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The TLS protocol allows client-server applications to communicate across a network in a way designed to prevent eavesdropping and tampering.
Since most protocols can be used either with or without TLS (or SSL) it is necessary to indicate to the server whether the client is making a TLS connection or not. There are two main ways of achieving this, one option is to use a different port number for TLS connections (for example port 443 for HTTPS). The other is to use the regular port number and have the client request that the server switch the connection to TLS using a protocol specific mechanism (for example STARTTLS for mail and news protocols).
Once the client and server have decided to use TLS they negotiate a stateful connection by using a handshaking procedure. During this handshake, the client and server agree on various parameters used to establish the connection's security.
- The client sends the server the client's SSL version number, cipher settings, session-specific data, and other information that the server needs to communicate with the client using SSL.
- The server sends the client the server's SSL version number, cipher settings, session-specific data, and other information that the client needs to communicate with the server over SSL. The server also sends its own certificate, and if the client is requesting a server resource that requires client authentication, the server requests the client's certificate.
- The client uses the information sent by the server to authenticate the server (see Server Authentication for details). If the server cannot be authenticated, the user is warned of the problem and informed that an encrypted and authenticated connection cannot be established. If the server can be successfully authenticated, the client proceeds to step 4.
- Using all data generated in the handshake thus far, the client (with the cooperation of the server, depending on the cipher being used) creates the pre-master secret for the session, encrypts it with the server's public key (obtained from the server's certificate, sent in step 2), and then sends the encrypted pre-master secret to the server.
- If the server has requested client authentication (an optional step in the handshake), the client also signs another piece of data that is unique to this handshake and known by both the client and server. In this case, the client sends both the signed data and the client's own certificate to the server along with the encrypted pre-master secret.
- If the server has requested client authentication, the server attempts to authenticate the client (see Client Authentication for details). If the client cannot be authenticated, the session ends. If the client can be successfully authenticated, the server uses its private key to decrypt the pre-master secret, and then performs a series of steps (which the client also performs, starting from the same pre-master secret) to generate the master secret.
- Both the client and the server use the master secret to generate the session keys, which are symmetric keys used to encrypt and decrypt information exchanged during the SSL session and to verify its integrity (that is, to detect any changes in the data between the time it was sent and the time it is received over the SSL connection).
- The client sends a message to the server informing it that future messages from the client will be encrypted with the session key. It then sends a separate (encrypted) message indicating that the client portion of the handshake is finished.
- The server sends a message to the client informing it that future messages from the server will be encrypted with the session key. It then sends a separate (encrypted) message indicating that the server portion of the handshake is finished.
The SSL handshake is now complete and the session begins. The client and the server use the session keys to encrypt and decrypt the data they send to each other and to validate its integrity.
This is the normal operation condition of the secure channel. At any time, due to internal or external stimulus (either automation or user intervention), either side may renegotiate the connection, in which case, the process repeats itself.
This concludes the handshake and begins the secured connection, which is encrypted and decrypted with the key material until the connection closes.
If any one of the above steps fails, the TLS handshake fails and the connection is not created.