TLS Versions Explained: Difference between TLS 1.2 and 1.3

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TLS 1.2 vs 1.3

For private and confidential information like passwords, credit card details, and personal correspondence, Transport Layer Security (TLS) encrypts data transmitted over the Internet to make sure that hackers and eavesdroppers cannot see what you communicate.

This article describes TLS, explaining what it is, why it’s necessary, how it functions, and how TLS 1.2 and 1.3 vary.

What is TLS?

Transport Layer Security replaces the Secure Sockets Layer, designed to provide reliable communication between two parties. By verifying message authenticity, TLS is a strong defense against eavesdropping, verifies peers, and makes communication unhackable. Maintaining integrity, confidentiality, and data validation are the protocol’s goals. 

A cryptographic technology called TLS ensures complete security for information transferred between apps over the Internet. The padlock icon appearing in web browsers when a secure session begins, in particular, is how most people are familiar with it from its use in protected online browsing.

Recommended: TLS Vs SSL Vs HTTPS: Decoding the Major Differences

However, it could and should be utilized for reasons, notably file transfers, instant messaging, video/audio conferencing, email, and voice-over IP. It can also be used for other Internet services like DNS and NTP.

Secure Socket Layers (SSL), first created in 1994 by Netscape Communications Corporation, gave rise to Transport Layer Security (TLS) to protect online sessions. Although SSL 2.0 was quickly overtaken by SSL 3.0, the foundation for TLS, SSL 1.0, was never made available to the public.

Although TLS was not directly compatible with SSL 3.0, it did provide a fallback option in case it was needed. TLS was first defined in RFC 2246 in 1999 as an application-agnostic protocol.

Nevertheless, TLS 1.2 is advised to be used instead of SSL 3.0, which is now considered risky and was designated obsolete by RFC 7568 in June 2015. As of December 2015, TLS 1.3 was still under development and will no longer allow less secure methods.

Please be aware that TLS does not provide end-system data security. It guarantees secure data transmission over the Internet by preventing potential eavesdropping and content modification.

TLS is majorly used to encrypt Application Layer protocols like SMTP, FTP, HTTP, and IMAP on top of TCP, while it may also be used on UDP, DCCP, and SCTP (for VPN and SIP-based application purposes, for example). Enumerated in RFCs 6347, 5238, and 6083, this is commonly called Datagram Transport Layer Security (DTLS).

Why is TLS Significant?

Historically, sensitive data, such as passwords or payment information, has been transferred over the Internet in an unencrypted manner. When encryption has been utilized, it has usually been implemented incrementally.

Private data protection became necessary as the Internet grew, as acknowledged in 1996 (by RFC 1984). However, years later, it has become more apparent that attackers and eavesdroppers are more sophisticated and widespread than previously believed.

To make encryption the standard for Internet traffic—that is, to make it secret by default—the IAB stated in November 2014 urging protocol designers, developers, and operators.

Without TLS, it would be simple for someone to obtain sensitive information like login credentials, credit card numbers, and personal information. Monitoring surfing patterns, email conversations, online chats, and conference calls would also be possible.

It guarantees that data transferred between client and server apps is encrypted using secure techniques and cannot be viewed by other parties by enabling client and server programs to use TLS.

TLS is presently supported by all major web browsers in their most recent versions, and web servers are increasingly likely to offer TLS by default. Nevertheless, unlike web browsers that offer consumers visual cues, adopting TLS for email and specific other programs is still frequently optional, and users may only sometimes be able to tell if their connections are encrypted.

How TLS Works?

The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) designed TLS, which encrypts both the client and the server to establish a safe connection between programmes. When a user visits a protected website, they select the TLS encryption method, such as the advanced encryption standard (AES).

The TLS record protocol & the TLS handshake protocol are the two security levels it uses to work. These protocols encrypt interactions and data transfers between clients and web servers using symmetric and asymmetric cryptographic techniques.

For instance, the TLS handshake protocol generates public and private keys that encrypt and decode data using asymmetric cryptography. After that, the complete procedure is as follows:

  • The client creates a random number that will be used later and delivers a list of all TLS versions and recommendations for a cipher suite.
  • The options that the server will use to establish the connection are checked.
  • For authentication, the client receives a TLS certificate from the server.
  • The client generates and transmits a pre-master key encrypted using the server’s public key and decrypted using the server’s private key following certificate validation.
  • The client & server generate session keys using the pre-master key and previously produced random integers.
  • A completed message encrypted with a session key is available to the client and the server.
  • Once the TLS handshake is complete, the client and server will produce secure symmetric encryption.

Additionally, during the handshake phase of the record protocol, distinct session keys are generated for every connection using symmetric encryption. To confirm the validity of the data, it further appends a hash-based message authentication code (HMAC) to all transferred data.

Recommended: How to Fix the SSL/TLS Handshake Failed Error?

TLS has since achieved three objectives and is integral to most current browsers and other programs.

Encryption. By using encoded data, it conceals the data that is conveyed from outside parties.

Authentication. By giving a certificate, a TLS connection verifies that the identities of both parties are who they say they are.

Data Integrity. Lastly, it confirms that no tampering or forging occurred during data transmission.

TLS is intended to secure network connections so that messages are transferred privately, unmodified, and identifiable as coming from an authentic source.

Where Is Transport Layer Security Used?

Has the little padlock icon ever caught your attention in your browser’s URL bar? That indicates that TLS is being used by the website you are viewing to create an encrypted connection.

The TLS protocol can secure these:

  • Data and file transfers (HTTPS, which is TLS overlaid on top of the conventional hypertext transport protocol, for example).
  • Internet message access protocol (IMAP) and simple mail transfer protocol (SMTP) are two examples of email protocols.
  • A virtual private network (VPN) connects hosts and networks using a quasi-tunnel made possible by encryption and authentication skills.
  • Services for audio and video conferences.

Explore the Different Versions of the TLS Protocol

Three further versions of TLS were produced after the initial version (v.1.0) was made public in 1999.

Versions 1.0 and 1.1 were officially deprecated by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) in March 2021, meaning they are no longer recommended. This decision was made when it was found that the versions contained multiple significant vulnerabilities (more on that later).

Let’s analyze each of them individually. For a brief synopsis of their characteristics, go to our summary table. Do you want further information? Continue reading.

TLS Version 1.0

  • Founded on SSL 3.0.
  • SSL 3.0 can be used as a lower-level connection. Thirty-three percent of sites support it.
  • It only works with outdated and old techniques.
  • Released as RFC 2246 and published in 1999. This TLS version was a lot like SSL 3.0.

Note: TLS Protocol Version is Deprecated.

TLS Version 1.1

  • 35.9% of websites support it. 
  • Assists authenticated encryption ciphers.
  • Published as RFC 4346 and released in 2006.

Note: TLS Protocol Version is Deprecated.

TLS Version 1.2

  • A more sophisticated version of TLS 1.1 is TLS 1.2. Besides providing enhanced security, it was built for increased efficiency and reliability.
  • Use SHA-256 and other secure methods.
  • Allows the server to choose the cipher that both parties ultimately support.
  • This version is resistant to the various attacks.
  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) mandates that all government TLS servers and clients adhere to its standards.
  • There are two communication round trips during a complete handshake.
  • Supports additional data modes for authorized encryption. Permits the use of sophisticated cipher suites.
  • Published as RFC 5246 and released in 2008.

Note: TLS Protocol Version is in use (with more than ninety websites supporting it).

TLS Version 1.3 

  • It is the most recent version of TLS and the contemporary version of SSL used for encoding by many network protocols.
  • Makes up the most trustworthy and latest version of the TLS protocol.
  • Requires perfect forward secrecy (PFS), which prevents keys from being used to decrypt data from previous or future sessions by creating a unique session key for each user.
  • It uses only robust, easy-to-understand cipher suites that lack imperfections.
  • It uses the ephemeral Diffie-Hellman protocol to exchange keys instead of the RSA protocol.
  • Combines authentication and encryption into a single round trip.
  • Employ a more streamlined collection of cipher suites.
  • It entails handshaking more quickly.
  • Constantly calls for digital signatures.
  • Published as RFC 8446 and released in August 2018.

Note: TLS Protocol Version in usage (59.8% of websites support it.

What is the Difference between TLS 1.2 and 1.3?

Compared to previous iterations, TLS 1.3 has several enhancements, notably a more rapid TLS handshake, and more straightforward secure cipher suites. The TLS handshake is even more efficient with Zero Round-Trip Time (0-RTT) key exchanges. When combined, these modifications offer enhanced security and improved performance.

Zero Round-Trip Time (0-RTT)

The TLS 1.3 protocol provides zero round-trip time for client application data, also called 0-RTT data, which can be delivered to the server following the ClientHello message. TLS 0-RTT, often known as “TLS early data,” is a technique for reducing the latency to the first byte on a TLS connection.

TLS 1.3 requires a single round trip (RTT) of the protocol compared to TLS 1.2 and previous versions.

Faster Handshakes in TLS

Performance is considerably decreased by TLS encryption and SSL decryption, which increase delay in network connections and require CPU time. The first handshake was performed in clear text under TLS 1.2.

Therefore, it, too, needs to be encrypted and decrypted. This significantly increased connection overhead because a handshake typically required the client and server to send five to seven packets.

With the adoption of server certificate encryption by default in version 1.3, a TLS handshake might be completed in 0–3 packets, minimizing or doing away with this overhead and enabling quicker, more responsive connections.

More Robust and Better Cipher Suites

Version 1.3 has reduced the number of packets that need to be exchanged during the TLS handshake and the size of the encryption cipher suites. Potential security flaws were introduced using ciphers with cryptographic flaws in TLS 1.2 and previous versions.

Only algorithms that do not enable Perfect Forward Secrecy (PFS) and for which no known vulnerabilities are supported by TLS 1.3. The upgrade also eliminated the “renegotiation” mechanism, which could potentially enhance risk and allow a client and server with an established TLS connection to negotiate and produce new keys and configurations.

Absolute Pre-disclosure Confidentiality

Because of SSL/TLS’s perfect forward secrecy feature, even if an attacker manages to get the private keys used in a particular session, they cannot decrypt the data from earlier or later sessions.

When a client and server use a compromised private key to send data, forward secrecy is likely to keep out attackers who do a lot of work to access or steal that data.

For forward secrecy, distinct session keys are generated regularly and automatically. An attacker cannot get the session key if the data exchanged during the handshake is encrypted and decrypted.

TLS 1.3’s Upgraded Security

One serious flaw with TLS 1.2 is that it is often misconfigured, which exposes websites to hackers.

The following features from TLS 1.2 have been dropped from TLS 1.3 because they are no longer secure or required: Arbitrary Diffie-Hellman groups: AES-CBC, MD5, SHA-1, RC4, DES, and 3DES; CVE-2016-0701.

Because the protocol has been dramatically simplified, administrators and developers are less likely to mis-configure it. Since TLS version 1 is no longer considered safe, Google has started alerting users through the search panel that they are upgrading to TLS version 1.2. Another instance of Google setting the bar higher in this instance.

TLS 1.3’s Browser Support

In October 2018, Chrome 70 was released to the public, with TLS 1.3 final for outgoing connections. A draft version of TLS 1.3 was released with Firefox 52 and later (including Quantum).

They were still utilizing the dangerous fallback to TLS 1.2 before they learned more about server tolerance and the 1.3 handshakes. In October 2018, Firefox 63 was launched with the latest TLS 1.3 version installed. On macOS 10.14.4, TLS 1.3 is enabled by default in Safari 12.1. Microsoft Edge started to support TLS 1.3 in version 76.

Difference Between TLS 1.2 and TLS 1.3:

S.No.TLS 1.2  TLS 1.3
1TLS version 1.2 allows for several in-and-out communications to occur between the client and server.    While TLS version 1.3 attempts to reduce the number of messages transferred to and from the Client and Server to minimize the time of the handshake process.
2TLS version 1.2’s cryptographic suites are less reliable.More secure cipher suites are available, nonetheless, with TLS version 1.3.
3With TLS version 1.2, the TLS handshake is slower.Version 1.3’s TLS handshake is faster.
4A little slower and less responsive is the connection.Still, the connection is more rapid.
5It does not have a zero round-trip time (RTT).However, its RTT (round-trip time) is zero.

TLS 1.3 provides the maximum degree of security and performance for online transactions and significantly improves over TLS 1.2 overall. TLS 1.3 will be increasingly important for online communication security as the Internet evolves and security threats become more complex.

Final Thoughts

While TLS version 1.2 is still in use, TLS version 1.3 is becoming increasingly popular because of its improved performance, simplicity of use, security, and data privacy. TLS 1.3, when properly implemented, provides a faster connection and lowers latency. Lower latency enhances user experience and website performance.

Client-server connections may be made much safer by removing weak points in the security, such as cipher suite simplification and other susceptible components. Since TLS 1.3 is not backward compatible with TLS 1.2, organizations should consider keeping both versions for reliable data transfers with older technologies and apps for some time.

There has been a big jump from TLS 1.2 to TLS 1.3.

Common FAQ’s

What is the TLS 1.3 Protocol?

A significant Version of the previous TLS protocol standards is the TLS Version 1.3 protocol. This protocol rewriting aims to decrease the number of round trips required to finish a TLS V1. Three handshakes enable more secure peer-to-peer interactions.

Why does TLS 1.3 Work Faster?

The TLS 1.3 handshake, on the other hand, only requires one round trip from each party. As a result, the setup time has been cut in half, and HTTPS connections are now faster and more responsive. Faster connections not only increase website performance but also greatly enhance user experience.

Is TLS 1.3 Symmetric or Asymmetric?

TLS 1.3 generates a symmetric encryption key at the client and server using the Diffie Hellman algorithm.

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Janki Mehta

Janki Mehta

Janki Mehta is a Cyber-Security Enthusiast who constantly updates herself with new advancements in the Web/Cyber Security niche. Along with theoretical knowledge, she also implements her practical expertise in day-to-day tasks and helps others to protect themselves from threats.