I'm not talking about decrypting the connection while the SSL/TLS is happening (MITM) but after the connection is closed and I have a pcap file of the entire negotiation/data transfer process.

How can I decrypt the data that was passed in the connection? Is there a way to get the session key (without waiting a few years for the calculation process to end)? Will quantum computers help?

  • 4
    Depends. SSL & TLS together cover a huge range of ciphers. They all offer different degrees of strength, and sometimes different security guarantees (e.g. perfect forward security).
    – user502
    Commented Oct 7, 2011 at 13:09
  • @ThomasPornin, I do know how does TLS\SSL works and I've read your (great) comment before asking. I'm asking if time and computer power can change the story? I can see the whole session, I have the cipher and the public-key, what do I need to break the session key?
    – YSY
    Commented Oct 7, 2011 at 13:50
  • 3
    This looks a lot like a homework question - what is it you are trying to get to here that is different to the answers to the question @Thomas linked to?
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Oct 7, 2011 at 15:20

2 Answers 2


The short answer is "no". The longer answer is that SSL is specifically designed to make this impossible. If this was possible, SSL would be useless for its primary intended purpose -- to secure things like credit card numbers sent to secure web sites.

The short (and technically incorrect) answer for how SSL does this is as follows:

  1. The server presents a certificate to the client.

  2. The client confirms that the certificate was signed by an organization the client trusts and that this organization certifies that the certificate belongs to the server the client wants to reach.

  3. The client generates a random key, encrypts it with the public key in the certificate, and sends it to the server.

  4. The server decrypts the key and uses the shared secret the server and client now have to secure further communications. (It does this in a somewhat complex way though. Again, this is an oversimplified explanation.)

Decrypting the data would require at least recovering the shared secret generated at step 3. But how would you do that? It was only sent over the wire encrypted, and you don't have the server's private key.

  • It’s not impossible. It’s just not possible with reasonable resources.
    – Gumbo
    Commented Oct 12, 2011 at 13:23
  • 2
    That's what "impossible" means -- "unattainable with the means at command". Would you correct a general who said, "It's impossible to take that hill" on the grounds that if he had a million men he could take it? Commented Oct 12, 2011 at 13:32
  • Do proxy server have access to the keys? I'm trying to proxy calls to a certain ssl server. The call to my proxy server is not ssl but the relay to the target server is. Who stores the keys? The proxy server or the client? Commented Mar 24, 2014 at 1:35
  • You have to crack the client and make it trust all server's certeficates
    – Hichem
    Commented Dec 3, 2015 at 15:39

It can be done, but it requires information beyond what you have on the wire. Wireshark has the ability to do this sort of sniffing, assuming it can see the entire conversation and you also have the private key of the server's SSL certificate. Without the private key it doesn't work.

This is why you need to protect your private keys.

I've used this functionality in debugging software. A client/server application used SSL to transmit data and something funny was going on in the network layer. Since I controlled the entire environment I had the private key for the SSL certificate, so was able to use Wireshark to get the conversation. Which in turn pointed to a bug that I reported to development.

  • True, you can decrypt SSL session if you have access to server's private key BUT also SSL connection should use RSA key exchange, not Diffie-Hellman. Otherwise even a private key will get you nothing.
    – thor
    Commented Nov 11, 2012 at 19:51

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