HTTP and HTTPS: The Need for Enhanced Cyber Security

March 15, 2018
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4th October 2006, a red letter day in the history of World Wide Web. It is the day when probably the most controversial website on the internet surfaced and is still creating controversy all around the world. At this point, everyone can guess the name of the site and you lot are right. The website is called the WikiLeaks, the pinnacle of the violation of privacy, security, and sensitivity.

Now, all this has been brought into context due to the call for enhanced cybersecurity. Modern technology has brought with it many drawbacks. One of the major threats is the loss of personal information due to hacking. Hackers want to track your information flow to get information about yourself, your credit card and people near you for their own benefit. Now if you want your information that you send to a particular website not to be intercepted by any third party, you need that extra S behind HTTP. Why and how is that gonna work? To find out, you need to read more.

HTTP vs HTTPS

HTTP stands for HyperText Transfer Protocol. At the beginning of the internet era, network administrators needed to find out a method to share information on the internet. They agreed on using HTTP for doing that. But everyone knew about this method, thus it was not difficult to intercept information on the internet. So, a new method had to be devised upon.

So, knowledgeable administrators found out a new procedure for exchanging information. It relies on SSL Certificate to encrypt the online data. SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer. It was previously called TLS which stands for Transport Layer Security. The encryption works between the browser of the sender and website directly, so other third parties cannot decode the information even if they can intercept it. This new procedure is known as HTTPS which stands for HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure.

How HTTP and HTTPS Work

HTTP exchanges information between the browser and the website over port 80. The connection is not encrypted and anyone over the network can intercept the information exchanged and use it according to their intentions.
HTTPS also exchanges information over a port, but instead of port 80, it uses port 443. Port 443 uses encryption certificate SSL/TLS. So, the browser sends encrypted information over the network and only the intended website has the key to decrypt it. The whole process is something like this:
The sender’s browser encrypts the information using the website’s ‘public’ key. After encryption, the browser sends the information over the secured network to the website directly. Then the website uses its ‘private’ key to decrypt the information. Now, even if the information is intercepted by a hacker, without the ‘private’ key it would be impossible to decrypt the information. Thus by end-to-end encryption, the information remains secure.

HTTPS and Website Security

Many people have a misconception that HTTPS provides total security for the website. But in reality, this is not true. HTTPS is not any sort of firewall but just basic security. Though HTTPS provides a secure end-to-end connection with the clients directly, it is entirely possible to hack the website. This information can be stolen from the website directly through hacking. Also, it is not possible to prevent phishing emails to be sent bearing spam messages. So, it is a myth and for a website, security one needs to look for other options like firewall and other security tools.

The problem of Switching to HTTPS

According to research, there is a disinterest among the B2B websites to switch from HTTP to HTTPS mainly due to potential negative SEO impact. SEO is one of the most important considerations for the websites having a good ranking. In the research, only 2 to 3 percent of 540 B2B websites in the UK had switched to HTTPS. The factors like on page optimization, number of Google reviews, the total number of pages and the number of backlinks had more impact in the rankings than switching to HTTPS. Also, if the website has not faced any significant problem, it is not expected to face any in the near future. Though the switch would be inevitable in the upcoming future.

Though Google is pondering the use of HTTPS as a ranking signal for the SEO, it is not been implemented yet. But their increasing focus on the security will ultimately lead all the websites switching to HTTPS. Before doing so, it is probably a good thing to learn about the difference between HTTP and HTTPS, how they both work and why to switch. At the end of the day, every little knowledge can have a greater impact than one can imagine.

Contributor: Tasmeem HaqueNascenia

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