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Posts Tagged ‘ssl’

What Level of SSL or TLS is Required for HIPAA Compliance?

Thursday, January 2nd, 2020

SSL and TLS are not actually monolithic encryption entities that you either use or do not use to connect securely to email servers, web sites, and other systems.  SSL and TLS are evolving protocols which have many nuances to how they may be configured.  The “version” of the protocol you are using and the ciphers used directly impact the level of security achievable through your connections.

Some people use the terms SSL and TLS interchangeably, but TLS (version 1.0 and beyond) is actually the successor of SSL (version 3.0). … see SSL versus TLS – what is the difference?  In 2014 we saw that SSL v3 was very weak and should not be used going forward by anyone (see the POODLE attacks, for example); TLS v1.0 or higher must be used.

Among the many configuration nuances of TLS, the protocol versions supported (e.g., 1.0, 1.1, 1.2, and 1.3) anfd which “ciphers” are permitted have the greatest impact on security.  A “cipher” specifies encryption algorithm to be used,  the secure hashing (message fingerprinting / authentication) algorithm to be used, and other related things such as how encryption keys are negotiated.   Some ciphers that have long been used, such as RC4, have become weak over time and should never be used in secure environments.  Other ciphers provide protection against people who record a secure conversation from being able to decrypt it in the future if somehow the server’s private keys are compromised (perfect forward secrecy).

What level of TLS is required by HIPAA?

Given the many choices of ciphers and TLS protocol versions, people are often at a loss as to what is specifically needed for HIPAA compliance for an appropriate and compliant level TLS security.  Simply “turning on TLS” without also configuring it appropriately is likely to leave your transmission encryption non-complaint.

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How Can You Tell if an Email Was Transmitted Using TLS Encryption?

Tuesday, October 29th, 2019

Frequently, we are asked to verify if an email that someone sent or received was encrypted using SMTP TLS while being transmitted over the internet.  For example, banks, health care organizations under HIPAA, and other security-aware institutions have a requirement that email be secured at least by TLS encryption from sender to recipient.

Email should always be transmitted with this basic level of email encryption ensure that the email message content cannot be eavesdropped upon.  This check, to see if a message was sent securely, is fairly easy to do by looking the the raw headers of the email message in question.  However, it requires some knowledge and experience.  It is actually easier to tell if a recipient’s server supports TLS than to tell if a particular message was securely transmitted.

To see how to analyze a message for its transmission security, we will look at an example email message sent from Hotmail to LuxSci, and see that Hotmail did not use TLS when sending this message.  Hotmail is not a good provider to use when security or privacy are required.

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SSL versus TLS – What’s the difference?

Saturday, May 12th, 2018

SSL versus TLS

TLS (Transport Layer Security) and SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) are protocols that provide data encryption and authentication between applications and servers in scenarios where that data is being sent across an insecure network, such as checking your email (How does the Secure Socket Layer work?). The terms SSL and TLS are often used interchangeably or in conjunction with each other (TLS/SSL), but one is in fact the predecessor of the other — SSL 3.0 served as the basis for TLS 1.0 which, as a result, is sometimes referred to as SSL 3.1. With this said though, is there actually a practical difference between the two?

SSL versus TLS: What is the differenc?

See also our Infographic which summarizes these differences.

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SMTP TLS: All About Secure Email Delivery over TLS

Monday, October 2nd, 2017

TLS stands for “Transport Layer Security” and is the successor of “SSL” (Secure Socket Layer). TLS is one of the standard ways that computers on the Internet transmit information over an encrypted channel. In general, when one computer connects to another computer and uses TLS, the following happens:

  1. Computer A connects to Computer B (no security)
  2. Computer B says “Hello” (no security)
  3. Computer A says “Lets talk securely over TLS” (no security)
  4. Computer A and B agree on how to do this (secure)
  5. The rest of the conversation is encrypted (secure)

In particular:

  • The meat of the conversation is encrypted
  • Computer A can verify the identity of Computer B (by examining its SSL certificate, which is required for this dialog)
  • The conversation cannot be eavesdropped upon (without Computer A knowing)
  • The conversation cannot be modified by a third party
  • Other information cannot be injected into the conversation by third parties.

Basic email security starts with SMTP TLS

TLS (and SSL) is used for many different reasons on the Internet and helps make the Internet a more secure place, when used. One of the popular uses of TLS is with SMTP for transmitting email messages between servers in a secure manner.  See also:

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Creating Secure Web Pages and Forms: What You Need to Know

Monday, September 25th, 2017

Fred is a busy small business CEO.  He hired a cheap developer online to setup his secure medical web site for him.  The developer got an SSL certificate and setup pages where patients can make appointments and the doctor can receive patient requests and notices, “securely”.  However, the developer didn’t have any real training in security, none in HIPAA, and as a result, PHI was being sent in the clear, there were no audit trails or logs, SSL security was not enforced, and may other serious issues plagued the site.  The worst part — No one knew.

Luckily, Fred was made aware of the situation before a serious security breach happened (that he knew of); however, he had to re-do the site from scratch, more than doubling his time and money costs.

Creating secure web pages and forms

Creating a web site that has “secure” components requires more than slapping together some web pages and adding an SSL Certificate.  All such a certificate really does is create a thin veneer of security — one that does not go very far to protect whatever sensitive data necessitated security in the first place.  In fact, naive attempts at security can ultimately make the data less secure and more likely to be compromised by creating an appetizing target for the unscrupulous.

So, beyond paying big bucks to hire a developer with significant security expertise, what do you do? Start with this article — its purpose is to shed light on many of the most significant factors in secure web site programming/design and what you can do to address them.  At a minimum, reading this article will help you to intelligently discuss your web site security with the developers that you ultimately hire.

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