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Posts Tagged ‘ssl’

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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SSL versus TLS – What’s the difference?

Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

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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ARC and SMTP MTA-STS: The State of Domain-based Email Authentication – Part 3

Tuesday, September 19th, 2017

We’ll close (for now) our three part series on the state of domain-based authentication for emails by completing the story on technologies being deployed or defined to improve the security of the email ecosystem. In Part 1, we wrote about using Sender Policy Framework (SPF) and DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) to authenticate the sending mail server. Part 2 described how Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting and Conformance (DMARC) is used to provide clear guidelines for the treatment of mail that fail SPF and/or DKIM authentication.

Authenticated Received Chain

In this post, we’ll touch on two topics that are mature works in progress in the IETF, the technical standardization organization that has brought us so much of the protocols that govern the internet. The first technology is Authenticated Received Chain (ARC), defined to handle the shortcomings of SPF and DKIM when used with mail forwarders or mailing lists. The second technology is about correcting the lack of security between Message Transfer Agents (MTA), and a solution to enforce strict transport layer security for SMTP message transfer between MTAs.

It’s worth reiterating again that all these technologies are building blocks, and only when used and deployed collectively by the entire ecosystem can we hope to create the barriers needed to thwart fake emails and mail surveillance by malicious actors.

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What is your browser telling you about SSL/TLS?

Monday, August 7th, 2017

Interpreting a browser’s visual clues about security

The continuous drumbeat of news about pervasive surveillance, security breaches, identity theft, malware, phishing and so forth has had at least one salutary effect on our interactions on the web. The general public is increasingly aware of the need for safe browsing habits, such as not clicking on unknown links in webmail, hovering your cursor over hyperlinks to see if you recognize the URL revealed, and, above all, to “Look for the Lock”.

Such mnemonics and visual aids are important ways to communicate security features to end users, allowing them to take informed decisions on what level of trust they should expect during a particular instance of communications on the web. This post will concentrate on these visual indicators, in particular how browsers represent the identity of the server/site with which an end user would like to interact. The SSL/TLS certificate that the server presents to the browser at the start of the communications is the information source which the browser uses to create the appropriate visual representation that guides the user. Readers would do well to brush up their knowledge on the different types of certificates that are available by reading our previous posts on the subject, as what follows will assume that the reader is aware (at least at a high level) of their basic properties and differences.

Most people are now aware of the need to look for the https://….. in the browser address bar as well as the lock symbol accompanying it. This is the part of the screen that is controlled purely by the browser, which populates it with the site URL and other security information gathered from the SSL/TLS certificate used to secure the connection.

For instance, look at the images below of the luxsci.com website as shown in the address bar of Google’s Chrome, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE), Mozilla’s Firefox and Microsoft’s Edge browsers.

Chrome

Internet Explorer

Mozilla Firefox

Microsoft Edge

(The screen shots were taken using Chrome version 59.0.3071.115, IE version 11.0.9600, Firefox 10.0.2 and Edge 38.14393.1066.)

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What’s the latest with HTTPS and SSL/TLS Certificates?

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017

We’ve written quite a lot in past FYI Blog posts about SSL/TLS certificates, the critical building block to secure communication on the Internet. We described what such certificates were, their use in securing the communications channel between a client (browser) and a server, different types of certificates and the pros and cons of using each.

Given the changes in the Internet landscape over the past five years, we feel it is time to revisit these topics. The technical details described in the earlier posts remain unchanged. What has changed, though, are the traffic patterns for HTTPS-based communications, additional vulnerabilities arising as a consequence and ways to mitigate these. This post will provide a general overview of certain changes in the Internet landscape over the past few years, while subsequent blog posts will describe some of the topics identified here in greater detail.SSL TLS Certificates

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What is really protected by SSL and TLS?

Saturday, April 8th, 2017

This question came in via Ask Erik:

Hi Erik,

I stumbled upon your blog while trying to learn a little about SSL/TLS in the context of client/server e-mail sessions, i.e. not web mail which I understand to be an HTTP session.  I am just an ordinary user with no special security needs but I find all this news about corporate and government surveillance to be troubling for both philosophical and practical reasons.  In any case my questions is quite simple.

My e-mail client, apple mail, and my e-mail service provider both support SSL so my e-mail exchanges between my computer and the server are encrypted.  I understand that I can’t control what happens with other e-mail servers.  What I am trying to understand is what does it mean to be encrypted?  When an e-mail leaves my computer how much of the message is encrypted?   Are the e-mail headers encrypted including the sender and recipient e-mail addresses.  I would assume so but nobody talks about the details.  What metadata trail does a user leave when using SSL/TLS.  Is it is as simple as the destination and sending IP address with everything else encrypted?  Reading Data and Goliath right now by Bruce Schneider which talks about a lot of this stuff but again doesn’t give quite enough detail.  At the end of the day I am trying to understand how much protection SSL really provides.

SSL (now TLS) protects data as it travels across the Internet. To understand in detail how SSL works, we recommend reading: How does Secure Socket Layer (SSL andTLS) work?  However, looking at how the protocol works can leave answers to some of these fundamental questions a little unclear.  Lets address them one by one.

SSL and TLS Security

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The US Online Privacy Law Repeal: How It Will Affect You

Wednesday, April 5th, 2017

As with any politicized issue, there is a lot of misinformation surrounding the repeal of the data privacy framework. Regardless of whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, your online security and privacy rights are going to be affected, so let’s just get the story straight.

This whole issue began back in February 2015, when the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) set up an Open Internet Order. This established net neutrality rules and also reclassified ISPs as carriers under Title II of the Communications Act. This meant that ISPs would be subjected to a new set of regulations.

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Google to Strip Trust from Symantec SSL Certificates

Tuesday, March 28th, 2017

Last Thursday, a Google developer announced that Chrome will be reducing its levels of trust in Symantec issued SSL certificates, as well as those issued by its subsidiaries. This comes after a two year skirmish between the two companies, with Google asserting that Symantec has continually failed to follow appropriate verification practices.

Under Google’s proposal, the Extended Validation status from Symantec issued certificates will be removed, the validity period of newly issued Symantec certificates will be gradually reduced to a maximum of nine months, and current Symantec certificates will be incrementally distrusted with each Google Chrome release up to 64. These measures aim to balance out compatibility problems alongside the security risks.

Symantec SSL Certificate

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Infographic – SSL vs TLS: What is the Difference?

Friday, October 9th, 2015

SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) and TLS (Transport Layer Security) are foundations of security on the Internet.  However, between colloquial usage and the relationship between these security protocols, there is a lot of confusion regarding how they are related, how they are different, and what to use in what situation.

For a detailed analysis of these differences and similarities, see: TLS versus SSL: What is the Difference?

The following infographic simplifies and summarizes the comparison.

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