Most computers today have access to the Internet. Secure Socket Layer (SSL) is a cryptographic security measure that protects sensitive data on the Internet. A SSL cipher is an encryption algorithm that creates a special certificate, which is used as a key between two computers on the Internet. This certificate creates a secret encrypted connection between the two networked computers, which blocks unwanted snooping of shared data.
Secure socket layer was originally developed by Netscape™ as a secure protocol for e-commerce activities on the Internet. The SSL is not visible to most Internet users but occurs when logging into a website with a hypertext transfer protocol secure (HTTPS) address. Some web browsers alert the user when she is entering a secure website. This message is an indication of SSL ciphering in action.
Data encryption is the process of converting plain-text data into secret ciphered codes. Once the data is encrypted, it is impossible to understand because it is a scrambled representation of the original text. The SSL cipher is a cryptographic function that uses encryption keys to create a ciphered message. The encryption keys vary in sizes and complexity. Larger bit keys offer a greater level of security.
There are multiple forms of SSL cipher algorithms available. These can support either the data encryption standard (DES) or the advanced data encryption standard (AES). The standards of AES are considered more difficult to decipher because they use larger encryption keys.
Data cryptography standards are managed by the United States Federal government through the National Institute of Technology Standards (NIST). This is the agency that manages and publishes the standards used by encryption algorithms. Currently, AES is considered the gold standard for data encryption because it supports a 256-bit encryption key.
SSL is a unique security protocol because it is based on the transport layer of computers. Typically computers are connected to the Internet through telecommunication devices. With SSL, entire segments of the network telecommunication link are encrypted. This end-to-end encryption process is an encrypted tunnel between two computers. Deciphering the tunnel requires the SSL cipher code and the encryption keys.
The advanced form of SSL cipher is only available on newer versions of operating systems and web browsers. This is because older versions of web browsers were based on the standards of DES and do not support large encryption keys. Windows® 2000 operating systems require service pack two for advanced SSL ciphering.