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Application Security

09:35 AM
Larry Loeb
Larry Loeb
Larry Loeb

Why Killing Off TLS 1.0 & 1.1 Is a Good Thing

All good things must come to an end. Apple, Microsoft, Mozilla and Google have decided that's the case for the 1.0 and 1.1 versions of TLS.

At some point, all technology standards outlive their usefulness, but many times they continue to hang on for a variety of reasons. Then, all of sudden, the hammer comes down and they disappear.

So what does this have to do with Transport Layer Security or TLS?

With a few days of each other, Apple, Microsoft, Mozilla and Google simultaneously announcing that their web browsers will no longer support TLS 1.0 and 1.1 by early 2020.

TLS is the web protocol that forms the basis of securing HTTPS. The protocol has evolved over time, starting with the nearly 20-year-old TLS 1.0. Its predecessor -- Secure Socket Layer (SSL) -- keeps changing as well.

The 1.0 version of TLS has some significant problems. For instance, it uses MD5 and SHA-1 as cryptologic functions. Both are now considered to be broken and insecure. There are other flaws as well.

The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) no longer recommends the use of these older TLS versions.

Moving from these versions may not have a great effect on most sites. SSL Labs found that 94% of sites already support TLS 1.2, and less than one percent of daily connections in Microsoft Edge are using TLS 1.0 or 1.1. The firm also note that TLS 1.0 and 1.1 remain supported by 70% of all sites.

Apple found that TLS 1.2 is used in 99.6% of TLS connections made from Safari.

In its blog post, Google recommends these current criteria for TLS be used:

  • TLS 1.2 or later.
  • An ECDHE- and AEAD-based cipher suite. AEAD-based cipher suites are those using AES-GCM or ChaCha20-Poly1305. ECDHE_RSA_WITH_AES_128_GCM_SHA256 is the recommended option for most sites.
  • The server signature should use SHA-2. Note this is not the signature in the certificate, made by the CA. Rather, it is the signature made by the server itself, using its private key.

None of these changes require obtaining a new CA-issued certificate. Additionally, they are backwards-compatible. Where necessary, servers may enable both modern and legacy options, to continue supporting legacy clients although such a tactic may expose the site to some security risks.

Giving developers a year and a half to change how they handle the TLS protocol before TLS 1.0 is depreciated is a good approach. The effect of legacy situations means that developers require time to re-plan and re-implement, even though those legacy situations may not be happening in routine use.

The recently released TLS 1.3 will be the goal of any upgrade plan, since it includes an improved core design that has been rigorously analyzed by cryptographers.

TLS 1.3 can also make connections in a better, speedier manner than TLS 1.2. Firefox noted that it already makes far more connections with TLS 1.3 than with TLS 1.0 and 1.1 combined.

Related posts:

— Larry Loeb has written for many of the last century's major "dead tree" computer magazines, having been, among other things, a consulting editor for BYTE magazine and senior editor for the launch of WebWeek.

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