If I understood correctly, when using TLS with client authentication, the client certificate is transmitted to the server in plain text. The client certificate might include personal information, (like CN=name, or X509v3 Subject Alternative Name: email:name@server.com), which could be used to identify users connecting to sites secured with https.

Is there a way to securely transmit the client certificate to the server when using TLS client authentication, without exposing personal information?


1 Answer 1


It is possible:

  • Server and client negotiate SSL without client certificate requirement
  • Encrypted communications begin
  • Server sends Hello Request to ask for a renegotiation, this one encrypted
  • Client willing, another handshake ensues
  • Server sends a Certificate Request to trigger client certificate authentication
  • (Encrypted) handshake continues normally, and client certificate is protected by TLS.

I don't know how easily you can convince existing server implementations to do it, but the protocol allows it. I seem to remember that there are other existing reasons and implementations that trigger a renegotiation immediately after the first (unencrypted) handshake finishes.

Updated to reflect @dave_thompson_085's correction, see also his comment regarding TLS 1.3.

  • 1
    Actually server doesn't sponaneously send ServerHello; it sends HelloRequest and if client agrees the second handshake starts with ClientHello as usual (but with Renegotiation Indication set per RFC 5746); see RFC 5246 Although now in 2018 TLS 1.3 (RFC 8446) no longer allows renegotiation at all, but does encrypt authentication on the initial handshake. Dec 12, 2018 at 4:04
  • @dave_thompson_085 good call, thank you for catching me on that. I've updated to include the correction, but I suggest you add a separate answer expanding upon the TLS 1.3 changes, as 1) comments aren't trusted to stay forever and 2) I think that would be an excellent alternate answer.
    – gowenfawr
    Dec 12, 2018 at 5:00

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