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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

What is HTTPs, and Why Should I Care about it?




Most people often confuse HTTP and HTTPs, some think they can be used interchangeably, and so on. However, there is a simple and clear difference between HTTP and HTTPs in computer networking. Simply put, HTTPs is an abbreviation for  Secure Hypertext Transfer Protocol, which is an enhancement of the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP). 

There are two types of protocols between a web server and a web browser, that is,  HTTP and HTTPs. The HTTPs protocol is the secured version of the two, while HTTP is unsecured. 

A secured protocol means that the sessions between the web browser you are using and the web server hosting the webpage are encrypted. On an HTTPs protocol, the web server encrypts the data requested and sends it to the web browser alongside a public key. The web browser then validates the web certificates and then decrypts the encrypted files using the symmetric key. 

The HTTPs protocol ensures the security of data shared between web servers and web browsers by encryption.

Before introducing the HTTPs, the web browsers connected with web servers using HTTP that transmitted data in plain text; this became unsustainable when websites began to handle sensitive information that should be kept confidential, such as passwords and bank details credit card information. Therefore the HTTPs was developed. 

What is HTTPs, and Why Should I Care about it?

As earlier mentioned, the HTTPs protocol is an extension of HTTP, which are both connection protocols used on the internet. HTTPs is a secure version of the HTTP protocol since it transmits information in an encrypted format. The encryption helps protect the data transferred from hackers and eavesdroppers who may interrupt internet connections between a web browser and a web server. 

Initially, the encryptions on HTTPs were done with SSL that later changed to TLS. The HTTPs protocol is primarily concerned with the authenticity of data transferred. Therefore, it deals with web certificates that distinguished authentic websites from fake ones.

These certificates ensure data transferred is safe from man-in-the-middle attacks, which often jeopardizes the integrity of data in transit. The HTTPs protocol, today, is compulsory for websites that process payments and handle personal data.

What is HTTPs?

What is HTTPs, and Why Should I Care about it?

HTTP is a web computing term that is essentially used as the acronym for "Hypertext transfer protocol." The HTTP technology was dominant on most websites for a long time until more security threats began to be recorded. HTTP is the standard communication protocol between a web browser and other websites.

However, since technology is constantly evolving, there became a need to use a more secure communication protocol for more sensitive information like passwords, credit card details, and personal data became a crucial part of online security.

Therefore, websites that handle such information had to use a more secure version of HTTP, known as HTTPs. HTTPs is a similar protocol to HTTP, except that it offers more security features that allow websites to protect some crucial information to enhance security.

Following its usability, the entire web platform has begun to transition from HTTP to HTTPs due to the security benefits of the HTTPs protocol. Today, nearly all credible websites use HTTPs regardless of handling sensitive client information or not.

So, before we discuss the benefits of HTTPs, and why it has become the new popular standard protocol for communication between browsers and websites, it is essential to understand how exactly does its predecessor, HTTP, works.

Here you go!

Whenever a user connects to a website using a web browser, the web browser will attempt to find the IP address of the website. Meaning, the web browser is only concerned with the IP address of the domain name you typed in your browser; once it locates the IP address, it automatically assumes that it is the right address. Therefore, it loads the corresponding webpage.

So, the main security challenge of using HTTP is that data is transmitted between the browser and the web server in cleartext. That is, in case of an interception, all the transmitted data can be read.

This was good for governments, employers, and other intelligent agencies that sought to spy on specific victims. When the victims use HTTPs, the connection is not end-to-end encrypted, and therefore, authorities and the internet provider could easily access information by intercepting the communication.

When using the HTTP protocol, it is nearly impossible to verify the webserver you are connected to; therefore, you could be easily redirected to spam sites or phishing websites that look similar to your original bank's website, for instance. This way, users can be hacked whenever they provide their actual bank information to these impostor websites that seek to steal their data and defraud them.

Luckily, HTTP-based problems have been solved by a new version of the technology, known as the HTTPs - the s stands for "secure."

So, how does secure HTTP (HTTPs) work?

How does HTTPs work?

HTTPs, on the other hand, works differently from HTTP, in that it provides encryption of data during communication between the web server and the web browser. The fundamental difference between the two protocols is offering encryption and validation of website security certificates.

When using an HTTPs connection, the interaction between you (the web browser) and the web server - the server that hosts the website you are visiting- is secured using the Secure Sockets Layer, also known as an SSL.

SSL is a certificate that validates the authenticity of a specific website by cross-checking the web certificates on the website. It also encrypts the information transmitted through the protocol to ensure no one can intercept it. Since the information is encrypted, even in the case of any breach, the information obtained will be encrypted. Therefore, it will require to be decrypted before anyone can make sense of it.

In technical computing terms, the HTTPs use a combination of technologies to ensure their connectivity is secure and protected user data. The HTTPs can be described as an amalgamation of the regular HTTP, with SSL/TSL - which stands for Transport Layer Security protocol. The TSL is a network security protocol.

To understand how HTTPs works, it is better to outline the entire process in a step-by-step guide. Below is how information is transmitted over an HTTPs protocol.

Let us refer to your web browser as the Client and the requested web page host as the webserver.

So when the Client requests information about a web page from the webserver, the webserver will search for information about the IP address requested and return a public key and its corresponding TSL or SSL certificate.

The Client (web browser) will then have to authenticate the certificates sent by the webserver. When authenticating the web certificates, there are three major aspects that the Client must confirm.

The Client confirms whether the web certificate is expired or not. It also checks if the web certificate is valid, and finally, it verifies whether a trusted party provides the web certificate.

Once the Client confirms all these and validates them, it creates a symmetric key and communicates it back to the webserver so that if they are compatible, the webserver can decode it using the private key.

Once this is successful, the web server sends over the webpage that the Client requested. However, since its HTTPs, the webpage is sent as an encrypted file. The encrypted web files are sent to the Client (web browser) with another symmetric key.

The Client (web browser) then decodes the encoded web files using the symmetric key to access the files. Immediately, it accesses the translated web files, the Client (web browser) displays the web page to you.

What's different about HTTPs, compared to HTTP

What is HTTPs, and Why Should I Care about it?

The HTTP protocol operates at a higher layer level of the TCP/IP model, while the HTTPs protocol operates at the lower level of the TCP/IP Model. The TCP/IP model is short for Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol, and it is essentially used as the communication protocol between two network devices on the internet.

In layman's terms, the information transmitted through the HTTPs is hardly available to eavesdroppers since the protocol encrypts data when it is sent and decrypts it on arrival. Unlike HTTPs protocol, where encryption is used, information is transmitted in plain text; therefore, any interception of the transmission can lead to large data leaks, which is not secure for sensitive data such as credit card information, usernames, and passwords, and even PINs.

Similarly, the HTTP protocol does not use web certificates, while the HTTPs protocol uses web certificates. Web certificates are vital in ensuring the legitimacy of a specific webpage. With valid web certificates that have not expired and are issued by a trusted source, a website passes all the requirements of a legitimate website. Therefore the HTTPs protocol allows the user to access the website. As for HTTP, which has no regard for web certificates, users can easily be redirected to malicious phishing websites by hackers to steal their information.

Also, HTTPs websites use a different communication port to that of HTTP protocols. A standard HTTP communication will utilize port 80, while a standard HTTPs communication port will use port 443.

Additionally, there is a clear distinction between HTTPs protocol websites and HTTP protocol websites in their URL. How the URLs are different is the easiest way to tell apart HTTPs protocol websites from your browser's HTTP protocol protocol websites. An HTTPs website will have its URL prefixed by "https:// domain name," whereas, HTTP website will have "http:// domain name." Recently, a padlock feature and a green icon were introduced to several web browsers to help users determine whether the websites they are visiting support HTTPs.

Today, the HTTPs protocol has become so common that many unsecured websites are considered "not credible." As of 2018, the google chrome browser started labeling all HTTP websites as "Not Secure," this labeling does a lot of harm to websites that seek to sell any kind of information or product.

Users are warned that interacting with HTTP protocol websites is unsecure, which leads to many e-commerce platforms and other credible websites converting to HTTPs. Today, nearly all websites require HTTPs protocol to survive the competition.

Today's internet battles involve the use of SEO which is the short form for Search Engine Optimization. Many web pages, blogs, and e-commerce websites strive to rank high on google; essentially, Google's first page. From your browsing experience, you can already tell that users often click on the links indexed on Google's first page, and rarely do users make it to the second page of Google.

Therefore, to get your website in front of search engines, website owners need to consider SEO best practices. One crucial SEO practice today is the use of the HTTPs protocol. Google loves HTTPs protocol due to its credibility, fast browsing experience, and certificates. Therefore, when HTTPs introduced, Google ranked websites with HTTPs above other competitor websites with HTTP protocols.

How did this shape the HTTPs movement?

When the HTTPs protocol was introduced, it was expensive, and no one likes unnecessary extra expenses. The few websites that opted to go the extra mile for the HTTPs protocol benefited massively from Google rankings.

Consequently, non-profit organizations began to offer free automated web certificates known as Domain Validation (DV) to rival the previously expensive EV certificates. This movement ensured that many website owners could afford HTTPs. Large Internet companies such as Amazon also began to provide Transport Layer Security protocol certificates to their clients.

The Importance of HTTPs

What is HTTPs, and Why Should I Care about it?

Google is a significant influencer in the web space; in essence, it is the most significant influencer since websites depend on their products, such as Google Chrome and the Google Search Engine. The Google Search Engine is the largest search engine for ranking websites and redirecting users to useful websites.

The HTTPs protocol has changed from a mere security measure to a business necessity for brands and organizations on the internet. The HTTPs protocol allows heavy websites like e-commerce platforms to load faster, giving users a faster browsing experience.

Most companies today use the HTTPs protocol to protect themselves from ever-evolving methods of online attacks. Recently, there has been a surge in Ransomware attacks targeting large corporations and even government institutions. Although using an HTTPs protocol is not the only procedure involved in preventing ransomware attacks, it is one of the main prerequisites of any corporation or organization. Using the HTTPs protocol instead of the regular HTTP will protect users' data from online attackers since they are transmitted in an encrypted format. 

These attackers often intercept such information on HTTP protocols, seize the sensitive data and ask for ridiculous Ransomware amounts with threats of releasing the sensitive data from governments and top-secret files to the public. 

Since most web browsers have support for HTTP/2, that is essentially a provision for improvements over the benchmark HTTP protocol. However, with HTTPs protocol, a website can load faster with encrypted data due to advanced Transport Layer Security (TSL) that simplifies the entire encryption process without overloading the servers.

The HTTPs protocol has led to an entire internet revolution that has brought about fast and secure websites. Clearly, in this age and time, we could not afford to have Amazon and Facebook, for instance, running on the HTTP protocol where all communications are insecure, and any interceptions would lead to a massive information leak.

Considering the importance of the HTTPs protocol, it is evident that nearly all websites require to use it today. It helps with branding, security, speed as well as SEO. Almost all credible brands on the internet use the HTTPs protocol, and therefore all website owners should follow suit.

It is important to note that plugins and other services allow the website owners to install fake HTTPs protocols. These free tools make the website owners with HTTP protocols pretend to have HTTPs protocols by changing the appearances of their domain names in the browser. This unethical act causes severe legal issues to business owners whenever they are hacked and client information has been stolen.

For instance, there are free WordPress plugins that, once installed on an HTTP protocol website, change the URL of the website on the browser. For example, if the website is "http:// 123 dot com," then the plugin will change its appearance once it is loaded on the browser to "https:// 123 dot com". This plugin is used to convince website visitors that they are visiting legitimate websites with the HTTPs protocol, while they are actually on fake websites that use HTTP protocols.

Conclusion

Essentially, the introduction of HTTPs facilitated the further growth of internet businesses, allowing secure online payment gateways to support payments on e-commerce platforms. Due to HTTPs, fast and secure network connectivity, online casinos, betting websites, and other websites that process payments and confidential information can operate smoothly.

Although HTTPs is not the only answer to website security, it is a significant factor in ensuring the safety of website users and their data. Special attacks can still be launched on HTTPs protocol websites; however, there is a substantial surge in security levels when comparing an HTTP protocol website and an HTTPs protocol website.

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