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How Does Secure Socket Layer (SSL or TLS) Work?

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

The Secure Socket Layer, SSL for short, is a protocol by which enables services that communicate over the Internet to do so securely.

SSL has recently been replaced by TLS (Transport Layer Security).  TLS is newer and more secure than SSL (See TLS vs SSL: What is the difference?); however, from a lay-person’s perspective of “how does it work,” they are functionally the same.  We use the term “SSL” to refer to both TLS and SSL in this article for simplicity.

Before we discuss how SSL works and what kinds of security it provides, let us first see what happens without SSL.

Life on the Internet without SSL

This is, for example, what happens when you go to any web page whose address begins with “http://” (and not “https://”).

Let us compare communications on the Internet and communications between people over the telephone. Without SSL, your computer-to-computer communications suffer from the same security problems from which your telephone communications suffer:

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