What is SSL Offloading in 2022 – Everything You Need to Know

SSL certificates are your best defense against man-in-the-middle attacks, cross-site scripting, etc. Every business wants a secure experience for its audience. However, companies must rethink their strategies regarding the cost and resources needed for such security. Let us introduce you to SSL Offloading. What is SSL Offloading though?

You can permanently save on the costs of installing different SSL certificates on each subdomain and buy wildcard SSL certificate in case you run a website with subdomains. In other cases, you can choose another type of SSL certs. Selecting a cheap SSL certificate provider can be cost-effective for purchasing an SSL certificate.

Every SSL certificate needs a handshake with the server for encryption and decryption activities. However, this handshake can be an extra burden on the server, slowing down the website. So when a one-second increase in the website speed can lead to an increase in the revenue by 7%, it becomes critical.

Fortunately, there is a solution called “SSL offloading

So, let us first start with the definition!

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Definition 

SSL offloading is a process that reduces the burden of encryption-decryption of SSL attached to the incoming web traffic from the webserver. Unfortunately, the Security Socket Layer (SSL) adds an extra load on the web servers due to several roundtrips for the SSL/TLS handshake. However, with TLS 1.3, roundtrips for a handshake were minimized. Yet, SSL/TLS can add to the latency with higher incoming traffic.

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A simple solution to such an extra burden is load balancing. You can offset this additional burden by spinning up separate Application-Specific Integrated Circuit (ASIC) processors. Inlay terms, it is an approach where an independent resource is spun up for running SSL /TSL handshake and encryption/decryption.

Now that you have some idea about the definition of SSL offloading, here is how it works.

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How does SSL Offloading Work?

There are two ways to offload SSL, 

● SSL Termination 

● SSL Bridging

SSL Termination is a straightforward process. First, there is a proxy or a load balancer between the client and server. Then, when a client tries to connect with the webserver, the connection is made to an SSL Terminator. This connection is HTTPS. On the other hand, the connection between SSL Terminator and the server is HTTP.

 

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Here, a client will have a secure connection with SSL Terminator. However, the HTTP connection works behind the scenes, secured through firewalls. SSL bridging has a similar concept, but instead of an HTTP connection, it encrypts the incoming traffic again. So, SSL bridging can be termed as a double encryption approach.

When a client connects with the server, it gets connected to the SSL bridge. Next, the SSL bridge decrypts the incoming traffic and re-encrypts it before sending it to the webserver. 

It is important to note that the SSL bridging process is helpful when dealing with security concerns over unencrypted incoming traffic. So, the output of SSL offloading is less in the bridging approach than in SSL Termination.

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How to Configure SSL Offloading?

SSL offloading needs termination of HTTPS traffic, decryption of SSL records, and forwarding HTTP traffic towards the webserver. Incoming HTTP traffic that you offload to the backend server is always susceptible to cyber-attacks. So, it becomes vital to configure the SSL offloading for better security. 

You can achieve end-to-end security for your SSL offloading by re-encrypting the HTTP. This approach is SSL bridging, but it may not be effective without proper configurations. Configuring the SSL offloading will securely help your SSL sessions communicate with the webserver.

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This approach involves the configuration of the backend SSL transactions. With proper SSL offloading and the correct configuration, you can save on resources with cost reduction. 

It enables a way around security key exchange or SSL handshake. So, you can improve the security and reduce resource costs simultaneously through SSL offloading configuration. 

Here are the steps to configure SSL offloading,

  1. Create an SSL service
  2. Create a virtual server
  3. Add a security key-pair
  4. Bind the certificate key pair with the virtual server
  5. Attach the services to the virtual server.

Here virtual server will work as a load balancer to offload the SSL/TLS handshake. The concept of load balancing is not new, but SSL/TLS offloading requirements are different.

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What is SSL Offloading in a Load Balancer?

Over the years, load balancing as an approach has evolved and seen several tools being generated. One straightforward way of load balancing is to create a virtual server. However, if you plan to use cloud services like AWS, Google Cloud Platform, or Microsoft Azure, they have load balancing features and tools.

ssl loadFor example, you can use AWS Application Load Balancing (ALB) for SSL offloading:

  1. It would be best to create a web server in a public subnet.
  2. AWS allows you to generate certificates through an in-built feature, or you can find a low-cost or cheap SSL certificate provider to buy one.
  3. You will need to create another public subnet in a separate availability zone.

You can use the AWS console to access the load balancer option easily. Further, enter a logical name and change the traffic receiver from HTTP to HTTPS. Then, add details of availability zones, and subnets, and add SSL certificates. 

After adding these details, you will have to name the security group. Next, you need to port the HTTP traffic through a separate security group. So, you have changed the HTTP traffic to HTTPS received by the server. Next, add the webserver details and click on create. Finally, your ALB is ready for the AWS EC2 account. 

Here it is essential to note that AWS ALB is not free, and you need to consider pricing before going for it. While this is an excellent option for SSL offloading on websites hosted on AWS cloud services, Google Cloud Platform provides a Cloud Load Balancing tool. Apart from the cloud load balancing tools, many tools are available, like, 

  1. Nginx
  2. Citrix ADC
  3. Kemp Loadmaster
  4. Incapsula
  5. JetNEXUS Load Balancer

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Conclusion

SSL offloading can be helpful in cases when the primary web server is not equipped to manage SSL requests or when the load on the primary web server is too high. Using an SSL offloader lets you ensure that all traffic passing through your server is encrypted, regardless of which site is requesting it. 

This can save you time and resources and help keep your website secure. For SSL offloading, you can use different methods and ensure cost-effective security. It will also help your site stay faster for an enhanced user experience.