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Understanding TLS 1.3, and How to Spot a Secure Connection

When you use the internet for anything—from shopping and banking to socialising—you want your data to be secure. Transport Layer Security (TLS) 1.3 is the latest technology designed to ensure this by creating a secure connection between your device and the website you visit.
Stephen Meehan.
Stephen Meehan October 2023
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Key Takeaways

How Transport Layer Security (TLS) 1.3 Works

  1. Initial Connection: Your device and the website initiate a "handshake" to agree on the best ways to protect your data.

  2. Setting the Rules: Both parties decide on the methods for encrypting your data so that only the intended recipient can understand it.

  3. Locking It Down: Once the rules are established, all your data is encrypted and is ready to be sent securely.

  4. Transfer of Information: The encrypted data—such as your login or payment details—is sent to the website.

  5. Unlocking the Data: Upon receiving the data, the website uses a unique key to decrypt it.

  6. Final Check: Lastly, the website confirms that the data has remained untouched during its transit.

Spotting a Secure Connection in Your Browser

Here's a quick tip to help you know if you're on a secure website. Look for "https://" at the beginning of the website's URL in your browser's address bar. The "s" stands for "secure." Additionally, you'll often see a padlock symbol next to the URL. This padlock is a visual indicator that the connection between your browser and the website is secure, thanks to protocols like TLS 1.3.

Legacy Browser Support and Compatibility Issues

Not all browsers are created equal, especially when it comes to security:

  1. Outdated Algorithms: Older browsers may use less secure methods and can't handle the security provided by TLS 1.3.

  2. Lack of Updates: Many old browsers and operating systems no longer receive updates, making them incompatible with newer, more secure technologies.

  3. Security Risks: Websites that still support outdated security methods to accommodate older browsers run the risk of compromising user data.

If you're using an older browser or operating system, you might notice that some websites won't load, or you'll get a warning that your connection is not secure. Updating to a modern browser that supports TLS 1.3 will offer you a more secure browsing experience.

SSL versus TLS

TLS (Transport Layer Security) and SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) are both protocols designed to secure communications over a computer network, primarily the internet. While they serve similar purposes, there are key differences between the two.

SSL (Secure Sockets Layer)

  1. Older Protocol: SSL is the predecessor to TLS and was developed by Netscape in the mid-1990s.

  2. Versions: The last version of SSL was SSL 3.0, released in 1996.

  3. Security Vulnerabilities: SSL has been found to have a number of security vulnerabilities and is now considered outdated and insecure. For this reason, it's generally not recommended for securing modern web traffic.

TLS (Transport Layer Security)

  1. Newer Protocol: TLS was introduced as an updated and more secure successor to SSL. It was first released in 1999.

  2. Versions: The most current version is TLS 1.3, which offers better performance and security features compared to older TLS versions and SSL.

  3. Widespread Adoption: TLS is the protocol that's widely adopted and recommended for securing web traffic today.

Key Differences between SSL and TLS

  1. Encryption Algorithms: TLS uses more advanced encryption algorithms than SSL, making it more secure.

  2. Handshake Process: The process where the server and client establish the encryption settings is more streamlined and flexible in TLS, which can lead to faster connection times.

  3. Forward Secrecy: TLS 1.3 provides better forward secrecy, meaning that even if a hacker gains access to a decryption key, they can't use it to decrypt past or future communications.

  4. Deprecated: SSL is considered deprecated, and most modern systems have moved on to using TLS.

In practical terms, you may still hear people use SSL and TLS interchangeably, but it's good to know that TLS is the more modern, secure, and widely-used option.

Stephen Meehan.
Stephen Meehan
I'm a Manchester-based web designer and developer, and the founder of D3 Creative since 2005. My expertise includes collaborating with in-house marketing teams to redesign corporate websites.
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