Protecting your data on the web is about to get faster

Oh, and technology called TLS 1.3 makes the web more secure, too.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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  • I've been covering the technology industry for 24 years and was a science writer for five years before that. I've got deep expertise in microprocessors, digital photography, computer hardware and software, internet standards, web technology, and other dee
Stephen Shankland
3 min read
Cuban people connecting to the internet via wifi in the

Waiting, waiting... This laptop user in Cuba might not have to wait so long on encryption that protects his browser's connection to websites.

Roberto Machado Noa

The encryption that protects your browser's connection to websites is getting a notch faster and a notch safer to use.

That's because the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) on Friday finished a years-long process of modernizing the technology used to secure website communications. You may never have heard of Transport Layer Security -- TLS for short -- but version 1.3 is now complete and headed to websites, browsers and other parts of the internet that rely on its security.

"Publishing TLS 1.3 is a huge accomplishment. It is one the best recent examples of how it is possible to take 20 years of deployed legacy code and change it on the fly, resulting in a better internet for everyone," said Nick Sullivan, head of cryptography for Cloudflare, which helps customers distribute their websites and other content around the world, in a blog post.

Way back in 1994, web pioneer and Mozilla predecessor Netscape Communications needed a way to let people type credit card numbers and passwords into a browser without fear that somebody eavesdropping could copy that sensitive data. The result, called SSL for secure sockets layer, grew into the industry standard now called TLS. It's what provides the S in HTTPS, the secure version of Hypertext Transfer Protocol that browsers use to load websites.

And now TLS is more important than ever. Google, Mozilla, Cloudflare and others are pushing hard to encrypt every webpage, not just obviously sensitive ones like login pages. Doing so thwarts surveillance, hackers and companies that want to inject their own advertisements.

TLS 1.3 speeds up encryption

TLS 1.3 brings some significant improvements over TLS 1.2, which was finished 10 years ago. Perhaps first on the list is that it'll mean websites load faster.

Setting up an encrypted connection on the web historically has caused delays since your browser and the website server must send information back and forth in a process called a handshake. The slower your broadband or the more congested your mobile network is, the more you'll notice these delays.

The Internet Engineering Task Force oversaw the creation of TLS 1.3, a standard that encrypts connections between browsers and websites.

The Internet Engineering Task Force oversaw the creation of TLS 1.3, a standard that encrypts connections between browsers and websites.


TLS 1.3 cuts the number of round-trip exchanges in the handshake from two to one, and a more advanced version can cut it all the way to zero.

Better security, too

Better security is also baked in. You may remember the Heartbleed problem in 2014, but there have been plenty of other TLS troubles, too, including POODLE, ROBOT, FREAK, Logjam and Sweet32. TLS 1.3 removes outdated cryptography technology, said Eric Rescorla, a Mozilla engineer and one of the authors of TLS 1.3, in a blog post.

The academic and theoretical foundations of TLS now have been updated with today's more practical security knowledge, added Cloudflare's Sullivan. "TLS was 90s crypto: It meant well and seemed cool at the time, but the modern cryptographer's design palette has moved on," he said.

TLS 1.3 is actually here already -- at least in draft form. Both Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox incorporated a draft version of the standard and are working now on shipping TLS 1.3 in its final form. And even in draft form, TLS is a big deal at Facebook.

"Today, more than 50 percent of our internet traffic is secured with TLS 1.3," the social network giant said earlier in August in a blog post as it released a version of TLS technology other websites are free to use as well. "That will continue to grow as browsers and apps add support for TLS 1.3."

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