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How to troubleshoot TLS handshake issues?

By Eunice Samson | November 18, 2019 |

greater than 5 minutes

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The Internet has made it convenient for us to find any information we need. You can visit websites directly or use a search engine like Google to access various types of data. However, there are times when we are not able to open web pages, and there could be several reasons behind this. In some cases, it may have something to do with your network connection. On the other hand, another common issue that causes this problem is a TLS handshake failure.

Now, you might ask, “What does a TLS handshake mean?” TLS stands for Transport Layer Security, which is an encryption protocol. Communications made via this protocol remain private and secure. In this post, we are going to explain what happens in a TLS handshake. In this way, you will gain a better grasp of the concept. Moreover, we will teach you how to fix the TLS handshake failed error.

What Does a TLS Handshake Mean?

As we all know, when there is a form of negotiation or greeting between two people, we seal it with a handshake. Similarly, when two servers communicate and acknowledge each other, they form a TLS handshake. During this process, the servers go through verification. They establish encryption while exchanging keys. Once all the details have been proven to be authentic, the data exchange will begin. Here are the four steps involved in a TLS handshake:

  1. Indicating the TLS version which will be used for communication.
  2. Selecting the encryption algorithm for communication.
  3. A public key and the digital signature of the SSL certificate issuer will be used to verify authenticity.
  4. Session keys will be generated, which will then be exchanged between the two servers.

To make things simple, both parties will say ‘hello’ first. Then, the server will provide a certificate, which the client will verify. Once the certificate has been proven to be authentic, the session will begin. Before that, a key will be created, which will allow the data exchange between the servers.

How to Fix TLS Handshake Issues

Unfortunately, if the problem stems from the server, there is nothing you can do. For instance, if the certificate from the server cannot be authenticated, then the matter is out of your hands. However, if you are having issues with the browser you’re using, then there are still plenty of workarounds you can try. Also, if you’re dealing with a mismatch in the TLS protocol, you can fix the problem from the browser.

Various reasons could be behind a TLS handshake failure. Before you try to fix the problem, you should ensure that you’re definitely dealing with a TLS handshake error. In most cases, you can follow these rules:

  1. Try visiting other sites and see if the problem persists.
  2. If you’re using a WiFi network, try switching to a wired one.
  3. Try other network connections. For instance, use a different router or switch to a public network.

Once you’ve established the cause of the problem, you might ask, “Should I disable a TLS handshake on my browser?” We understand your frustration, but we do not recommend doing it. After all, the TLS protocol is one of the best ways to ensure a secure browsing experience. Indeed, you can continue browsing a website even with an invalid certificate. However, you should never perform any form of transaction with it. For example, do not submit password credentials or use your credit card.

On the other hand, there are times when the TLS handshake failure stems from issues with your browser. In this case, you can fix the problem by reconfiguring some settings on your browser. We’ll share some of the best workarounds below.

Solution 1: Ensuring the Correct System Time

Most of the time, a TLS handshake fails because of incorrect system time settings. Keep in mind that the system time is a vital factor in testing whether a certificate is still valid or expired. So, if the time on your PC does not match the server’s, then it will seem like the certificates are no longer valid. So, we recommend that you set the system time to ‘automatic’. Here are the steps:

  1. On your keyboard, press Windows Key+I. Doing so will open the Settings app.
  2. If you cannot resolve the
    problem yourself, you can
    ask our certified PC technicians for immediate assistance in the chat right on this page.
  3. Once you’re on the Settings app, select Time & Language.
  4. Go to the right pane, then toggle the switch under Set Time Automatically to On.
  5. Restart your computer, then try visiting the site again to see if the TLS handshake error is gone.

Solution 2: Changing the TLS Protocol in Windows 10

Perhaps, the issue has something to do with the TLS version that your browser is using. It is worth noting that Windows 10 and earlier versions of the operating system centralize the protocol settings. You can access Internet Properties to switch to a different TLS version. To do that, follow these instructions:

  1. Launch the Run dialog box by pressing Windows Key+R on your keyboard.
  2. Inside the Run dialog box, type “inetcpl.cpl” (no quotes), then click OK.
  3. On the Internet Properties window, go to the Advanced tab.
  4. Scroll down until you get to the Security section, where you can add or remove TLS protocols.
  5. If the website you’re trying to access needs TLS 1.2, then you need to select it.
  6. Click Apply and OK to save the changes you’ve made.
  7. After changing the TLS version, try accessing the same website again.

When it comes to TLS protocols, IE, Chrome, and Edge take advantage of Windows features. Meanwhile, Firefox manages its own certificate database and TLS protocols. So, if you want to change the TLS version on Firefox, use the following steps:

  1. Launch Firefox, then type “about:config” (no quotes) in the address bar.
  2. Press Enter, then click the search box.
  3. Type “TLS” (no quotes), then look for security.tls.version.min.
  4. You can modify that into any of the following:

Force TLS 1 and 1.1 by entering 1 and 2.

Force TLS 1.2 by entering 3.

Force a maximum protocol of TLS 1.3 by entering 4.

Solution 3: Deleting the Certificate Database or Browser Profile

Browsers keep a certificate database. For instance, Firefox profiles maintain a cert8.db file. There is one way to know that the TLS handshake failure is related to the local certificate database. You can try deleting the cert8.db file on Firefox. If the error disappears when you restart your computer and browser, then you’ve determined the culprit.

For Edge, the Certificate Manager is responsible for handling the certificates. You can delete the certificates by following these steps:

  1. Open Edge, then enter “edge://settings/privacy” (no quotes) in the address bar.
  2. Click the ‘Manage HTTPS/SSL certificates and settings’ option, then delete the certificates.

If you’re having trouble finding the certificate database, your best bet is to delete the browser profile. Once you’ve done this, you can try accessing the website again to see if the TLS error is gone.

Solution 4: Resetting Your Browser

If none of the fixes we shared is able to resolve the TLS problem, then your last resort is to reset your browser. The best way to do this is to uninstall and reinstall your browser. Once you’ve done this, you can try accessing the website again to check if the TLS error is gone.

In some cases, the TLS handshake times out, preventing you from visiting the website. When this happens, you’d naturally ask, “How long does a TLS handshake take?” Well, it should take a few seconds. If it takes longer than a minute or two, then you might have a slow network connection. On the other hand, it’s also possible that your browser is overloaded with extensions, add-ons, and other junk.


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Which of the solutions helped you fix the TLS handshake issue?

Let us know in the comments below!

Fed up with your slow PC? Tired of waiting for Windows to start up? Take a look at the most common reasons behind poor performance and the best ways to deal with them here.


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