SSL best practices to improve your security

Security, security, security… There is no way one can underestimate the importance of it when it comes to caring for private files and sensitive data. As long as the world of cybersecurity is privy to the constant conflict between hackers and programmers, fully protecting yourself and your business will forever be impossible. But, as we know, hackers aren’t always using state-of-the-art techniques. Often, they’re still getting in by guessing your username and password.

Most popular kinds of technology are under a constant barrage of hacking attempts, which is why it is so important to follow simple protocols to save yourself both time and money. One of such technologies is SSL/TLS. It is used on almost every web service, and even though it may seem straightforward to set up, there are many arcane configurations and design choices that need to be made to get it ‘just right’.

This guide will provide you with a short ‘checklist’ to keep in mind when setting up or maintaining SSL/TLS with a focus on security. All information is accurate and up to date as of December 2021 and is based on both our experience and other guides made on this topic.

Track all your certificates

First and foremost, you should check up on all existing certificates that are used by you and your organisation. This covers all information about them, such as their owners, locations, expiration dates, domains, cipher suites, and TLS versions.

If you don’t know about, or don’t track existing certificates as well as weak keys and cipher suites, you expose yourself to security breaches connected to expiring certificates.

An easy way to list all your certificates is to get them from your CA. This may not work if you used self-signed certificates, which require additional attention in terms of tracking/listing. The second way, which is typically quite effective, is to obtain certificates using network scanners. Hopefully, the enormous number of certifications that you were unaware of will not surprise you. Your certificate ‘inventory’ should focus on details such as OS and applications like Apache, just because your organization could be vulnerable to exploits that attack specific versions of things like OpenSSL (i.e., Heartbleed).

So, your list of certificates should include:

  1. Certificates issued
    • Certificate types
    • Key sizes
    • Algorithms
    • Expiration dates
  2. Certificate locations
  3. Certificate owners
  4. Web server configurations
    • O/S versions
    • Application versions
    • TLS versions
    • Cipher suites

Don’t use weak keys, cipher suites or hashes

Every certificate has a public key and a signature, both of which may be vulnerable if they were created with outdated technology. On public web servers, certificates with key lengths of less than 2048 bit or those that employ older hashing algorithms like MD5 or SHA-1 are no longer allowed. These may, however, be found on your internal services. If that's the case, you'll need to upgrade them.

The requirement to check TLS/SSL versions and cipher suites supported on your web servers is much more crucial than finding certificates with weak keys or hashes.

The following versions are outdated and must never be used:
• SSL v2
• SSL v3
• TLS 1.0
• TLS 1.1
Instead, enable TLS 1.2 and TLS 1.3.

The following cipher suites are vulnerable, and must be disabled:
• 3DES
• RC4
Instead, use modern ciphers like AES.

Install and renew all certificates on time

We recommend renewing a certificate at least 15 days before it expires to allow time for testing and reverting to the prior certificate if any problems arise.

Users should be notified when certificates expire, regardless of the mechanism you employ. Before expiration, the system should alert users automatically and at regular intervals (e.g., 90 days). Self-signed certificates should never have an expiration date of more than 30 days.

Never reuse key pairs for new certificates

By the same token, never reuse CSRs (Certificate Signing Requests) — this will automatically reuse the private key. Reusing keys leads to key pair vulnerability. Don’t be lazy when it comes to your security.

Review the CA that you use

Your certificates are only as trustworthy as the CA that issues them. All publicly trusted CAs are subject to rigorous third-party audits to maintain their position in major operating system and browser root certificate programs, but some are better at maintaining that status than others.

Use Forward Secrecy (FS)

Also known as perfect forward secrecy (PFS), FS assures that a compromised private key will not also compromise past session keys. To enable it, use at least TLS 1.2 and configure it to use the Elliptic Curve Diffie-Hellman (EDCHE) key exchange algorithm. The best practice here would be to use TLS 1.3 as it provides forward secrecy for all TLS sessions using the Ephemeral Diffie-Hellman key exchange protocol ‘out of the box’.


DNS CAA is a standard that allows domain name owners to restrict which CAs can issue certificates for their domains. In September 2017, the CA/Browser Forum mandated CAA support as part of its certificate issuance standard baseline requirements. The surface area prone to attack is certainly shrunk with CAA in place, effectively making sites more secure. If CAs have an automated mechanism in place for certificate issuance, they should check for DNS CAA records to prevent certificates from being issued incorrectly. It is advised that you add a CAA record to your certificate to whitelist a CA. Add certificate authorities (CAs) that you trust.

Keep in mind that encryption is not an option.

Enforce encryption across your entire infrastructure — no 'bald spots' should remain. Leaving elements of your infrastructure unprotected is like forgetting to lock the door when you leave — it's not a good idea.

The practices that we’ve mentioned in this list are more about common sense, rather than knowledge acquired through the ultra-secret bureau. When it comes to security, you should always keep your infrastructure up-to-date. New vulnerabilities pop up every day, but still, we, humans, pose the biggest threat of all. In other words, human error has more to answer for than we might first believe. Because of this, double-check everything you do. Security protocols should be easy to follow not only by the person who creates them but also by everyone who interacts with your infrastructure — users and employees alike.

With such a checklist, it’s impossible to shine a light on each and every nook and cranny, so for those of you who want to ensure that you’re following all best practices, consider checking out this list.