HTTP vs HTTPS: What difference does it make to security?

We look at the difference between the two and tell you how to switch between them

HTTPS browser

HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) and HTTPs (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) are the two main methods used for transferring data across the internet and World Wide Web.

As the names would suggest, HTTPS has an added layer of security, which HTTP doesn't. Traffic moving between a computer and website using HTTP is transmitted 'in the clear', which is to say if it were to be intercepted the person looking in would be able to read all the data as plainly as if it were written on a piece of paper.

HTTPS, meanwhile, uses SSL (secure socket layer) and TLS (transport layer security) to encrypt the information in transit, meaning that if it's intercepted it will appear as a random jumble of letters and numbers.

For most of the 25 years since its creation HTTPS was used to protect highly sensitive information, notably online payments. However, as of 2018 it's overtaken HTTP as the most common way of transferring data on the Web.

What are the benefits of HTTPS over HTTP?

As mentioned above, using HTTP means data is transmitted in plain text. This means that if someone were to intercept that data while it's in transit known as a man-in-the-middle attack they would be able to see all of it without putting in any additional effort.

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HTTPS, meanwhile, uses public key encryption via SSL/TLS to thwart this kind of attack.

Network services provider Cloudflare gives the following example: When using HTTP to send the message "Hello World!", the attacker would see exactly that, plus some additional information about the server, when the text was created and so on.

With HTTPS, it would see something like the following:

t8Fw6T8UV81pQfyhDkhebbz7+oiwldr1j2gHBB3L3RFTRsQCpaSnSBZ78Vme+DpDVJPvZdZUZHpzbbcqmSW1+3xXGsERHg9YDmpYk0VVDiRvw1H5miNieJeJ/FNUjgH0BmVRWII6+T4MnDwmCMZUI/orxP3HGwYCSIvyzS3MpmmSe4iaWKCOHQ==

Additionally, in order for a website to have the SSL certificate that enables it to use HTTPS, the domain must be verified to check that it belongs to the website owner and in some cases, legal certificates must be presented to verify everything is in order.

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HTTPS will also improve a website's ranking on Google, only the best and most secure get to feature on the first page and statistics show that 84% of shopper will abandon a purchase if they don't see the little green padlock next to the URL.

How to switch from HTTP to HTTPS

If you're not yet using HTTPS to secure your website, it's time to talk to your hosting company, which should issue and install an SSL certificate for you, redirecting your traffic from the HTTP to the https version with little effort.

If this isn't the case, there are plenty of third-party companies that you can purchase an SSL certificate from and then manually set it up on your FTP. You will then need to set up a redirect to tell browsers trying to access the HTTP version of the site to HTTPS.

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