My bank's website uses HTTPS with the cipher suite ssl_rsa_with_rc4_128_md5.

What are the known weaknesses of this suite? Do they have a practical impact for banking-related communications?

  • $\begingroup$ It's unclear what you're asking. Secure with respect to what? Besides, the question is rather vague, and invites speculation - simply "using" a good cipher doesn't mean you are instantly and utterly protected, just like purchasing a bullet-proof vest won't protect you unless you wear it correctly. $\endgroup$
    – Thomas
    Oct 31, 2013 at 22:20
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @nwaf Welcome to Crypto.SE. Please don't misunderstand the somewhat cynical feedback in the comments — I bet they already enjoy their well-deserved weekends. Anyway, let me try to help you… Personally, I think you might be better of asking questions about "security" at Security.SE because your question is a bit too broad for Crypto.SE. I'm pretty sure the community at Security.SE will be able to help you find an answer to your security question. $\endgroup$
    – e-sushi
    Nov 1, 2013 at 3:08
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @e-sushi - good for you for not being a See-you-next-Tuesday. I think this forum could use more of your inclusive attitude. $\endgroup$
    – hunter
    Nov 1, 2013 at 5:17
  • $\begingroup$ @hunter Right.$\left . \right .$ $\endgroup$
    – Thomas
    Nov 1, 2013 at 5:37
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure how this question is "unclear" (or how 4 users voted to close it as such). The ssl_ in the ciphersuite name gives a pretty clear indication that the asker is wanting to know if RSA_WITH_RC4_MD5 is a strong/non-broken SSL ciphersuite. Now, the answer may be nuanced instead of a blind "yes"/"no", but I just don't see this question as unclear at all. Could it be phrased better? Absolutely. But that doesn't make it unclear, in my opinion. $\endgroup$
    – Reid
    Nov 1, 2013 at 6:05

1 Answer 1


In a purist cryptographic sense, there are many vulnerabilities in this cipher suite that can be (theoretically and practically) exploited. There are much stronger versions of SSL/TLS, and much stronger cipher suites that could be used.

In a practical sense, it's not the end of the world - there are far worse cipher suites (e.g. those using intentionally weaked 'export' encryption, or weak ciphers such as DES), and you probably have more to fear from malware/phishing attacks etc. wrt interacting with your bank than from someone targeting your SSL connection.

Bear in mind that the cipher suite being used is what the bank web server chose to use based on the cipher suites your web browser told it could be used - if your browser is configured to disable TLS 1.0/1.1 for example, this may be the best the server could manage (although from the use of MD5, this appears unlikely).

If you're interested in the detail, then looking at each of the parts of ssl_rsa_with_rc4_128_md5 individually:

  • ssl - this indicates your site is using SSL, probably SSL 3.0. This is the older, and less secure version of TLS. Most web browsers now support TLS 1.0, 1.1 and 1.2, but only the most recent versions actually enable higher than TLS 1.0 by default.
  • rsa - this indicates the use of RSA for the key exchange/key agreement protocol. There's probably nothing to worry about here, although the use of RSA here uses the same private key every time you communicate with the site, so anyone who can record the encrypted traffic and at a later date steal the banks private key could decrypt the traffic.
  • rc4 - this indicates that the RC4 cipher is being used to encrypt traffic to and from your website. RC4 is considered broken (or at least suspect) for most uses, and 'practical' attacks have been demonstrated against it's use in SSL/TLS. 'Practical' in this sense still involves a fair amount of work on the part of the attacker, and you'd have to be a high value target to make that worth it. RC4 is still very commonly used in SSL/TLS, as it is immune to other attacks (such as the BEAST attack) that affect other ciphers.
  • 128 - this indicates 128 bit encryption keys are being used. This is a good key size for most applications, and nothing to worry about.
  • md5 - this indicates the use of the MD5 hash algorithm to perform functions like deriving keys and authenticating messages in the SSL protocol. MD5 is considered broken as a cryptographic hash function, but it's use in SSL is either in combination with SHA1 (another suspect, but stronger hash function) or in an HMAC like construction, which makes attacking it a lot more difficult.

Most of these issues are in the walk, don't run, to the exit category (the use of MD5 being probably the most concerning issue) - it would be prudent for your bank (and you) to start using more modern cipher suites to protect traffic.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.