TLS/SSL Tutorial

Applies to: Rebex Total Pack, Rebex Secure Mail

Table of content

#TLS/SSL basics

Rebex Secure Mail for .NET contains supports SSL security for SMTP, IMAP and POP3 protocols. SSL provides privacy and data integrity between the client and the server.

Please note that SSL and TLS are different versions of the same protocol - TLS 1.0 is a name for what was supposed to be SSL 3.1. When we use the term "SSL", we generally mean "SSL or TLS".

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#Namespaces and assemblies

There are several assemblies you might need to reference in your project to be able to use all features of Secure Mail for .NET. Rebex.Smtp.dll, Rebex.Imap.dll or Rebex.Pop3.dll are needed to access SMTP, IMAP or POP3 functionality and Rebex.Mail.dll makes it possible to read, write, create or send e-mail messages. All of this is covered in other tutorials. Rebex.Networking.dll contains classes used to specify additional SSL parameters or making it possible to implement advanced functionality. Rebex.Common.dll contains certificate management classes for working with certificates and certificate stores.

To gain access to all functionality, import the following namespaces in your source files.

C#

using Rebex.Net;
using Rebex.Mail;
using Rebex.Mime.Headers;
using Rebex.Security.Certificates;

VB.NET

Imports Rebex.Net
Imports Rebex.Mail
Imports Rebex.Mime.Headers
Imports Rebex.Security.Certificates

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#Connecting to a mail server using SSL

There are two methods to connect to a secure SMTP/IMAP/POP3 server securely:

1) Explicit SSL protection of the session

Client connects to the server in a usual non-protected way, usually to ports 25 (Smtp.DefaultPort), 587 (Smtp.AlternativeExplicitPort), 143 (Imap.DefaultPort) or 110 (Pop3.DefaultPort) that are assigned to the three e-mail protocols. When it is desired to protect the connection using SSL, an SSL negotiation is initialized, the connection is secured and all following communication is being protected.

In the following code snippet, initializing a secure SMTP connection is demonstrated. For the other two protocols, just replace all occurences of "Smtp" with "Imap" or "Pop3".

For unsecure SMTP port 25 (Smtp.DefaultPort) is standard. Moreover no authentization should be required when using this port. It is now usually used for communication between SMTP servers. Originally port 25 was also used for explicit security. However, port 587 (Smtp.AlternativeExplicitPort) is now the prefered port when using explicit security. Authentization should be required on it as this is the prefered port to be used for client server communication. (Yahoo, Gmail among others will require authentization if you connect with explicit security to the port 587).

C#

// Create an instance of the Smtp class.
Smtp client = new Smtp();

// Connect securely using explicit SSL.
// Use the client.Settings property to specify additional SSL parameters.
client.Connect(smtpHostname, SslMode.Explicit);

// Connection is protected now, we can log in safely.
client.Login(username, password);

VB.NET

' Create an instance of the Smtp class.
Dim client As New Smtp()

' Connect securely using explicit SSL.
' Use the client.Settings property to specify additional SSL parameters.
client.Connect(smtpHostname, SslMode.Explicit)

' Connection is protected now, we can log in safely.
client.Login(username, password)

Explicit protection means that it is possible to secure the connection at any moment. If you don't know whether you will need the protection on not at the connection time, you might want to connect using the ordinary unencrypted protocol and secure the connection later. (Again, this also works for IMAP and POP3.)

C#

Smtp client = new Smtp();

// Connect to the server with no protection.
client.Connect(smtpHostname, Smtp.AlternativeExplicitSslPort);

// Upgrade connection to SSL.
// This method also accepts an argument to specify SSL parameters.
client.Secure();

// Connection is protected now, we can log in safely.
client.Login(username, password);

VB.NET

Dim client As New Smtp()

' Connect to the server with no protection.
client.Connect(smtpHostname, Smtp.AlternativeExplicitSslPort)

' Upgrade connection to SSL.
' This method also accepts an argument to specify SSL parameters.
client.Secure()

' Connection is protected now, we can log in safely.
client.Login(username, password)

2) Implicit SSL protection of the SMTP/IMAP/POP3 session

Originally, a separate port was assigned to the SSL version of all these three protocols. These were 465 (Smtp.DefaultImplicitSslPort) for SMTP/SSL, 993 for IMAP/SSL (Imap.DefaultImplicitSslPort) and 995 for POP3/SSL (Pop3.DefaultImplicitSslPort). Upon connection to this port, an SSL negotiation starts immediately and the control connection is secured. All data connections are also secured implicitly in the same way. This is similar to the approach used by HTTPS.

This approach is not favored by the IETF and is deprecated. However, it is still used by many IMAP serves including Gmail, Yahoo and Hotmail.

C#

Smtp client = new Smtp();

// Connect securely using implicit SSL.
// Use the client.Settings property to specify additional SSL parameters.
// The default implicit port will be used.
client.Connect(smtpHostname, SslMode.Implicit);

// Connection is protected now, we can log in safely.
client.Login(username, password);

VB.NET

Dim client As New Smtp()

' Connect securely using implicit SSL.
' Use the client.Settings property to specify additional SSL parameters.
' The default implicit port will be used.
client.Connect(smtpHostname, SslMode.Implicit)

' Connection is protected now, we can log in safely.
client.Login(username, password)

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#Getting information about SSL connection

You can easily get information about the SSL connection using properties of Smtp.TlsSocket, Imap.TlsSocket or Pop3.TlsSocket. The following code snippet will demonstrate this for IMAP.

C#

Imap client = new Imap();

// Connect securely using implicit SSL.
client.Connect(imapHostname, SslMode.Implicit);

// The Cipher property contains a lot of
// information about the current cipher
TlsCipher cipher = client.TlsSocket.Cipher;
Console.WriteLine("Protocol: {0}", cipher.Protocol);
Console.WriteLine("Cipher: {0}", cipher.CipherAlgorithm);
Console.WriteLine("Key exchange: {0}", cipher.KeyExchangeAlgorithm);
Console.WriteLine("MAC algorithm: {0}", cipher.MacAlgorithm);
Console.WriteLine("All together: {0}", cipher);

// ServerCertificate property provides access
// to server certificate.
Certificate serverCert = client.TlsSocket.ServerCertificate[0];
Console.WriteLine("Subject: {0}", serverCert.GetSubject());
Console.WriteLine("Issuer: {0}", serverCert.GetIssuer());

VB.NET

Dim client As New Imap()

' Connect securely using implicit SSL.
client.Connect(imapHostname, SslMode.Implicit)

' The Cipher property contains a lot of
' information about the current cipher
Dim cipher As TlsCipher = client.TlsSocket.Cipher
Console.WriteLine("Protocol: {0}", cipher.Protocol)
Console.WriteLine("Cipher: {0}", cipher.CipherAlgorithm)
Console.WriteLine("Key exchange: {0}", cipher.KeyExchangeAlgorithm)
Console.WriteLine("MAC algorithm: {0}", cipher.MacAlgorithm)
Console.WriteLine("All together: {0}", cipher)

' ServerCertificate property provides access
' to server certificate.
Dim serverCert As Certificate = client.TlsSocket.ServerCertificate(0)
Console.WriteLine("Subject: {0}", serverCert.GetSubject())
Console.WriteLine("Issuer: {0}", serverCert.GetIssuer())

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#Specifying SSL parameters

It is possible to affect many aspects of SSL such us specifying which protocol versions to use or what cipher suites to allow.

It is a good idea to disable weak cipher suites and only allow the strong ones.

C#

Pop3 client = new Pop3();

// Specify desired Ssl parameters via client.Settings property.

// Only use suites that are currently considered secure.
client.Settings.SslAllowedSuites = TlsCipherSuite.Secure;
// Allow both SSL 3.0 and TLS 1.0 protocols to be used.
client.Settings.SslAllowedVersions = TlsVersion.SSL30 | TlsVersion.TLS10;
// You also have to specify the common name of
// the mail server if you provide parameters.
client.Settings.SslServerName = pop3Hostname;

// Connect securely using implicit SSL.
client.Connect(pop3Hostname, SslMode.Implicit);

// Connection is protected now, we can log in safely.
client.Login(username, password);

VB.NET

Dim client As New Pop3

' Specify desired Ssl parameters via client.Settings property.

' Only use suites that are currently considered secure.
client.Settings.SslAllowedSuites = TlsCipherSuite.Secure
' Allow both SSL 3.0 and TLS 1.0 protocols to be used.
client.Settings.SslAllowedVersions = TlsVersion.SSL30 Or TlsVersion.TLS10
' You also have to specify the common name of
' the mail server if you provide your own parameters.
client.Settings.SslServerName = pop3Hostname

' Connect securely using implicit SSL.
' The third argument refers to the parameters class.
client.Connect(pop3Hostname, SslMode.Implicit)

' Connection is protected now, we can log in safely.
client.Login(username, password)

Specifying the supported set of ciphers one by one is also possible. If you only accept DSA certificates and AES encryption, you can have that.

C#

Smtp client = new Smtp();

// Only use the specified cipher suites.
client.Settings.SslAllowedSuites =
    TlsCipherSuite.DHE_DSS_WITH_AES_256_CBC_SHA |
    TlsCipherSuite.DHE_DSS_WITH_AES_128_CBC_SHA;

VB.NET

Dim client As New Smtp

' Only use the specified cipher suites.
client.Settings.SslAllowedSuites =
 TlsCipherSuite.DHE_DSS_WITH_AES_256_CBC_SHA Or
 TlsCipherSuite.DHE_DSS_WITH_AES_128_CBC_SHA

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#Validating and examining server certificates

Even though Rebex Secure Mail validates server certificate automatically by default, it is often desirable to extend this process, for example by adding the ability to ask the user whether to accept or reject the server certificate. In other scenarios, you might want to use your own code to decide. This is possible by implementing a custom certificate validator.

C#

// A custom certificate verification handler.
private void pop3_ValidatingCertificate(object sender, SslCertificateValidationEventArgs e)
{
    // Use the built-in validation method to validate the chain.
    // It is up to you to use another validation method if needed.
    ValidationResult res = e.CertificateChain.Validate(e.ServerName, 0);

    // Accept the certificate if the chain is valid.
    if (res.Valid)
        e.Accept();

    // If the chain is not valid, let's display the certificate
    // information and validation status to the user and let
    // him decide what to do.

    Certificate cert = e.CertificateChain[0];
    //bool shouldAccept = SomeCustomDialog(cert, res.Status);
    bool shouldAccept = true;

    if (shouldAccept)
        e.Accept();
    else
        e.Reject();
}
Pop3 client = new Pop3();
// Of course, this works for Smtp or Imap as well!

// Register a custom handler of ValidatingCertificate event.
client.ValidatingCertificate += pop3_ValidatingCertificate;

// Connect securely using implicit SSL.
client.Connect(pop3Hostname, SslMode.Implicit);

// Connection is protected now, we can log in safely.
client.Login(username, password);

VB.NET

'  A custom certificate verification handler.
Private Sub pop3_ValidatingCertificate(sender As Object, e As SslCertificateValidationEventArgs)
    ' Use the built-in validation method to validate the chain.
    ' It is up to you to use another validation method if needed.
    Dim res As ValidationResult = e.CertificateChain.Validate(e.ServerName, 0)

    ' Accept the certificate if the chain is valid.
    If res.Valid Then
        e.Accept()
    End If

    ' If the chain is not valid, let's display the certificate
    ' information and validation status to the user and let
    ' him decide what to do.

    Dim cert As Certificate = e.CertificateChain(0)
    'Dim shouldAccept As Boolean = SomeCustomDialog(cert, res.Status)
    Dim shouldAccept As Boolean = True

    If shouldAccept Then
        e.Accept()
    Else
        e.Reject()
    End If
End Sub
Dim client As New Pop3()
' Of course, this works for Smtp or Imap as well!

' Register a custom handler of ValidatingCertificate event.
AddHandler client.ValidatingCertificate, AddressOf pop3_ValidatingCertificate

' Connect securely using implicit SSL.
client.Connect(pop3Hostname, SslMode.Implicit)

' Connection is protected now, we can log in safely.
client.Login(username, password)

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#Authenticating the client using a certificate

Mail servers might be configured to request the client to authenticate using its certificate during SSL negotiation. Client either complies or informs the server that it has no suitable certificate available. In the latter case, the server can optionally refuse to proceed negotiating. Rebex Mail for .NET makes it possible to select one of the built-in certificate request handlers or to implement a custom handler if they are not sufficient.

By default, client authentication is disabled - certificate request handler is set to the built-in CertificateRequestHandler.NoCertificate handler that does not try to find any certificate and just informs the server that no certificate is available.

However, client authentication can be enabled easily by using the second built-in certificate request handler that is able to search the user's certificate store for a suitable certificate with a private key, and if one is found, it is used to authenticate the client:

C#

// We use IMAP in this sample, but you might use SMTP or POP3 as well
Imap client = new Imap();

// Set the certificate request handler to
// CertificateRequestHandler.StoreSearch.
// You also have to specify the common name of
// the mail server if you provide your own parameters.
client.Settings.SslClientCertificateRequestHandler = CertificateRequestHandler.StoreSearch;
client.Settings.SslServerName = imapHostname;

// Connect securely using implicit SSL.
client.Connect(imapHostname, SslMode.Implicit);

// Connection is protected now, we can log in safely.
// Some servers may not require login if the client
// successfully authenticated itself using a certificate
// known to the server.
client.Login(username, password);

VB.NET

' We use IMAP in this sample, but you might use SMTP or POP3 as well
Dim client As New Imap()

' Set the certificate request handler to
' CertificateRequestHandler.StoreSearch.
' You also have to specify the common name of
' the mail server if you provide your own parameters.
client.Settings.SslClientCertificateRequestHandler = CertificateRequestHandler.StoreSearch
client.Settings.SslServerName = imapHostname

' Connect securely using implicit SSL.
client.Connect(imapHostname, SslMode.Implicit)

' Connection is protected now, we can log in safely.
' Some servers may not require login if the client
' successfully authenticated itself using a certificate
' known to the server.
client.Login(username, password)

Another built-in certificate request handler is based on certificate chain and makes it possible to easily authenticate a user using a client certificate stored in a .PFX/.P12 (PKCS#12) file:

C#

// We use IMAP in this sample, but you might use SMTP or POP3 as well
Imap client = new Imap();

// Load a certificate chain from a .PFX/.P12 file
// that contains a certificate and its private key.
CertificateChain certificateChain = CertificateChain.LoadPfx(pfxCertPath, pfxPassword);

// Assing a certificate request handler based on
// the chain loaded from the PFX file.
client.Settings.SslClientCertificateRequestHandler = CertificateRequestHandler.CreateRequestHandler(certificateChain);

// Connect securely using implicit SSL.
client.Connect(imapHostname, SslMode.Implicit);

// Connection is protected now, we can log in safely.
// Some servers may not require login if the client
// successfully authenticated itself using a certificate
// known to the server.
client.Login(username, password);

VB.NET

' We use IMAP in this sample, but you might use SMTP or POP3 as well
Dim client As New Imap()

' Load a certificate chain from a .PFX/.P12 file
' that contains a certificate and its private key.
Dim certificateChain As CertificateChain = certificateChain.LoadPfx(pfxCertPath, pfxPassword)

' Assing a certificate request handler based on
' the chain loaded from the PFX file.
client.Settings.SslClientCertificateRequestHandler = CertificateRequestHandler.CreateRequestHandler(certificateChain)

' Connect securely using implicit SSL.
client.Connect(imapHostname, SslMode.Implicit)

' Connection is protected now, we can log in safely.
' Some servers may not require login if the client
' successfully authenticated itself using a certificate
' known to the server.
client.Login(username, password)

If you need to use another method of selecting a suitable certificate or if a GUI should be presented to the user to let him select the certificate, a custom certificate handler can be used instead. The following sample handler will load a certificate from a PKCS#12 file as well, but it can be easily modified to do something else:

C#

// A custom certificate request handler class.
// Implements ICertificateRequestHandler interface.
public class CustomRequestHandler : ICertificateRequestHandler
{
    // This method gets called during the SSL handshake
    // process if the server requests the client's certificate.
    public CertificateChain Request
        (TlsSocket socket,
        DistinguishedName[] issuers)
    {
        // Load the certificate with a private key from a PFX file.
        string path = "myCertificate.pfx";
        Certificate cert = Certificate.LoadPfx(path, "password");

        // We actually need a certificate chain, so let's build one.
        CertificateChain chain = CertificateChain.BuildFrom(cert);
        return chain;
    }
}
// To make your request handler the current request handler for
// an IMAP session:
Imap client = new Imap();
// Of course, this works for Smtp or Pop3 as well!

// Set the certificate request handler to an instance
// of CustomVerifier.
// You also have to specify the common name of
// the mail server if you provide your own parameters.
client.Settings.SslClientCertificateRequestHandler = new CustomRequestHandler();
client.Settings.SslServerName = imapHostname;

// Connect securely using implicit SSL.
client.Connect(imapHostname, SslMode.Implicit);

// Connection is protected now, we can log in safely.
// Some servers may not require login if the client
// successfully authenticated itself using a certificate
// known to the server.
client.Login(username, password);

VB.NET

' A custom certificate request handler class.
' Implements ICertificateRequestHandler interface.
Public Class CustomRequestHandler
    Implements ICertificateRequestHandler

    ' This method gets called during the SSL handshake
    ' process if the server requests the client's certificate.
    Public Overloads Function Request _
     (ByVal socket As TlsSocket, _
    ByVal issuers() As DistinguishedName) _
     As CertificateChain _
     Implements ICertificateRequestHandler.Request

        ' Load the certificate with a private key from a PFX file.
        Dim path As String = "myCertificate.pfx"
        Dim cert As Certificate = Certificate.LoadPfx(path, "password")

        ' We actually need a certificate chain, so let's build one.
        Dim chain As CertificateChain = CertificateChain.BuildFrom(cert)
        Return chain
    End Function
End Class
' To make your request handler the current request handler for
' an IMAP session:
Dim client As New Imap()
' Of course, this works for Smtp or Pop3 as well!

' Set the certificate request handler to an instance
' of CustomVerifier.
' You also have to specify the common name of
' the mail server if you provide your own parameters.
client.Settings.SslClientCertificateRequestHandler = New CustomRequestHandler()
client.Settings.SslServerName = imapHostname

' Connect securely using implicit SSL.
client.Connect(imapHostname, SslMode.Implicit)

' Connection is protected now, we can log in safely.
' Some servers may not require login if the client
' successfully authenticated itself using a certificate
' known to the server.
client.Login(username, password)

Check out the POP3 Browser or IMAP Browser sample source code for an advanced certificate request handler that presents a GUI to the user and lets him choose the certificate to use.

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