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A cipher suite is a named combination of authentication, encryption, message authentication code (MAC) and key exchange algorithms used to negotiate the security settings for a network connection using the Transport Layer Security (TLS) / Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) network protocol.
When a TLS connection is established, a handshaking, known as the TLS Handshake Protocol, occurs. Within this handshake, a client hello (ClientHello) and a server hello (ServerHello) message are passed. First, the client sends a cipher suite list, a list of the cipher suites that it supports, in order of preference. Then the server replies with the cipher suite that it has selected from the client cipher suite list. In order to test which TLS ciphers that a server supports an SSL/TLS Scanner may be used.
Each named cipher suite, e.g. TLS_ECDHE_RSA_WITH_AES_128_GCM_SHA256, defines a key exchange algorithm, a bulk encryption algorithm, a message authentication code (MAC) algorithm, and a pseudorandom function (PRF).
- The key exchange algorithm, e.g. ECDHE_RSA, is used to determine if and how the client and server will authenticate during the handshake.
- The bulk encryption algorithm, e.g. AES_128_GCM, is used to encrypt the message stream. It also includes the key size and the lengths of explicit and implicit initialization vectors (cryptographic nonces).
- The message authentication code (MAC) algorithm, e.g. SHA256, is used to create the message digest, a cryptographic hash of each block of the message stream.
- The pseudorandom function (PRF), e.g. TLS 1.2's PRF using the MAC-algorithm's hash function, is used to create the master secret, a 48-byte secret shared between the two peers in the connection. The master secret is used as a source of entropy when creating session keys, such as the one used to create the MAC.
Examples of algorithms used
- key exchange/agreement
- RSA, Diffie-Hellman, ECDH, SRP, PSK
- RSA, DSA, ECDSA
- bulk ciphers
- RC4, Triple DES, AES, IDEA, DES, or Camellia. In older versions of SSL, RC2 was also used.
- message authentication
- for TLS, a Hash-based Message Authentication Code using MD5 or one of the SHA hash functions is used. For SSL, SHA, MD5, MD4, and MD2 are used.
Programatically, a cipher suite is referred to as:
- CipherSuite cipher_suites
- a list of the cryptographic options supported by the client
- CipherSuite cipher_suite
- the cipher suite selected by the server from the client's cipher_suites and revealed in the ServerHello message