SSL vs TLS: History, Key Differences & Guide to Choosing One

TLS or Transport Layer Security is the latest SSL or Secure Socket Layer version. These are protocols that ensure data authenticity and privacy over the internet.

Both protocols are widely used. They provide end-to-end security by applying encryption for web-based communication. While there are many similarities between the two, there are stark differences also.

This article will look at SSL vs. TLS and offer a guide to making the best choice.

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What is the Difference Between SSL vs TLS?

TLS (Transport Layer Security) and SSL (Secure Socket Layers) are both cryptographic protocols. They encrypt data and authenticate a connection as they move the data on the internet.

For example, when processing credit card payments on a website, SSL and TLS help you securely process that data and prevent malicious activities.

As for the difference between the two protocols, TLS is a more recent version of SSL. TLS fixes a few vulnerabilities in the earlier versions of the SSL protocols.

Before we elaborate on the differences further, we must look into a brief history of SSL and TLS.

In February 1995, SSL was first released, but it never went public as it had some security flaws. SSL 2.0 was publicly released but also had some defects and was replaced by SSL 3.0 in 1996.

In 1999, the first version of TLS was launched as an upgrade to SSL 3.0. Since then, there have been three consecutive TLS releases, the latest being TLS 1.3 in August 2018.

Here's the difference between the two summed up in the following table:

SSL 

TLS 

It is a Secure Socket Layer. 

It is Transport Layer Security. 

The first version of SSL was developed in 1995 by Netscape. 

The first version of TLS was developed in 1999 by the Internet Engineering Taskforce. 

It is a cryptographic protocol using explicit connections and establishing secure communication between web server and client. 

It is also a cryptographic protocol providing secure communication between a web server and a client via implicit connections. It’s the successor of the SSL protocol. 

Three versions of SSL have been released: SSL 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0. 

Four versions of TLS have been released: TLS 1.0, 1.1, 1.2, and 1.3. 

All versions of SSL have been found vulnerable, and they all have been deprecated. 

TLS 1.0 and 1.1 have been “broken” and are deprecated as of March 2020. TLS 1.2 is the most widely deployed protocol version today. 

How SSL & TLS Work to Secure Data?

Let us now look into the high-level work process of SSL and TLS.

When you install an SSL certificate on the web server, public and private keys authenticate your server and let it encrypt and decrypt data.

When someone visits your site, the web browser looks for the SSL/TLS certificate. The browser then performs a 'handshake' to check the certificate's validity and authenticate the server. When the SSL certificate is invalid, users face a 'your connection is not a private error, which can cause them to leave the website.

Once your certificate is considered valid by the visitor's browser, it creates an encrypted link between it and the server to transport the data securely.

This is where HTTPS comes in, and they play a crucial role in transferring data and information over the internet.

Plain HTTP is vulnerable to attacks, but HTTPS (HTTP over SSL or TLS) is secure. You can safely process any payments over HTTPS.

Why Did TLS Replace SSL?

TLS encryption has become a standard practice to secure in-transit data or web applications from tampering or attacks. Assuming that TLS is the most secure protocol is unrealistic because it is prone to breaches. However, it is much more improved in terms of security and performance.

TLS is replacing SSL because all of the SSL versions have depreciated due to vulnerability. Google Chrome also stopped using SSL 3.0 in 2014, and several modern web browsers do not support SSL.

TLS is highly suitable for encrypted communication. It helps secure sensitive data and information such as emails, VOIP, passwords, file transfers, and credit card details. SSL and TLS are not interoperable, and they differ in functionality too.

It is essential to note that TLS is referred to as SSL because the term SSL is more commonly used. It supports both and decides which one to use. You do not need to worry about changing SSL to TSL, as all you need to do is install the certificate on the server.

Which One Do You Need to Use?

TLS is replacing SSL; therefore, you should use TLS instead of SSL.

As we have just learned, both public releases of SSL are majorly depreciated because of known security and web application vulnerabilities. From 2019, SSL is no longer a fully secure protocol.

The more modern version of SSL is TLS, which is more secure. The recent versions of TLS also promise better performance and other improvements.

TLS is not just more secure and high-performing; most web browsers do not even support SSL 2.0 and SSL 3.0. Several browsers even stopped supporting TLS 1.0 and TLS 1.1 in 2020.

Google had even started showing ERR_SSL_OBSOLETE_VERSION warning notifications in Chrome.

However, while using TLS, you must ensure that you are using the latest versions of TLS and not the earlier insecure SSL protocols.

In doing so, remember that certificate and protocol are different. One does not need to change the certificate to use TLS. Even if it is branded an SSL certificate, it supports TLS and SSL protocols.

So, it would help to control your website's protocol at a server level.

This is where the question regarding how to choose a web host arises. The hosting service provider must enable TLS 1.3 for you and TLS 1.2. These are the most modern, performant, and secure versions of all the earlier and existing protocols.

While choosing a hosting provider, check which protocols are enabled for your site.

SSL vs TLS Takeaways

Summing up, TLS and SSL are used to authenticate and encrypt data transfer on the internet.

SSL is still the dominant term on the internet, but people mean TLS when they say SSL.

To be able to use both protocols, you have to install a certificate on your web server. These certificates are called SSL certificates but support both SSL and TLS protocols. Do not change the SSL certificate to a TLS certificate, as this is unnecessary.

For proper website maintenance, it is essential to use the latest version of TLS. First, you choose the certificate and then decide on the protocol to use at the server level.

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