Online security has gained a lot of significance in the security threat-ridden digital world that we live in today. That day is not far away when internet users will be trusting and visiting only SSL certificate signed websites; or in other words, websites which use encryption for securely transmitting the data. So naturally, more and more online businesses or enterprises – not only those concerned with online transactions but almost all of them – are deploying SSL encryption technology, as online transactions as well as various web-enabled endpoints like mobiles, tablets etc., increase, making SSL encryption technology a must-have for online security.
But as with all good things, there is a drawback to enterprises using SSL encryption technology as well. It slows down the network’s performance. So, although SSL certificates have their benefits, they are also associated with slowing down of the network’s performance. To counter this issue, network administrators use what is known as “load balancers”, for evenly distributing (and handling) the burden on the network caused because of the use of encryption technology.
So how do these load balancers take some load off the network or, more specifically, off the backend server? By performing what is known as ‘SSL Termination’, which to explain in simple words, is the task of decrypting the encrypted data before it is passed to the backend servers so that they are spared the task of ‘decrypting the data’. Therefore the workload of the backend server is greatly reduced which in turn improves the network’s performance.
There are a number of strategies being deployed for handling SSL encryption using load balancers. Let’s take a look at some of the prominent strategies that are in use.
1. Perfect Forward Secrecy (PFS):
SSL handshake involves a number of sessions between the browser and a web server. Previously all of these sessions were protected by the same unique private key. So if this private key of the web server was compromised, information relating to all the previous as well as subsequent sessions could be easily be unlocked. To solve this issue, the ‘Perfect Forward Secrecy’ load balancing technique was introduced. As the name suggests, this technique maintains a ‘forward secrecy’, by providing ephemeral (short-lived) private keys for each session, so that even if a private key is compromised, information relating to only that session will get exposed while others will still remain encrypted.
2. Elliptic Curve Cryptography (ECC):
ECC uses short encryption keys and therefore places a lesser load on the web server. These keys are faster and require less computing power thereby reducing the network load greatly. So this is an SSL encryption handling strategy which organizations can use to improve or speed up their SSL performance.
3. Per-app Load Balancing:
Enterprises usually keep replacing their load balancers for bigger and better-performing ones every few years. This can be a tedious, time and money consuming process. So now they are shifting their focus towards per-app load balancing these days. When implemented using the right methodology, per-app load balancing enables enterprises to save costs and reduce the burden on the network greatly.
4. Real-time Security:
Since load balancers are placed in the path of the data transmission, the data collected from them can be used to alert administrators in real-time against SSL vulnerabilities such as DDoS attacks, expired certificates etc., They can also be helpful in providing data for formulating security policies to effectively address these security vulnerabilities. So load balancers should essentially be viewed as another tool to strengthen your security and protect your enterprise from malicious hackers.