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

In the past, web users could bypass simple browsing restrictions and access social media sites that were blocked by employers and schools, like Facebook, by simply adding the “S” at the end of HTTP.

In modern times, the “S” at the end of HTTPS is usually associated with an extra layer of security, which is exactly what it stands for. Although HTTP is a simple acronym for Hypertext Transfer Protocol, its HTTPS extension stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure.

HTTP was developed in 1989 by the famous World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, while HTTPS came five years later. It was originally made by Netscape Communications for its web browser, Netscape Navigator, and HTTPS was utilised along with the SSL protocol.

As awareness of user privacy while browsing the web improved, so did demand for better security. A notable contribution is Google’s attempts to cement HTTPS as the default standard for web browsing, as it decided in 2018 to begin labelling HTTP in Chrome as “not secure”.

Despite this, HTTPS doesn't mean browsing is fully risk-free. During the first quarter of 2020, two-thirds of all malware-hit computers were infected through encrypted HTTPS connections, with the UK being the most targeted country for the five most widespread network attacks. This is why to prevent these types of threats, businesses need to conduct HTTPS inspection of encrypted traffic and engage in advanced behaviour-based threat response and detection.

What are the benefits of HTTPS over HTTP?

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.

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+DpD....'

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.

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 your business is still registered under an HTTP domain, you might want to think about changing to HTTPS. Although this might seem like yet another daunting task, the process really isn’t that complicated, and there are plenty of benefits, from improving your business’ visibility on Google, to thwarting man-in-the-middle attacks.

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So, what’s the process of switching to HTTPS? The first step is to get hold of your website’s hosting company. You should ask them to assist in purchasing an SSL certificate, which they should also help install. While you do so, you should also ensure that you haven’t left behind any stray website links, as the moment that you switch to HTTPS, they might be left broken and your customers will be unable to access these pages or services. After the SSL certificate is issued and installed, your website’s hosting company should be able to simply redirect any traffic from the old HTTP version of your website to the new HTTPS one.

In the situation where your website’s hosting company is being unhelpful for any reason, bear in mind that there exists an abundance of third-party vendors which would be able to assist you in purchasing an SSL certificate – in fact, the choice could be even considered slightly overwhelming by some. You might want to compare different packages offered by vendors, while always remembering to read the fine print. It’s also the reason why many simply go to their hosting provider for help.

You can also take matters into your own hands by manually installing the SSL on your FTP yourself, although you will also need to remember to set up a redirect from the HTTP version of the site to HTTPS.

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