security protects your clients
Transport Layer Security (TLS) is a cryptographic protocol that plays a critical role in protecting clients and their data during communication over networks and the internet. TLS ensures that data transmitted between a client, such as a web browser, and a server, such as a website, are secure and confidential.
Without TLS protocols, sensitive information—such as logins and passwords, credit card information, and other personal data—can easily be compromised by hackers or malicious actors. Implementing a TLS protocol ensures all data transmitted will be encrypted with secure algorithms.
Understanding the nuances of TLS is critical to securing your clients’ data and protecting their communication over the internet. Keep reading for an overview of how TLS protects your clients.
What is Transport Layer Security (TLS) and how does it work?
In a nutshell, Transport Layer Security (TLS) works as a cryptographic protocol that secures communication between a client and a server over a computer network. TLS protocols ensure that any data transmitted between two entities remains private, confidential, and protected from unauthorized access or tampering.
You are likely familiar with Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) protocol, which is widely used to establish secure connections for web browsing, email communications, and file transfers. TLS is the successor of the earlier SSL and provides foundational functionality to ensure client data is protected.
Cybersecurity is a critical component of your service offerings—and TLS communications play a substantial role in securing your clients’ overall privacy and safety.
TLS works by serving three distinct purposes for clients:
- Encryption: Data transferred between client and server is encrypted and protected from third parties.
- Authentication: Using a TLS connection ensures that both parties’ identities are authenticated and secure.
- Integrity: TLS verifies that all data transmitted has not been forged or tampered with during the delivery process.
Regarding the actual process itself, TLS connection is established through a sequence known as the TLS handshake. When a user navigates to a website that uses TLS, the client and server exchange information and negotiate the TLS encryption algorithms that will be used.
During the handshake, the following will occur:
- Specify which version of TLS will be used
- Decide on what cipher suites will be used
- Authenticate the identity of the server using the TLS certificate
- Generate session keys to encrypt messages
Benefits of TLS
Implementing TLS for your clients offers a number of advantages and benefits, all of which contribute to a client’s secure communication and data exchange.
- Data confidentiality: Because TLS encrypts data during transmission, the protocol ensures that sensitive details—such as login credentials, financial information, or personal data—remain protected. This also helps to mitigate unauthorized access or data interception by malicious threat actors.
- Data integrity: By using hash functions and message authentication codes (MACs), TLS can verify that transmitted data has not been altered or tampered with during the exchange. This protects against data corruption, maintaining the accuracy of the information.
- Authentication and trust: TLS facilitates mutual authentication between the client and the server, establishing deep trust. Clients can then verify the identity of the server through digital certificates issued by trusted certificate authorities.
- Remote management: With TLS, you can provide remote management services for your client’s IT infrastructure. TLS strengthens these remote connections, providing peace of mind and confidence.
- Compliance: If your client faces industry regulations and data protection laws, TLS can help comply with these complicated requirements, reducing both legal and regulatory risks. TLS assists through the encryption of sensitive data, data integrity assurance, and mutual authentication between clients and servers using digital certificates issued by trusted Certificate Authorities (CAs).
Differences between TLS and SSL
Transport Layer Security (TLS) and Secure Socket Layer (SSL) work as cryptographic protocols that provide clients with enhanced security. TLS is the newer version and tends to be seen as a more modern and secure version of SSL—however, some clients continue to use SSL for a secure website connection, email connection, or VPN connection.
- Security: TLS is a more secure version of SSL. After several revisions and updates to mitigate known vulnerabilities in SSL, TLS 1.2 and 1.3 are the most widely used and recommended versions of security. SSL 3.0, the last version, was deprecated in 2015 due to security concerns.
- Encryption algorithms: Compared to SSL, TLS supports a much wider range of encryption algorithms, including modern symmetric encryption algorithms such as AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) and other secure functions that promote data integrity and authentication.
- Handshake and key exchange: The TLS handshake process provides robust security and leverages the Diffie-Hellman algorithm for secrecy. This ensures that all session keys remain secure, even if long-term private keys are exposed in the future. In comparison, SSL’s handshake process lacks this level of security.
- Compatibility: Nearly all modern web browsers and applications support TLS protocols. However, very few modern web browsers and applications support SSL due to its security vulnerabilities and deprecation.
- Use cases: TLS connections are ideal for various online services, including web browsing, email communications (SMPT, IMAP, POP3), VPN connections, and file transfers. Although SSL was historically leveraged for very similar needs, it is no longer recommended due to security concerns.
As the universal successor to SSL, TLS offers robust and significant security improvements. It supports modern encryption algorithms, provides better forward secrecy, and is widely compatible with a list of applications and services.
Due to its efficacy and reliability, TLS is largely regarded as the standard cryptographic protocol for secure connections via the internet. If you have a client that is still leveraging SSL, consider following these steps to ensure a streamlined transition:
- Conduct an assessment of your client’s infrastructure to identify all systems, applications, and services that use SSL.
- Educate your clients on the differences between SSL and TLS.
- Identify all SSL certificates that are due to expire or are no longer secure and recommend the use of TLS-compatible certificates.
- Ensure that all web applications, APIs, and other software used by your client are compatible with TLS.
- Implement remote monitoring and management (RMM) tools to continuously monitor the security configurations and TLS versions used on the client’s systems.
TLS encryption protocols
TLS includes a series of protocols that have been developed over time to enhance security and address incoming vulnerabilities. Some of the main TLS protocols include:
- Symmetric encryption: TLS supports various symmetric encryption protocols and algorithms, including AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) being the most common. AES provides strong encryption and is generally considered secure.
- Asymmetric encryption (public key encryption): In addition to symmetric encryption, TLS uses asymmetric encryption for key exchange and authentication during the TLS handshake. Two of the main algorithms used include RSA (Rivest-Shamir-Adleman) and Elliptic Curve Cryptography (ECC).
- Hash functions: To optimize data integrity during transmission, TLS uses hash functions. Commonly used hash functions include SHA-256 and SHA-384.
- Message authentication codes: Lastly, TLS uses MACs to authenticate messages and strengthen data integrity. MACs are derived from the shared secret keys and included in the TLS records, ensuring that data is not tampered with.
Because TLS supports a wide range of encryption protocols, the choice of cipher suites and protocols is often up to the client, server, and their capabilities.
Drawbacks of TLS
Using TLS protocols is common practice and highly recommended for many clients. There are very few drawbacks—however, a few to keep in mind include:
- Application protocol: The ability to use TLS depends on whether each application supports it. Some older versions of software or applications might not support TLS; other custom or in-house applications might not have TLS integrated into their design.
- Potential future security risk: As TLS becomes more frequently used by companies, threat actors may be more focused on discovering new opportunities to exploit potential security vulnerabilities.
Cybersecurity solutions and TLS
While TLS is a highly effective and valuable tool for securing communication and data exchange over computer networks, it should not be the only tool in your security stack. A successful cybersecurity practice requires a myriad of technologies and strategies to effectively protect clients and mitigate potential threats.
ConnectWise offers a suite of cybersecurity solutions for MSPs to keep clients safe, protected, and confident at every step, including advanced endpoint detection and response (EDR) and flexible SIEM software. Start your on-demand demo of our Cybersecurity Suite today to see how ConnectWise can help uplevel your cyber practice.