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What does it mean when we talk about FIPS-197 compliance in the context of SSL certificates, their deployment and usage ?

I am almost certain that the FIPS-197 compliance in the context of SSL configuration is not about how the certificate is generated and signed but rather about how the web server / application server(Eg: Jetty / Apache / Nginx / JBOSS etc) are configured. By configured, I mean to say - the SSL / TLS version that is being used and specifically the CipherSuites that are in the allowed list and their order.

This document has the recommended CipherSuites. My understanding says that if we ensure that the client and Server negotiate a CipherSuite that uses AES for confidentiality (Eg: TLS_RSA_WITH_AES_128_CBC_SHA, TLS_RSA_WITH_AES_256_CBC_SHA) then SSL configuration is FIPS-197 compliant. Is my understanding correct ?

OR Is there anything required during the certificate generation process as well to ensure compliance with FIPS-197.

I am kind of confident about my understanding but just want to be sure.

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FIPS 197 is the AES specification. An implementation complies with it if, and only if, it correctly implements the AES algorithm. The standard applies only to implementations of AES; it doesn't apply to certificates, or TLS server configurations, or computer systems in general. In particular, since it only applies to implementations of AES, it doesn't actually require that you use AES at any point in your system. Other FIPS apply to broader things (e.g. FIPS 140-2 applies to cryptographic modules) and do specify acceptable algorithms to use, but the algorithm specification itself just tells you how the algorithm works.

Unlike FIPS 140-2, FIPS 197 compliance isn't a big deal. It just means whoever coded the AES implementation did it correctly; it doesn't even mean they did so securely.

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  • $\begingroup$ Unable to vote your answer since I don't have enough rep on this site yet. Thanks for the answer. Accepted it as the solution. $\endgroup$ – acthota Apr 23 '15 at 4:53

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