SSL/TLS connection issue troubleshooting

We have made rapid strides in online security over the last few decades, thanks to new technologies, frameworks, monitoring platforms, and more. But one of the technologies that paved the way for this improvement in online security — and is still being used extensively — is SSL/TLS.

Secure Socket Layer (SSL) is a protocol that ensures the secure transmission of data from source to destination. In 1999, SSL was deprecated and it was replaced by the more advanced Transport Layer Security (TLS) to do the same function. However, this protocol is still referred to as SSL/TLS technology.

Before we jump into troubleshooting, let’s briefly understand how it works, so we can quickly get to the root cause of the problem.

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Workings of SSL/TLS

At the heart of SSL/TLS is cryptography, where a pair of mathematically related keys are combined. Every pair consists of a private key that only the owner of a website knows. In contrast, a public key is widely available and often distributed as a certificate for the world to know that your website uses this encryption.

The private-public keys work in tandem, and both are needed for encrypting and decrypting a piece of data. These key pairs are also called X.509 certificates.

When someone wants to send a message to your website, they encrypt the data using your public key and send it to you. Since only you have the private key, you use these keys to decrypt the data. Likewise, when you want to send data, you encrypt it with the receiver’s public key, and the receiver decrypts the same using the associated private key.

Sounds simple, right? Yet, it effectively implements security and is the basis for all secure and e-commerce transactions we see on the web today.

Now that you have a good idea of what SSL/TLS is all about, let’s move to the critical connection issues and how you can resolve them.

What is the SSL/TLS connection issue?

Every time, it’s the client that starts a conversation with the server. Here, the client is your browser/device, and the server is where a website’s data or any other information that the client wants is stored.

The client always initiates the conversation because that’s where you enter the name of a URL and request information from the server. While requesting information from the server, the client also sends its TLS version and a list of Cipher Suites, so the server can check for compatibility with the TLS version and matching entries in the Cipher Suite.

Accordingly, the server sends back its response consisting of compatibility and the Cipher Suite entry it wants to use, along with its public key. Next, the client checks for the validity of the public key and its trustability. Once satisfied, the client encrypts data with the public key and sends it to the server. In turn, the server decrypts this information using its private key. From this point, the conversation is secure.

When the client and server are unable to establish this communication, you get the connection issue. A good way to understand the root cause of the problem is to analyze the network packets to see which step has failed, so you can fix it right away.

Some of the possible causes of this error are:

  • The presence of antivirus software or firewalls that can block the connection to the server.
  • The date and time of the client computer may be wrong.
  • The SSL certificate can be from an untrusted source, expired, or could have the wrong information and the client can fail to authenticate it due to any of the above reasons.
  • Issues in the browser itself.

Note that some of these connection problems can be temporary and can get fixed automatically with little to no intervention from you. Sometimes, a mere refresh should fix the problem for you.

Solutions to the SSL/TLS connection issue

SSL/TLS

Now that you know the working and the possible causes, it’s time to find a solution.

Adjust the time and date on the client

A simple and often overlooked solution is fixing the wrong date and time on the client machine.

To do this:

  • Press Windows + R and in the Run dialog box, type “timedate.cpl” to open the date and time settings on your computer. Alternatively, double-click on the date on your system tray.
  • Click on “Change time zone” and select the right zone.
  • Click OK to exit the settings.

Refresh the page and try now.

Check your antivirus

Antivirus software can often prevent the flow of traffic if the nature of traffic or the server doesn’t meet its security standards. Though this tool is designed to protect your computer, it can sometimes interfere with genuine traffic as well.

To check if your antivirus is the cause of the problem, disable it for a few minutes, and try accessing the server again. If it works, you know the root cause. Enable the antivirus right away as this is necessary to protect your computer from other attacks.

Go to the antivirus settings to update its configuration to allow access to the site you want.

Update your browser

Sometimes, an old browser can be incompatible with the server, so the best way is to update your browser to the latest version.

This is a fairly simple process. Open the “Settings” in your browser and look for an option called “Update browser.” Click this button and accept the terms and conditions that come with it to update the browser to the latest version.

Reset your browser settings

On a related note, your browser’s existing settings can hinder it from accessing the server.

To know if this is the problem, open a window in the browser’s incognito mode, and see if you can access the server. This option helps you to access the Internet anonymously and can be a great way to know if the problem lies with your firewalls or browser settings.

To reset the settings:

  • Open the settings option on your browser.
  • Click on the “Advanced” button and this should open a new dialog box.
  • Look for the “Reset settings” button. Some browsers may have some other equivalent phrases, so look for it, and click this option.
  • Restart your browser and see if this fixes the problem.

Clear browsing data

Cache problems and cookies can sometimes impede connections, so clear your browser’s history, including the cache and cookies. Restart your browser and check if you can access the server.

Many times, this simple fix can resolve the issue for you.

Downgrade the security level on Google chrome

This solution can jeopardize your browser’s safety, so be aware of the potential downsides before you try it.

The high-security settings on Google chrome can stop your browser from contacting a server, so you can degrade its settings. To do this:

  • Go to settings and navigate to the “Network” tab.
  • Click on “Change Proxy Settings” and choose the “Security” tab.
  • Here, drag the slider down until the settings come to “Medium/High.” Click apply and press OK. Though you can bring down the security settings even further, it will not make much of a difference.

Finally, go to the “Content” tab and click on the “Clear SSL State” button. Restart your browser and see if this fixes your problem.

Run anti-malware software

Malware, a malicious piece of code inserted by hackers, can prevent you from accessing legitimate sites. So, think about running anti-malware software to find and remove any malware on your system.

Change your WiFi connection

Sometimes, the problems can be with your Internet connection, and in such a case, you’ll be looking at the wrong problem.

Check if your Internet works and if you can switch to a different connection like a mobile hotspot to identify it. Sometimes, public WiFi networks are insecure and can cause SSL problems, so switch to a private network and check if you can access the server.

Reset your device

If nothing else works, reset your device, and check if this fixes the problem. This must be your last-ditch effort — make sure you make a backup of all that you need before you reset it.

Final thoughts on SSL/TLS connection issues

In all, the SSL/TLS connection issue is a relatively common one, though it can occur due to a ton of reasons. So, your best bet is to work through the above list to identify the problem and fix it accordingly.

We hope this was a useful article that fixed your problem. Please share your thoughts, comments, and other possible solutions in the comments section.

Featured image: Flickr / Bo-Yi Wu

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