What Type of Encryption Does SSL Use?

Almost every website involves some exchange of information; from login details for an online application to contact info on a landing page – and today’s savvy online consumers won’t stay on a website unless they feel confident that it’s secure. With an SSL certificate, you protect your website and your visitors’ information by making sure that any data transferred remains impossible for hackers to read.

But what exactly does SSL stand for, and what type of encryption does it use?

Security challenges rank among the most pressing issues of modern times, and creating a trusted environment is essential when doing business online. Investing in technology like SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) to protect your customers as well as to earn their trust is a critical factor for your website’s success.

SSL was developed over 20 years ago to enhance web security. It operates between a website visitor’s browser and a site or application. The SSL protocol uses SSL certificates to provide authentication and encryption when transferring data by tying a cryptographic digital key to a website’s identifying information.

The SSL process:

  1. SSL handshake (validation of presence of the SSL certificate)
  2. Server sends the certificate
  3. User confirms the certificate validity
  4. SSL protocol uses Message Authentication Codes (to ensure data integrity and authenticity)

The beauty of SSL is that from the smallest of personal websites to the largest enterprise domain portfolios, there is an SSL certificate specifically designed to secure it. 101domain, a leader in cybersecurity, offers a buyer’s guide for SSL/TLS certificates. You can read the full guide here.

What makes SSL certificates so important to online security and sales performance? Here are some of the key reasons why you need an SSL certificate:

  • Meet new website requirements
  • Avoid “Not Secure” browser warnings
  • Protect customer information
  • Boost search rankings and traffic
  • Enable popular mobile features
  • Improve website speed and security
  • Increase trust, confidence, and conversions

 The encryption behind SSL

Information security has grown to be an essential factor for modern communication networks. In order to counteract cyberattacks, safeguarding information has become imperative. According to the 2018 Global Threat Report, 70% of company’s report suffering at least one data breach. The first half of 2018 saw 4.5 billion records stolen (291 every second), and only 1% were encrypted. Verizon’s Data Breach Investigation Report cites the lack of encryption and security when handling confidential information among the top causes of breaches. If you suffered a breach, wouldn’t you at least want to make sure the data couldn’t be decrypted?

Encryption helps to protect information being transferred online but is actually as old as Julius Caesar. The technique is used to encode a message in a format that cannot be read or understood without a decryption key. SSL and its successor TLS (Transport Layer Security) are technologies for encrypting the link between a web server and a web browser. They use a combination of symmetric and asymmetric encryption to ensure message privacy. When a browser attempts to connect to a website that is secured with SSL, it requests that the server identifies itself, which then sends a copy of its SSL certificate. After the browser made sure it can trust the certificate, it sends a message back to the server which will be answered by the server with a digitally signed acknowledgment to start an SSL encrypted communication.

The goal is to determine if the connection is safe before any data flow. This works thanks to a combination of Asymmetric and Symmetric Encryption using cryptographic keys tied to an SSL certificate.

  • Asymmetrical Encryption

Asymmetrical Encryption is a complex form of encryption and is also known as public key cryptography. It checks, confirms, and verifies that the browser and the website can safely communicate with each other. Asymmetric Encryption incorporates two cryptographic keys to implement data security, a private and a public key. It uses encryption algorithms like RSA and Elliptic Curve Cryptography to create the keys.

The public key is used for encryption, while the private key is used for decryption. A message that gets encrypted by using a public key can only be decrypted by the private key. A public key is freely available to anyone and can be passed on over the internet, while the private key is kept secret by the owner of the public key. It is extremely difficult for anyone to derive the private key based only on the public key. Because of encryption and decryption using two separate keys, it makes the process slower than the simpler Symmetrical Encryption.  Once the SSL certificate is verified, the Symmetric Encryption takes over and allows the communication to flow until one party ends the conversation.

  • Symmetrical Encryption

Compared to Asymmetrical Encryption, Symmetrical Encryption is around for a much longer time and is far less complex. That doesn’t make it any less important for the verifying process of SSL certificates though. While Asymmetrical Encryption establishes the connection, Symmetrical Encryption is what keeps it going.

Symmetrical Encryption has the ability to encrypt a message automatically because this simple kind of encryption uses the same secret key for encryption and decryption. The sender uses the symmetric key before sending the message, and the receiver uses it to decipher the encoded message. It can either be a number, a word, or a random combination. Both the sender and the recipient need to know the secret key that is used to encrypt and decrypt all the messages. Thanks to this technique, it can be done quickly, and the session keys are capable of encrypting and decrypting data.

To make it even easier, simply picture the following: You go online to find a great deal on a pair of pants. Your favorite online store uses an SSL certificate to protect your information and to keep you as a trusting customer. The pants store uses Asymmetrical Encryption to make sure the SSL certificate is valid and up to date. Once that is guaranteed, safe communication can be established. When you start browsing around, checking out different styles, and looking for deals, the Symmetrical Encryption takes over and makes sure everything stays secure.

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