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A cipher suite is a combination of a key exchange algorithm, authentication method, bulk encryption cipher, and message authentication code.

In a cryptosystem like TLS, the client and server must agree on a cipher suite before they can begin communicating securely.  A typical cipher suite looks like ECDHE_RSA_WITH_AES_128_GCM_SHA256 or ECDHE-RSA-AES128-GCM-SHA256, indicating:

  • ECDHE (elliptic curve Diffie-Hellman ephemeral) for key exchange
  • RSA for authentication
  • AES-128 as the cipher, with Galois/Counter Mode (GCM) as the block cipher mode of operation
  • SHA-256 as the hash-based message authentication code (HMAC)

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