TLS vs SSL: What Are the Main Differences?

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A shield with SSL on it to represent SSL vs TLS.

SSL and TLS technology is utilized by eCommerce sites to secure communication channels between servers and web applications. And with one in two Americans suffering from online account breaches in 2021 alone, the need for digital security tools is quickly increasing.[1]AAG. “The Latest 2023 Cyber Crime Statistics (updated December 2023)“. Accessed on December 1, 2023. Cybercriminals target individuals and businesses to steal valuable information, such as credit card details, account passwords, and personal data. But SSL and TLS certificates are two of the most powerful internet security protocols used to fight these cybercrimes.

TLS and SSL serve the same purpose—helping web applications encrypt and communicate data online. However, you might wonder if you need an SSL certificate, TLS certificate, or both. With web hosts and payment gateway providers offering both options, it can be hard to differentiate between them.

Continue reading to learn about the differences between SSL and TLS certificates so you can decide whether to use them when building a website!

What Is SSL?

Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) is a web security protocol providing cryptographic benefits to websites, emails, and other web applications using a computer network. Netscape developed SSL in the mid-1990s, publishing SSL 2.0 in 1995, and other versions years later.

So, what does (or did) SSL do? It uses private and public keys to authenticate and encrypt data, helping servers and web applications communicate safely online. However, as we will discuss in the below section, SSL’s relevance lies solely in its well-known name. The current security protocol used to provide the above benefits is not SSL; it’s TLS. In 1996, Netscape released SSL 3.0, the software’s latest version. The 3.0 update was later deprecated in 2015, making SSL obsolete.

What Is TLS?

Transport Layer Security (TLS) is a continuation of the SSL security protocol. Think of it as an enhanced, modern-day version of SSL. While TLS has a different name than SSL, it offers the same security benefits, just with slight improvements to adjust to modern security threats. Still, its core function is to offer data encryption, authentication, integrity, and replay prevention to servers and web applications.

Like SSL, TLS uses private and public keys to authenticate and encrypt data. When a visitor lands on your website, their browser initiates a “handshake” to check the validity of the TLS certificate. If the certificate is invalid, the browser notifies the web user that your site isn’t secure. However, if the TLS certificate is valid, an encrypted communication channel forms to ensure data transported between the server and the web application stays secure.

Developers released TLS 1.0 in 1999, followed by TLS 1.1 in 2006, TLS 1.2 in 2008, and TLS 1.3 in 2018. Though, only TLS 1.2 and TLS 1.3 continue to provide security to servers and web applications, as previous versions have been deprecated.

What Is the Difference Between SSL and TLS?

A person holding a question mark in each hand, deciding on TLS and SSL protocols.

SSL and TLS certificates serve to secure data communication. They do so by using public and private keys to create encrypted connections online between web applications and servers.

So, what makes these two protocols different? The name changed from SSL to TLS to differentiate the product from its original developer, Netscape. As SSL left the Netscape umbrella, developers decided to create a new name to distinguish the two. However, SSL was already the recognized name for the protocol, therefore many web hosts, web users, and other web stakeholders continued using the name. Due to this, web service providers advertise SSL certificates instead of TLS certificates even though they’re using TLS protocol.

Outside of the name, the primary difference between SSL and TLS protocols involves performance. Firstly, TLS performs better than outdated versions of SSL, allowing for faster communication. This is important when you consider how quickly web visitors expect pages to load. Secondly, TLS offers additional protection from modern security threats, reducing the chances of hackers gaining access to sensitive information.

Do You Need an SSL/TLS Certificate?

To keep communications secure, all businesses operating a website or payment gateway must use an SSL/TLS certificate. Many website builders include this protocol in their packages, so you won’t have trouble accessing it.

Let’s explore some of the top reasons you need an SSL/TLS certificate in more detail:

1. Secure Online Communication

By creating encrypted connections, SSL and TLS certificates help website hosts and web users communicate securely. This can prevent man-in-the-middle attacks and a range of other cybersecurity issues.

If keeping customer data safe is a priority for your business, an SSL/TLS certificate is a must-have. Research suggests a data breach can cost a company an average of $9.44 million, making it especially important to encrypt your website’s communications.[2]Technology Magazine. “Data breaches cost an average $9.44m in the US last year“. Accessed on December 1, 2023.

2. Google Rankings

Secondly, Google and other leading search engines don’t prioritize websites that don’t have SSL/TLS certificates. As websites without this security protocol are prone to data breaches and other security issues, Google shields its users from unsecured sites.

Likewise, in 2018, Google Chrome began requiring SSL certificates for websites accessed through its web browser.[3] “Google SSL Changes 2018 and How It Affects Your Business | SMB Forum by“. Accessed on December 1, 2023. So if you’re looking to increase your organic web traffic, SSL/TLS certificates are a must.

3. Customer Trust

Lastly, using SSL/TLS certificates helps you build trust with your customers. If you don’t have this certificate linked to your webpage and a customer visits your site, their browser may display a “your connection is not private” warning and restrict access to your site. This can cause reputational damage and impact your business’s ability to host visitors in the future. Customers appreciate businesses that ensure safe online shopping and an SSL/TLS certificate does just that.

Should You Use SSL or TLS?

Since the SSL protocol is the former version of the TLS protocol, the only option is to obtain a TLS certificate. As we’ve discussed, the SSL name is still in practice so people do recognize it, but it doesn’t hold significance anymore.

SSL/TLS certificates are immensely important for building a safe online presence. However, securing your webpage isn’t the only way to keep your business protected; you should also safeguard your payment infrastructure. Working with a payment gateway provider that utilizes TLS certificates enhances the security of your payments and mitigates some of the inherent risks associated with accepting online transactions. When you open an eCommerce merchant account at PaymentCloud, you’ll gain access to the most advanced version of TLS protocol to keep your payment processing protected from cyber threats!

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What’s the difference between SSL 2.0 and TLS 1.2?

There are a few significant differences between SSL 2.0 and TLS 1.2. To start, TLS 1.2 is a more recent version, making it a lot more secure for website owners. Secondly, TLS 1.2 is currently a valid certificate for encrypting web communications and SSL 2.0 is not. SSL 2.0 was deprecated in 2015.

Is SSL still used?

No. While the term SSL is still used widely in online advertisements, SSL is no longer an option for encryption. The latest version of SSL was deprecated in 2015, making it entirely obsolete to modern web users.

Instead, when you obtain an “SSL Certificate,” you’re actually obtaining a TLS certificate. Many web hosts and internet providers use the term SSL/TLS certificate because the SSL brand is easily recognizable by consumers.

Why was SSL replaced by TLS?

SSL is simply the precursor to the TLS protocol. TLS serves the same purpose as SSL, but developers continue to update it to ensure it protects against modern digital threats. Not updating the protocol would leave it prone to hackers and other vulnerabilities.

Likewise, when SSL was no longer part of Netscape, developers wanted to ensure that its branding changed. The name “TLS” also represents the protocol’s departure from the Netscape umbrella.

What TLS version should I use?

The TLS protocol updates regularly, with the most recent version being TLS 1.3, published in 2018. TLS 1.3 is the best option for your business, as it has the most relevant security measures to face modern threats.

However, TLS 1.2 is still valid for use and widely used on many platforms. All other previous versions of TLS and SSL are no longer supported.

Does HTTPS use TLS or SSL?

HTTPS combines HTTP with the TLS protocol to create secure connections for web users. As SSL is no longer valid, TLS is the only option for creating a secure connection with HTTPS. Without HTTPS, your website faces penalization by search engines, blocking its ability to rank for keywords relevant to your business.

Article Sources

  1. AAG. “The Latest 2023 Cyber Crime Statistics (updated December 2023)“. Accessed on December 1, 2023.
  2. Technology Magazine. “Data breaches cost an average $9.44m in the US last year“. Accessed on December 1, 2023.
  3. “Google SSL Changes 2018 and How It Affects Your Business | SMB Forum by“. Accessed on December 1, 2023.

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