Transport Layer Security (TLS)

Table of Contents


TLS (Transport Layer Security) or SSL (Secure Socket Layer) is a protocol used to securely transmit encrypted data. Since SSL v3 the protocol is known as TLS, where TLS 1.0 corresponds to SSL v3.1. The currently recommended versions are TLS 1.1 and TLS 1.2. All the other versions are considered weak or contain vulnerabilities.

SSL v2

This Version is prone for several security issues and design flaws which allow Man-in-The-Middle-Attacks (MiTM) and enable the disclosure or manipulation of data transferred between client and server. The following issues are known among others:

  • Weak MAC (Message Authentication Code) functions and usage of the weak MD5 algorithm
  • Usage of Exportable Cipher Suites
  • Usage of the same cryptographic key material for message authentication as well as encryption
  • Prone for truncation attacks

SSL v3/SSL v3.1/TLS 1.0

Those versions have also considerable security vulnerabilities. A well known attack is the Chained Initialization Vector CBC Mode MiTM Weakness (BEAST) attack. The attack is based on the usage of the CBC mode for encrypting the block ciphers and enables Man-in-The-Middle attacks which can be used to obtain plaintext HTTP header data. [1] Additionally, the key derivation function for the master key depends on a MD5 hash function. The possibility of collision based attacks let the protocol be considered as insecure in general. In October 2014 the POODLE attack has been published. This attack targets all implementations of SSL v3/TLS 1.0 which leads to the point that this protocol is not recommended to use any more. Using a Man-in-The-Middle attack, encrypted data can be decrypted and an attacker can gain access to plain text data. [2]



The recommended key length for TLS is at least 128 bits. [1] Keys with a shorter length could be broken and would allow the decryption of communications. The Data Encryption Standard (DES) is using only 56 bits. Therefore, DES based cipher suites should not be used.


3DES or Triple-DES is a cryptographic block cipher algorithm which uses 64-bit blocks for data encryption between a client and server. Mostly used for establishing HTTPS connections, this cipher is known to be weak due to his short block size (in comparison, AES uses 128-bit blocks). With the emergence of the Sweet32 attack, there is a documented way of exploiting this trait. [1] The security measures of 3DES start to crumble whenever the birthday bound is reached. The point, at which a collision between the encrypted blocks is expected. Under certain circumstances, the attacker can then retrieve sensible data like session cookies.


It is advised not to use RC2 for encryption as it has an insufficient key size and is therefore seen as untrustworthy.


It has been known for some time now that RC4 has a weakness in its encryption and should therefore be avoided. On the other hand, there is no secure alternative as many clients still require RC4 support. However, since March 2013, RC4 is demonstrably broken and is classified as insecure in combination with TLS (Transport Layer Security). [1] The attack demonstrates that parts of the plain text can be recovered. For this reason, it is recommended that the support for this cipher should be removed in the near future.


The use of the MD5 hash algorithm should be avoided in general as this algorithm is prone for collision attacks. [1]


Known for its cryptographic and mathematical weaknesses, the SHA-1 hash algorithm was already replaced by the SHA-2 ciphers family as the recommended standard in 2002. As of begin of 2017, popular browser vendors like Microsoft, Mozilla or Google will stop accepting SHA-1 signed TLS certificates. Instead, the browsers will start displaying a warning sign on the concerned website. [1] Therefore, the upgrade of the web server's certificates to the SHA-2 family should be considered as soon as possible.


Export Cipher Suites are weak by design. They are encrypted but only with weak key material. This leads to the fact that the encryption can be broken very easily as there are used 40 bit or 56 bit algorithms.

Anonymous Diffie-Hellmann

Anonymous Diffie-Hellman Cipher Suites are used for anonymous Diffie-Hellman communications in which neither party is authenticated. Therefore this mode is vulnerable to Man-in-The-Middle attacks. [1]


Using null ciphers mean that no encryption for the data is used at all. They do not offer any privacy or security for the user of a web service. For this reason it is urgently recommended not to use null ciphers.

Still need help? Get in touch!
Last updated on 16th May 2018