What does HTTPS mean?

HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) is a variant of HTTP that uses encryption to protect data – making it unreadable to anyone who lacks the decryption key. But what is HTTP in the first place? In layman terms, HTTP is a set of rules (a protocol) that allows web browsers (or other user agents) to exchange information with web servers .

When you click on a link or type a web address in your browser, it sends an HTTP request to the server, which then responds with the requested information, allowing you to view web pages, images, videos, and other content on the internet.

Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS)

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Google’s Transparency Report claims that 93.2% of browsing time on Google is on HTTPS websites. HTTPS is the primary protocol for secure browsing. HTTPS encrypts data and provides a secure connection between a web browser and a website. 

Data integrity is crucial for ensuring a safe browsing experience and when exchanging information. Plain-text data is vulnerable to interception. The same is true of unencrypted login credentials. 

HTTPS can protect against man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks and other cyber threats. MITM attacks involve an attacker intercepting and monitoring communications. This is done without the knowledge or consent of the user or the server they’re trying to reach.

Once they have the data, the attacker can modify it, steal it, or even impersonate one of the parties. HTTPS protects against these attacks by encrypting data exchanges. This encryption makes it impossible for the attacker to understand the data. So, even if they are able to intercept it, it’s worthless.

Identifying secure web servers

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It’s important for internet users to identify secure web servers. This can protect their personal information and online activities. Uniform Resource Locators (URLs) play a crucial role in identifying web addresses. 

If a website’s URL starts with “https://” instead of “http://,” it signifies the use of HTTPS. The browser’s address bar reveals a lot. Users should look for a green, blue, or monochrome padlock icon. The padlock provides a visual cue for users to identify a secure website connection.

For enhanced security, users can check for certificates like the Extended Validation (EV) certificate. These certificates are typically favored by prominent e-commerce platforms and multinational organizations. Acquiring them involves submitting comprehensive business details and other relevant information. 

You’ll notice it by a green outline around the padlock icon. This will signify a higher level of scrutiny around the website’s identity. By paying attention to these indicators, users can make informed decisions about which websites to trust. 

Comparison of HTTP vs HTTPS

Website owners should focus on site security by looking for HTTPS encryption. HTTP still operates as the primary web protocol, but it lacks the robust security measures of HTTPS. HTTP is primarily used for non-sensitive web browsing. 

Non-sensitive browsing includes viewing websites, reading news articles, and checking social media. While HTTPS is best for activities that involve the transmission of sensitive information. This includes online banking, shopping, and entering passwords. 

Nowadays, all browsers accept and use HTTPS. It’s especially helpful for websites that want users to transmit sensitive information like financial and banking information.

HTTPS is better than HTTP because it puts a secret code around your information to keep it private. This is especially important when you use WiFi in public places. Even if someone tries to look at your data, they won’t be able to decipher it.

HTTPS security features

HTTPS safeguards authentication mechanisms and encrypts login credentials. It does this to prevent unauthorized access and protect against cyber threats. But how does it do this?

HTTPS encrypts data through dual-layered protection. Public-key and private-key cryptography both help achieve a secure connection. When you navigate to a webpage, the web server presents a digital certificate. When the web browser receives this digital certificate, it verifies the certificate’s signature. 

It then provides a public Certificate Authority (CA) key. The browser can only generate a session key when it’s encrypted with a public key. This encrypted session key verifies the web server’s authenticity. You can only decrypt it by using the corresponding private key held by the website owner. This ensures that only the server and the intended recipient can access the data. 

In addition to verifying the web server’s authenticity, the private key plays a vital role in securing the encrypted session key. This key encrypts all subsequent data exchanged between the server and the browser, ensuring that only the authorized parties can access the information.

They generate digital signatures, which are used to verify the authenticity of digital certificates. Private keys protect sensitive data from interception, tampering, and unauthorized access. 

If the signature is valid, it means that the certificate is authentic and that the server is what it claims to be. This prevents malicious actors from impersonating legitimate websites and intercepting or modifying data. 

HTTPS uses symmetric encryption with the help of the encrypted session key. Authentication then comes through digital signatures, connecting the message to the sender’s identity. This process maintains data integrity through secure connections. 

This process ensures the server’s authenticity and prevents phishing attacks and spoofing. How’s an example of how messages look before and after encryption: 

Before encryption: 

This is a secret message that I want to keep private.

After encryption: 

8140d7bceb2fd7563a840712154364b1ee659447a4181006ecb824b7e112f719T

Secure Sockets Layer vs Transport Layer Security

HTTPS uses cryptographic protocols. As mentioned above, these protocols are used to encrypt data such as login credentials or credit card numbers between a web server and a web browser. 

TLS/SSL certificates are used to enhance websites and improve their performance. HTTPS traditionally used Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) as its security protocol. Recently, the adoption of Transport Layer Security (TLS) has increased. 

So, what are the differences between SSL and TLS? To be clear, the two terms refer to the same protocol. Transport Layer Security (TLS) is simply an updated version of Secure Socket Layer (SSL) 3.0. TLS is more modern and is becoming more widely supported.

The TLS version of SSL offers stronger encryption algorithms and wider support. As a result, most websites that use HTTPS today recognize TLS. In fact, Google recently announced support for TLS. It has started marking websites that do not use TLS as “not secure.” Despite this, the cybersecurity community still favors the term “SSL certificate.” 

Will HTTPS remain dominant?

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HTTPS is still favored by most web browsers but new and better protocols may still be invented. 

At present we have HTTP/2. It’s a newer, more efficient and performant version of HTTP. It can send multiple requests in parallel. It can also use server push to deliver content to the browser before the browser has even requested it. 

While HTTPS and HTTP/2 are different protocols, they are complementary. They work well together to help secure your web experience. In fact, most websites that use HTTPS also use HTTP/2. Why? 

Because HTTPS provides security for data transmission while HTTP/2 improves the performance of that transmission. So, HTTPS is still the preferred protocol for securing web traffic, and HTTP/2 is becoming the preferred protocol for transmitting it. 

FAQ

Does HTTPS mean a website is safe?

Yes, the extra “S” indicates that the site is secure. It means it uses SSL and TLS certificates to encrypt your data and protect it from hackers. Always check for “https” at the beginning of a website’s URL. 

Why is HTTP not secure?

HTTP is a protocol that doesn’t provide encryption or adequate security measures. These measures are essential during communication between internet users’ computers and servers. This means that any data transmitted over HTTP is transmitted in plain text, making it vulnerable to interception by anyone who has access to the network. 

What is the difference between HTTP and HTTPS?

HTTPS ensures that your sensitive data, e.g. passwords and credit card numbers are secure. HTTP does not. HTTPS is a more secure protocol than HTTP as it encrypts the transmitted information. 

Why do people use HTTPS?

Nowadays, all web traffic is sensitive. Public services, organizations, and private individuals cannot rely on network operators. Government web services and others offer HTTPS for fast, reliable, and secure connections. 

Should you always use HTTPS?

Yes, HTTPS is more secure than HTTP because it encrypts data. You can verify a website’s security certificate to confirm it’s legitimate.

What happens when you go to a HTTPS website?

HTTPS encryption has two main purposes. First it confirms the website’s identity. Second, it encrypts all the information transmitted between you and the website.

What happens if your website is not HTTPS?

If your website is not HTTPS, you are at risk of data interception by a third party. To protect your data, always use websites with a secure HTTPS connection.

How do I know if a link is safe?

On some browsers, you can check if a link is safe by checking for a padlock icon in the address bar. It indicates HTTPS, but it’s crucial to note that the presence of HTTPS doesn’t guarantee a website’s safety. While it protects your data from interception, it doesn’t guard against other online threats like phishing or malware.

Can a HTTPS site be hacked?

Yes, an HTTPS site can be hacked. Although HTTPS encrypts your communication, it does not provide protection against fraudulent websites. Caution is advised when visiting websites. Be wary of any website that asks you to enter personal information.

Why does Chrome say HTTPS sites are not secure?

Google Chrome sometimes shows a “not secure” warning for HTTPS-enabled websites. This is usually because of expired SSL/TLS certificates. Other reasons include weak cipher suites, insecure redirects, and mixed content.

Websites should address these issues by renewing certificates. They should also adopt stronger ciphers and secure redirects. Most importantly, they should ensure HTTPS delivers all content.

Why is my website not secure but HTTPS?

Without an SSL certificate, you may see a “not secure” message in your browser. This means your information may be visible to others. Avoid sites without an SSL/TLS certificate. Yet, some HTTPS sites can still be “not secure.” This is due to non-secure third-party resources or invalid certificates. 

Glossary of terms:

HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol): The basic language websites use to communicate, but it lacks robust security measures. Used for non-sensitive browsing like reading news articles.

HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure): A more secure version of HTTP. It encrypts data, ensuring a safe browsing experience. Look for “https://” in the URL and a padlock icon for a secure connection.

MITM (Man-in-the-Middle) Attacks: Attacks where an unauthorized party intercepts and monitors communications between two parties without their knowledge. HTTPS protects against MITM attacks.

Data Encryption: A process of encoding data to protect it from interception. HTTPS uses dual-layered protection, involving public- and private-key cryptography.

SSL (Secure Sockets Layer): A security protocol used by HTTPS to provide a secure online connection. SSL certificates indicate a secure connection.

TLS (Transport Layer Security): An updated version of SSL, offering stronger encryption algorithms and wider support. TLS is becoming the preferred protocol over SSL.

HTTP/2: A newer version of HTTP that enhances performance by allowing multiple requests in parallel. Often used in conjunction with HTTPS for a secure and efficient web experience.

SSL/TLS Certificates: Digital certificates issued by protocols like SSL and TLS. They indicate a secure online connection and protect sensitive information during transmission.

Extended Validation (EV) Certificate: A certificate indicating a higher level of scrutiny around a website’s identity. Recognized by a green outline around the padlock icon in some browsers.

Web Browser Security Indicators: On some browsers, look for “https://” in the URL and a green or blue padlock icon in the browser’s address bar to ensure a secure website connection.

Not Secure Warning (Google Chrome): Chrome may display a “not secure” warning for HTTPS sites with expired SSL/TLS certificates, weak cipher suites, insecure redirects, or mixed content.

SSL Certificate Renewal: Website owners should renew SSL certificates to address security issues and ensure a secure connection.

SSL/TLS Certificate Validity: Without an SSL/TLS certificate, a website may be labeled “not secure.” Invalid certificates or non-secure third-party resources can also cause this warning.

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