Using Wireshark to analyze TLS encrypted traffic

In the life of a software or system engineer it is sometimes necessary to debug network traffic on the lowest possible level. Wireshark is the most common tool to use when you want to analyze network traffic by sniffing the raw data that crosses your network interface.

Wireshark encrypted: Analyzing TLS encrypted traffic

As long as you have unencrypted traffic you can directly see the protocol details as well as the payload of data packages that are sent through the network. But hey, we have 2023, so most of the traffic should be encrypted using strong and modern encryption methods. TLS 1.3 is the standard way to encrypt network traffic today. When starting a communication sender and receiver agree on the encryption method and exchange secret keys that are used to encrypt and decrypt the payload. Without these keys you cannot access the payload and just see a random sequence of bits and bytes.

But for debugging purposes we need to access to the unencrypted payload. So what to do?

The only way to decrypt the payload is to have access to the secret keys the communication partners have agreed on. Thankfully Wireshark understands TLS 1.3 (and older standards like SSL, older TLS versions, but these should not be used anymore) and can decrypt traffic if we provide the secret keys. And there is good news. Most of the tools we use in development have options to log the secret keys so we can use it in Wireshark to decrypt the network payload so we can analyze all the traffic.

There is a log format specification for exactly that purpose and Wireshark can read encryption keys logged in that format!

Configure Wireshark

Wireshark is an excellent tool with an enormous amount of features, but for the casual user the user interface can be a bit overwhelming. I will not show the general usage of Wireshark or how to start analyzing a network connection as that would extend the length of that post.

When you have started a recording session you need to configure where Wireshark can find the communication keys. You need to right click in the packet list and select open the "Transport Layer Security Preferences" dialog. The following screenshot shows the context menu and where you can find it.


In the following dialog you need to select the log file with the keys. This is shown in the next screenshot.

From now on Wireguard can access the secret keys and will try to use them to decrypt the TLS message payload! Now only one question remains. How to configure your software stack to log the secret keys?

HTTP Browsers and Tools

This works for Google Chrome, Chromium based browsers, Firefox and curl on Linux/macOS.

export SSLKEYLOGFILE=/home/my-user/Documents/tls_key.log

You need to start the browser from the command line so that the environment variable takes effect. After visiting websites that use https (should be any website nowadays) you will notice that the communication keys have been appended to the tls_keylog.log file. You can use that file within Wireshark as described above! As soon as you added the keyfile Wireshark looks up the corresponding encryption keys from the file and uses it to encrypt the whole traffic!


 Java/JVM based applications

When you are using JVM based languages like Java, Kotlin, Scala you cannot use the method above as Java uses it's own TLS stack to do all the encryption. Luckily there is a little software helper that can log communication keys as well! You can use jSSLKeyLog to run as a Java agent along with your application. You can find more infos about Java agents in that overview about Java instrumentation.

The following example shows how to configure that i.e. in IntelliJ:

The important part is that you need to add a JVM argument in the form:

node --tls-keylog=$(pwd)/tls_key.log app.js

As soon as you start your application and access TLS encrypted websites or API endpoints the encryption keys will be appended to the key.log file. Now you can configure Wireshark as described above to read the keys from that file and et voilá - you can see the decrypted payload.

Node - JavaScript, Typescript

When you are using Node you are ready to log your encryption keys out of the box as node has explicit support for logging them to a file via command line option:

node --tls-keylog=$(pwd)/tls_key.log app.js

So just add the "--tls-keylog" option to your scripts and you are ready to debug!


There is no explicit support for logging TLS keys - at least I am aware of - but you can use a default library available for Rust to log the keys in your application.

The documentation is available here

So a bit more work to do but at least not quite hard to implement it into your application.


As soon as you have finished your debugging session, don't forget to disable the logging of the SSL/TLS keys again! When you use your browser for debugging tasks and then do some banking stuff you don't want anyone else to have access to the keylog files, did you? So simply don't forget to disable the logging!

So next time you need Wireshark for low level debugging network traffic you don't need to fear about TLS encrypted traffic. Happy debugging!

 Photocredits: craiyon