Ncat can encrypt its traffic using SSL. In connect mode, simply add the --ssl option. --ssl works with TCP (the default) and SCTP (--sctp option). Here is the syntax for connecting to an HTTPS server:

ncat -C --ssl <server> 443

Sometimes an SSL server will require a client certificate for authentication. When this is the case, use the --ssl-cert and --ssl-key options to give the locations of PEM-encoded files containing the certificate and private key, respectively. The certificate and key may be in the same file.

By default the client will not do any server certificate verification, so it will not be detected if the server has the wrong certificate or no certificate at all. Use the --ssl-verify option to require verification of the certificate and matching of the domain name.

ncat -C --ssl-verify <server> 443

Verification is done using the ca-bundle.crt certificate bundle shipped with Ncat, plus whatever trusted certificates the operating system may provide. If you want to verify a connection to a server whose certificate isn't signed by one of the default certification authorities, use the --ssl-trustfile to name a file containing certificates you trust. The file must be in PEM format.

ncat -C --ssl-verify --ssl-trustfile <custom-certs.pem> <server> 443

Verification should be done whenever it is feasible. Even with encryption, an unverified connection is vulnerable to a man-in-the-middle attack. Ncat does not do certificate revocation checking.

SSL connections depend on the client and server agreeing on a common ciphersuite: a combination of key exchange, symmetric cipher, and message integrity mechanism. The choice of which ciphersuites to offer (as a client) or accept (as a server) is a matter of choice between the greatest compatibility and the greatest security. The default set, expressed as an OpenSSL cipherlist, is ALL:!aNULL:!eNULL:!LOW:!EXP:!RC4:!MD5:@STRENGTH, a reasonable balance between the two ends of the spectrum. To set a different priority or initial choice, use the --ssl-ciphers option.

      ncat --ssl-ciphers <HIGH:!aNULL:!eNULL> <server> 443

Ncat can act as an SSL server as well. The server must provide a certificate that clients can verify if they choose. If you start an SSL server without using the --ssl-cert and --ssl-key options, Ncat will automatically generate a certificate and 2,048-bit RSA key. The certificate will of course not be trusted by any application doing certificate verification. In verbose mode, the key's fingerprint will be printed so you can do manual verification if desired. Example 2 shows sample output.

Example 2. Automatic certificate generation
$ ncat -v --listen --ssl
Ncat ( )
Generating a temporary 2048-bit RSA key. Use --ssl-key and --ssl-cert to use a permanent one.
SHA-1 fingerprint: F0:13:BF:FB:2D:AA:76:88:22:60:3E:17:93:29:3E:0E:6B:92:C0:2F

Using an existing certificate and key is recommended whenever possible because it allows for robust server authentication. Use the --ssl-cert and --ssl-key options to pass in PEM-encoded files. For testing purposes you can generate a self-signed certificate and private key. If you have OpenSSL installed, use this command:

openssl req -new -x509 -keyout test-key.pem -out test-cert.pem.

For purposes of certificate verification, the commonName in the certificate should match the fully qualified domain name of the host that will run the server. After generating the files, start the server:

ncat --listen --ssl --ssl-cert test-cert.pem --ssl-key test-key.pem.

To make a verified client connection, copy the test-cert.pem file somewhere where the client can access it, then run

ncat --ssl-verify --ssl-trustfile test-cert.pem.