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Security Information
Cryptography Knowledge Base : SSL

SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) is a protocol first designed by Netscape. It specifies a platform and application independent way of establishing and using a secure internet line. What this means is that it doesn't matter where the protocol is implemented (on UNIX, Windows or MacOS), the same implementation is used. This is ideal for many reasons, the main one being interoperability. For example, people using different programs, on different Operating Systems, can communicate freely. There is also no charge for implementing it, which encourages its free use by the software community.

It operates on two levels: At the first level it provides basic communication services over a system such as TCP/IP. This provides a basic platform from which the second level works. The second level consists of a set of protocols which allow various commnication hurdles to be overcome. For example the "Handshake" protocol allows the establishment of a session key (see a better breed and symmetric encryption) and authentication, or proof that both server and client are who they say they are (see digital signatures).

SSL Certificates hold information about what web-servers. They contain information about the owners of the certificates, the server to which the certificate was sold, when it was sold and when it expires. They facilitate the secure transmission of information and the authentication (identification) process.

Cryptography FAQs : About SSL

What's this "Secure Web Site" all about?

Web browsers can operate in "normal" mode and in "secure" mode. You can tell which mode your browser is in by looking at the toolbar at the bottom of the browser window. If you see a broken key, or an open padlock, you are in normal mode. If the key is whole, or the padlock is closed, you are in "secure" mode.

When you surf the Net in "normal" mode, all of the information you type into your browser and all the information the Web site sends to you are visible to eavesdroppers. When your browser is in "secure" mode it encrypts all the information between itself and the server. Encrypted information looks like meaningless garbage to eavesdroppers, so your personal information is secure.

What is a Digital Certificate?

A digital certificate contains the name of a company, Web site or individual, along with a cryptographic key that can be used to encrypt information that must be sent to that individual. When your browser switches into secure mode, it asks the Web site to present its certificate. The browser decides whether or not it trusts the certificate by looking at who issued it. If the browser trusts the certificate (as it does those issued by Thawte), then it will encrypt all communications with that Web site, using the cryptographic key in the certificate.

What else can certificates be used for?

Certificates can be used to make Web servers run in secure mode. They can also be used to sign and encrypt email messages, and to digitally sign software so that it will be "tamperproof".

What is a Certificate Authority?

Thawte is a certificate authority! The CA, or certificate authority, signs certificates. Thawte is a global CA, with offices and representatives in more than 20 countries. We issue digital certificates to many of the Web servers doing e-commerce today, and have issued tens of thousands of certificates to people securing their email, too.

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