Secure Site (SSL)

(Pronounced as separate letters) Short for Secure Sockets Layer.

A protocol developed by Netscape for transmitting private documents via the Internet. SSL uses a cryptographic system that uses two keys to encrypt data − a public key known to everyone and a private or secret key known only to the recipient of the message. Both Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer support SSL, and many Web sites use the protocol to obtain confidential user information, such as credit card numbers. By convention, URLs that require an SSL connection start with https: instead of http:.

Another protocol for transmitting data securely over the World Wide Web is Secure HTTP (S-HTTP). Whereas SSL creates a secure connection between a client and a server, over which any amount of data can be sent securely, S-HTTP is designed to transmit individual messages securely. SSL and S-HTTP, therefore, can be seen as complementary rather than competing technologies. Both protocols have been approved by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) as a standard.

Which problems does SSL target? The main objectives for SSL are:

  • Authenticating the client and server to each other: the SSL protocol supports the use of standard key cryptographic techniques (public key encryption) to authenticate the communicating parties to each other. Though the most frequent application consists in authenticating the service client on the basis of a certificate, SSL may also use the same methods to authenticate the client.
  • Ensuring data integrity: during a session, data cannot be either intentionally or unintentionally tampered with.
  • Securing data privacy: data in transport between the client and the server must be protected from interception and be readable only by the intended recipient. This prerequisite is necessary for both the data associated with the protocol itself (securing traffic during negotiations) and the application data that is sent during the session itself.

SSL is currently the most frequently used method to provide security for Internet communications, however it is predicted that it will be replaced by TLS which will become a recognized security standard for Internet transmission services.

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