Improved TLS Defaults


If you're short on time: TL;DR Definitive Progress

PHP stream encryption uses several potentially insecure default settings. This RFC explores the problematic nature of the current settings and recommends actionable improvements. The proposed changes increase the security of encrypted stream transmissions at the same time they eliminate the need for user knowledge of the underlying protocols.

This proposal complements the previously accepted TLS Peer Verification RFC which is insufficient as a standalone measure to address potential TLS pitfalls. The backward compatibility costs of the recommendations found here are congruent with those found in the previous RFC. Note that BC breakage is not seen at the userland API level (where all changes are compatible with existing code). Instead, disruptions can occur in the form of transfer failures which were previously allowed to proceed in an insecure manner. As all streams are inherently vulnerable to failure at any time, userland code should have existing error handling mechanisms in place to address any failures arising from the proposed security enhancements.

In short, this proposal exists because peer verification is only half of the secure stream encryption equation. The verification of peer certificates affords little protection if the implementation subsequently engages in other insecure practices. This proposal addresses the remaining side of the encrypted transfer equation to transparently maximize data security.

Proposed Change Summary

Default Ciphers

Currently all encrypted stream transports use the openssl DEFAULT cipher list unless manually specified by the user via a “ciphers” SSL context option. This behavior exposes unwitting users to the possibility that very weak ciphers will be negotiated for SSL/TLS sessions. The use of such ciphers renders otherwise-legitimate encryption measures ineffective against sophisticated attacks.


Change the default cipher list from DEFAULT to the following:

$ openssl ciphers -v 'ECDHE-RSA-AES128-GCM-SHA256:ECDHE-ECDSA-AES128-GCM-SHA256:

This list is congruent with the Mozilla cipher recommendations excepting two additional exclusions:




// New informational constant exposed to userland
 * All encrypted streams use the new default cipher list automatically
$html = file_get_contents('https://somesite.com');
 * Users may override the default ciphers at any time by manually specifying
 * their own list via the "ciphers" SSL context option.
$context = stream_context_create(['ssl' => [
    'ciphers' => 'HIGH:MEDIUM:LOW@SPEED'
$html = file_get_contents('https://somesite.com', null, $context);

TLS Compression

As of PHP 5.4.13 users may specify the “disable_compression” SSL context option to mitigate the CRIME attack vector. However, to benefit from this protection users must recognize the threat and manually assign the relevant context option.


  • Disable TLS compression by default.


Users are generally advised to disable compression as a low-cost method for mitigating CRIME attacks. It's sensible to enable this protection by default as users wishing to re-enable compression at the TLS layer may do so by assigning a falsy value to the “disable_compression” SSL context option.


Because this option will be enabled by default, users won't require any action to reap the benefits. Users wishing to disable this setting may do so via the stream context as shown here:

// How to enable TLS-layer compression (not recommended!)
$context = stream_context_create(['ssl' => [
    'disable_compression' => FALSE
$uri = 'https://www.bankofamerica.com/';
$html = file_get_contents($uri, FALSE, $context);

Honor Cipher Order

The BEAST TLS attack vector was first publicized in 2011. Mitigating this attack is relatively simple: servers have only to prioritize ciphers that aren't susceptible to the attack. However, unless instructed otherwise, OpenSSL uses the client's preferences when negotiating the cipher. To prevent nefarious (or naive) clients from prioritizing susceptible ciphers servers should configure SSL sessions using the SSL_OP_CIPHER_SERVER_PREFERENCE OpenSSL context option.


  • Add a new boolean “honor_cipher_order” ssl context option.


Exposing this capability to userland allows encrypted stream servers to transparently mitigate BEAST vulnerabilities and control cipher ordering preferences during negotiation.


$context = stream_context_create(['ssl' => [
    "crypto_method"         => STREAM_CRYPTO_METHOD_TLS_SERVER,
    "local_cert"            => "/path/to/my/server.pem",
    "local_pk"              => "/path/to/my/private.key",
    "honor_cipher_order"    => TRUE
$server = stream_socket_server('tls://', $errno, $errstr, $socketFlags, $context);

Expose Negotiated Values


  • Expose access to the negotiated protocol/cipher via a new boolean “capture_session_meta” context option


Users may wish to access information regarding the negotiated protocol and/or cipher for a given encrypted session. The stream_get_meta_data() wrapper_data abstraction is avoided here to prevent conflicts with other wrappers. The context option approach also remains consistent with the existing capture_peer_cert and capture_peer_cert_chain boolean context abstractions. When the new context option is truthy the ['ssl']['session_meta'] context option is populated with an informational array as shown here:


$context = stream_context_create(['ssl' => [
    'capture_session_meta' => TRUE
$html = file_get_contents('https://www.bankofamerica.com/', FALSE, $context);
$meta = stream_context_get_options($ctx)['ssl']['session_meta'];
    [protocol] => TLSv1.2
    [cipher_name] => ECDHE-RSA-AES128-GCM-SHA256
    [cipher_bits] => 128
    [cipher_version] => TLSv1/SSLv3

Server Forward Secrecy


Encrypted client streams already fully support forward secrecy (PFS) as this functionality is largely implemented server-side. Servers currenty have some limited support for PFS, however, the proposed patch adds several new context options for fine-grained control in servers negotiating cipher suites that utilize ephemeral key agreements.

NOTE: Servers deploying certificates capable of PFS aren't required to take any additional action to achieve forward secrecy. The proposed context options simply allow fine-grained configuration and broader potential FS support/compatibility for older clients.

New Context Options

The following new context options are added to allow customization of the relevant functionality and are only applicable for encrypted servers:

  • “ecdh_curve”

Servers may specify which curve to use with ECDH ciphers. If not specified prime256v1 will be used. The following command will display the available curves in your openssl build:

$ openssl ecparam -list_curves
  • “dh_param”

A path to a file containing parameters for Diffie–Hellman key exchange. Users may create such a file using the following command:

$ openssl dhparam -out /path/to/my/certs/dh-2048.pem 2048

Note that some clients have interoperability issues with keys larger than 2048 bits in size. Java clients in particular are known not to work with anything larger than 1024 bits.

  • “single_dh_use”

Always create a new key pair when using DH parameters (improves forward secrecy).

  • “single_ecdh_use”

Always create a new key pair in scenarios where ECDH cipher suites are negotiated (instead of the preferred ECDHE ciphers). This option improves forward secrecy.


$context = stream_context_create(['ssl' => [
    "local_cert"            => "/path/to/my/server.pem",
    "local_pk"              => "/path/to/my/private.key",
    "disable_compression"   => TRUE,
    "honor_cipher_order"    => TRUE,
    "ecdh_curve"            => "secp384r1", // defaults to "prime256v1"
    "dh_param"              => "/path/to/dh2048.pem"
    "single_ecdh_use"       => TRUE,
    "single_dh_use"         => TRUE
$server = stream_socket_server('tcp://', $errno, $errstr, $socketFlags, $context);
stream_set_blocking($server, FALSE);
// stream_socket_enable_crypto() is used after client sockets are accepted
// to enable crypto in a non-blocking way ...
stream_socket_enable_crypto($client, $enable = TRUE, STREAM_CRYPTO_METHOD_ANY_SERVER);

Expose Default Cert Paths


  • Add new openssl_get_cert_locations() function to simplify troubleshooting CA cert location problems now that peer verification is enabled by default


array(8) {
  string(21) "/usr/lib/ssl/cert.pem"
  string(13) "SSL_CERT_FILE"
  string(18) "/usr/lib/ssl/certs"
  string(12) "SSL_CERT_DIR"
  string(20) "/usr/lib/ssl/private"
  string(12) "/usr/lib/ssl"
  string(0) ""
  string(0) ""

Stream Wrapper Creep

The following stream encryption wrappers currently exist in userland:

  • ssl
  • sslv2
  • sslv3
  • tls

Meanwhile, 5.6 has added the following new wrappers:

  • tlsv1.1
  • tlsv1.2

Yeah, So?

The problem with this design should be obvious: it grows linearly as each new encryption protocol is standardized and unleashed on the world. Choosing the correct wrapper is already a daunting task for users unfamiliar with the various transport layer security protocols and this situation will only deteriorate as new protocols are continuously adopted.

Beyond the “creep” of new stream wrappers there also exists a consistency problem. Do all users understand that the ssl wrapper technically can negotiate any of the supported protocols? Do they know that in contrast the tls wrapper will only negotiate TLSv1 and not the newer TLS iterations? Do they realize that the ssl wrapper potentially exposes their transfers to the broken/insecure SSLv2 and SSLv3 protocols? How can they tell PHP to use (for example) only TLSv1.1 or TLSv1.2?

This design is confusing and has aged poorly in a world where new protocols arrive periodically to address the shortcomings of previous iterations. Moreover, PHP is built on the foundation of hiding these kinds of minute details from the user. Developers shouldn't need a full understanding of the underlying transport layer security protocols to safely encrypt their transfers.

The goal must always be to make things “just work” in a secure manner without requiring user knowledge of the underlying machinations.

Source of the Problem

This existing discrete stream wrapper approach is necessary because it depends on value assignments to determine the encryption protocol instead of flags. This makes design choice makes it impossible to achieve fine-grained control over which protocols are used without fractaling out new constants for every conceivable combination of protocols. The “value” approach essentially locks users into one of two choices:

  • Allow only one narrow protocol
  • Allow ALL of the protocols, even if some do not provide the requisite level of security

While this paradigm negatively impacts client-side applications, its shortcomings are particularly acute for stream_socket_server() users who require fine-grained control over which protocols are allowed in their servers. For example, a server may wish to allow only TLSv1.1 and TLSv1.2 to maximize transmission safety. The existing paradigm makes this level of control impossible.


  • Internally re-value the existing STREAM_CRYPTO_METHOD_* constants to allow the assignment of crypto methods using bitwise flags instead of values. Users may specify any combination of these constants to control the allowed protocols for a given client or server stream. Meanwhile, the “crypto_method” context option already included as part of 5.6 allows all code to specify exactly which methods are appropriate for a given operation.
  • New tlsv1.0 wrapper to represent the OpenSSL TLSv1_server_method() and TLSv1_client_method() API
  • Repurpose the tls wrapper to mean “Any TLS protocol (1, 1.1, 1.2)” instead of “only TLSv1”

Existing Constant Re-Valuing

The existing constants are internally re-valued as shown below to allow their use as bitwise flags. Because the existing code delineates between clients and servers the least significant bit is used to differentiate between the two stream types.

typedef enum {
	STREAM_CRYPTO_METHOD_SSLv23_CLIENT = ((1 << 1) | (1 << 2) | 1), /* SSLv2 or SSLv3 */
	STREAM_CRYPTO_METHOD_TLSv1_0_CLIENT = (1 << 3 | 1), /* New in 5.6 */
	STREAM_CRYPTO_METHOD_TLSv1_1_CLIENT = (1 << 4 | 1), /* New in 5.6 */
	STREAM_CRYPTO_METHOD_TLSv1_2_CLIENT = (1 << 5 | 1), /* New in 5.6 */
	STREAM_CRYPTO_METHOD_TLS_CLIENT = ((1 << 3) | (1 << 4) | (1 << 5) | 1), /* Any TLS protocol */
	STREAM_CRYPTO_METHOD_ANY_CLIENT = ((1 << 1) | (1 << 2) | (1 << 3) | (1 << 4) | (1 << 5) | 1), /* Any protocol */
	STREAM_CRYPTO_METHOD_SSLv23_SERVER = ((1 << 1) | (1 << 2)), /* SSLv2 or SSLv3 */
	STREAM_CRYPTO_METHOD_TLSv1_0_SERVER = (1 << 3), /* New in 5.6 */
	STREAM_CRYPTO_METHOD_TLSv1_1_SERVER = (1 << 4), /* New in 5.6 */
	STREAM_CRYPTO_METHOD_TLSv1_2_SERVER = (1 << 5), /* New in 5.6 */
	STREAM_CRYPTO_METHOD_TLS_SERVER = ((1 << 3) | (1 << 4) | (1 << 5)) /* Any TLS protocol */
	STREAM_CRYPTO_METHOD_ANY_SERVER = ((1 << 1) | (1 << 2) | (1 << 3) | (1 << 4) | (1 << 5)), /* Any protocol */
} php_stream_xport_crypt_method_t;

These internal enum values map directly to the existing userland constants of the same name. Astute readers may notice that the SSLv23 constants do not carry the same meaning as previous versions of the openssl extension. As far as the underlying OpenSSL library is concerned, SSLv23 translates to “every protocol you can possibly support (including TLS protocols).” This reuse of a legacy naming convention is a source of constant confusion for users not versed in the inner-workings of OpenSSL. Here we use the more natural connotation and translate SSLv23 for our purposes to mean “either SSLv2 or SSLv3.” STREAM_CRYPTO_METHOD_ANY_CLIENT and STREAM_CRYPTO_METHOD_ANY_SERVER are added to represent “any protocol we can support.”


Automatically negotiate the best available encryption protocol supported by the server:

$html = file_get_contents('https://github.com');

Only allow TLSv1, TLSv1.1, TLSv1.2:

$context = stream_context_create(['ssl' => [
    'crypto_method' => STREAM_CRYPTO_METHOD_TLS_CLIENT
$html = file_get_contents('https://github.com', false, $context);

Use any combination of available flags to limit allowed protocols:

$context = stream_context_create(['ssl' => [
    'crypto_method' => $allowedProtocols
$fp = fopen('https://www.google.com' . '/', 'r', false, $context);
if ($fp) {

Bind a socket server that only allows TLSv1.1 and TLSv1.2 connections:

$context = stream_context_create(['ssl' => [
    'crypto_method' => $allowedProtocols
$server = stream_socket_server('ssl://', $errno, $errstr, $bindFlags, $context);

Connect using the tls stream wrapper. The connection will negotiate the best available protocol of TLSv1, TLSv1.1, TLSv1.2:

$timeout = 42;
// Works as before
$sock = stream_socket_client('tls://github.com:443', $errno, $errstr, $timeout, $connFlags, $context);
// Negotiates SSLv3, TLSv1.1 or TLSv1.2 because tls:// default is overridden by the context
$context = stream_context_create(['ssl' => [
$sock = stream_socket_client('tls://github.com:443', $errno, $errstr, $timeout, $connFlags, $context);

Enable crypto on an existing stream. Previously only a single value constant could be used at parameter 3. Flags are now accepted as shown here:

stream_socket_enable_crypto($stream , $enable = TRUE, $cryptoMethod);

Encrypt an existing stream choosing from any protocol we can possibly support using the new catch-all STREAM_CRYPTO_METHOD_ANY_CLIENT constant. This method will try all possible protocols:

$sock = stream_socket_client('tcp://github.com:443');
var_dump($sock); // resource(%d) of type (stream)
var_dump(stream_socket_enable_crypto($sock, TRUE, STREAM_CRYPTO_METHOD_ANY_CLIENT));

TL;DR Definitive Progress

Forward Secrecy

Encrypted stream servers support improved forward secrecy using ephemeral key exchange via RSA, DH and elliptic curve DH. No additional action is required for servers deploying certificates capable of ephemeral key exchange; new context options for fine-grained configuration are available.

Requirements for a secure client transfer prior to PHP 5.6:

Note that this is still insufficient as SAN x509 extension matching is unavailable prior to 5.6.

$context = stream_context_create(array(
    'ssl' => array(
        'ciphers' => 'DO USERS KNOW WHAT TO PUT HERE? NO.',
        'verify_peer' => true,
        'cafile' => 'DO USERS KNOW WHAT TO PUT HERE? NO.',
        'CN_match' => 'somesite.com',
        'disable_compression' => true,
        'SNI_enabled' => true,
        'SNI_server_name' => 'somesite.com'
$html = file_get_contents('https://somesite.com', null, $context);

Requirements for a secure client transfer in 5.6 without this proposal:

$context = stream_context_create(array(
    'ssl' => array(
        'ciphers' => 'DO USERS KNOW WHAT TO PUT HERE? NO.',
        'disable_compression' => true
$html = file_get_contents('https://somesite.com', null, $context);

Requirements for a secure client transfer in 5.6 if this RFC passes:

Users are encouraged to merge the provided patch and view the HTML returned in the following code which accesses “howsmyssl.com” (a general gauge of the security measures of your client).

$html = file_get_contents('https://howsmyssl.com');

Removed Features Originally Planned for 5.6

Originally this RFC proposed the deprecation and future remove of the protocol-specific wrappers. This recommendation was removed to retain the ability for streams without access to a stream context to interface with protocol-specific clients and servers. In particular, the fsockopen function cannot accept a stream context. As a result, removing protocol-specific stream wrappers would render fsockopen unusable for encrypted transfers with parties not using broadly compatible handshake hello methods.

Backward Incompatible Changes

Most existing code is expected to work without any BC implications. The only source of potential breakage involves the scenario where users connect to servers employing seriously outdated/insecure encryption technologies. For these users the option always exists to manually override secure defaults with insecure settings in the stream context.

Proposed PHP Version

This RFC is proposed for implementation in PHP 5.6.

New Constants


Provides userland access to the default cipher list used for stream encryption.


Crypto method interpreted as “any client crypto method we can possibly support.” Applications may use this method for maximum compatibility with SSLv2, SSLv3, TLSv1, TLSv1.1 and TLSv1.2 servers.


Crypto method interpreted as “any server crypto method we can possibly support.” Applications may use this method for maximum compatibility with SSLv2, SSLv3, TLSv1, TLSv1.1 and TLSv1.2 clients.


Crypto method flag allowing specific TLSv1 usage in encrypted client streams.


Crypto method flag allowing specific TLSv1 usage in encrypted server streams.

Proposed Voting Choices

  • Should PHP implement the recommendations in this proposal as part of 5.6?



Voting period: 2014/02/11 - 2014/02/19

Note that the minor revisions in v0.10 of this RFC were introduced soon after the initial vote announcement (in response to feedback). The changes are cosmetic in relation to the main elements of the RFC. They are noted here to avoid confusion.

Should the proposed TLS changes be merged for 5.6?
Real name Yes No
aharvey (aharvey)  
ajf (ajf)  
bwoebi (bwoebi)  
datibbaw (datibbaw)  
daverandom (daverandom)  
kassner (kassner)  
klaussilveira (klaussilveira)  
levim (levim)  
lstrojny (lstrojny)  
mariuz (mariuz)  
nikic (nikic)  
peehaa (peehaa)  
philstu (philstu)  
rdlowrey (rdlowrey)  
stas (stas)  
treffynnon (treffynnon)  
Final result: 16 0
This poll has been closed.

Thanks for your time :)


v0.11 Updated constant names, protocol-specific stream wrappers no longer deprecated

v0.10 Removed default verify depth setting; tls wrapper no longer deprecated

v0.9 Added server forward secrecy, updated default cipher list

v0.8 Added new openssl_get_cert_locations() function

v0.7 Added new “capture_session_meta” ssl context option

v0.6 Added patch, examples; cipher list updated; new constants; verify_depth, general improvements

v0.5: Removal of protocol-specific stream wrappers now recommended for PHP 6 (was 5.7)

v0.4: Removed recommendations to warn on SSLv2/SSLv3; ssl wrapper now retained for http fopen

v0.3: Added Stream Wrapper Creep section

v0.2: Update cipher list recommendations and s/DSS/DES/ typo.

v0.1: Original Draft

rfc/improved-tls-defaults.txt · Last modified: 2017/09/22 13:28 by