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, adding the ‘S’ at the end of HTTP allowed web users to bypass simple browsing restrictions and access social media sites usually blocked by schools and employers, such as Facebook. But what is the real purpose of the HTTPS?

Nowadays, the ‘S’ at the very end is most commonly associated with an extra layer of security, and that is exactly what it stands for. While HTTP is an acronym for Hypertext Transfer Protocol, its extension HTTPS stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure.

The former was developed in 1989 by World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, while HTTPS followed five years later. Originally created by Netscape Communications for its Netscape Navigator web browser, the HTTPS was used alongside the SSL protocol.

However, with the greater awareness of privacy concerns linked to web browsing, the levels of security have, fortunately, increased. One notable contribution is Google’s efforts to make HTTPS a default standard for web browsing, with its 2018 decision to start labelling HTTP as “not secure” in Chrome. Prior to that, browsing data left a paper trail for anyone to see and exploit, and Google’s efforts led to users’ privacy being better protected through encryption.

Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that HTTPS is completely risk-free. In fact, in the first quarter of 2020, two-thirds of all malware-hit computers had been infected through encrypted HTTPS connections, with the UK being the most targeted country for the five most widespread network attacks. That is why, in order to prevent these kinds of threats, businesses should conduct HTTPS inspection of encrypted traffic as well as engage in advanced behavior-based threat detection and response.

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 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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