What is Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS)?

What is Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS)?

Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) is a protocol that secures communication and data transfer between a user’s web browser and a website. HTTPS is the secure version of HTTP.

The protocol protects users from eavesdropping and man-in-the-middle (MitM) attacks. It also protects legitimate domains from Domain Name System (DNS) spoofing attacks.

HTTPS plays an important role in securing websites that handle or transmit sensitive data, including data handled by online banking, email providers, online retailers, healthcare providers, and more. Simply put, any website that requires login credentials or involves financial transactions should use HTTPS to ensure the security of users, transactions, and data.

HTTP vs HTTPS

A malicious actor can easily impersonate, modify, or monitor an HTTP connection. HTTPS protects against these vulnerabilities by encrypting all exchanges between the web browser and the web server. As a result, HTTPS ensures that no one can tamper with these transactions, thus securing users’ privacy and preventing sensitive information from falling into the wrong hands.

HTTPS is not a separate protocol from HTTP. Instead, it is a variant that uses TLS/SSL encryption over HTTP to secure connections. When a web server and web browser talk to each other over HTTPS, they share what is known as shake hand – Exchange of TLS / SSL certificates – to verify the identity of the provider and to protect the user and his data.

HTTPS URL starts with https: // instead of http: //. Most web browsers show that a website is secure by displaying a locked padlock icon to the left of the URL in the browser’s address bar. In some browsers, users can click the padlock icon to check whether the digital certificate of a HTTPS-enabled website includes identifying information about the website owner, such as a name or company name.

HTTPS is a variant of HTTP that uses TLS/SSL encryption over HTTP to secure communications.

How does HTTPS outperform HTTP?

In HTTP, information shared via a website may be intercepted or sniffed by any bad actor snooping on the network. This is especially risky if the user is accessing the website in an unsafe mannerDr Network, such as public Wi-Fi. Since all HTTP connections happen in plain textThey are highly vulnerable to MitM attacks on the track.

HTTPS ensures that all communications between a user’s web browser and a website are fully encrypted. Even if the traffic is intercepted by cybercriminals, what they receive appears to be garbled data. This data can only be converted into a readable form using the corresponding decryption tool – that is, the private key.

Encryption in HTTPS

HTTPS is based on the TLS encryption protocol, which secures communications between two parties. TLS uses a public asymmetric cryptographic infrastructure. This means that it uses two different keys:

  1. private key. This is controlled and maintained by the website owner and is located on the web server. It decrypts the information that is encrypted by the public key.
  2. public key. This is available for users who wish to interact securely with the server via their web browser. Information encrypted with the public key can only be decrypted by the private key.

How does HTTPS work

As mentioned in the previous section, HTTPS over SSL/TLS works with public key cryptography to distribute a shared symmetric key for data encryption and authentication. It uses port 443 by default, while HTTP uses port 80. All secure transfers require port 443, although the same port supports HTTP connections as well.

Before data transmission in HTTPS begins, the browser and server decide the connection parameters by making an SSL/TLS connection. Handshakes are also important for establishing a secure connection.

Here’s how the whole process works:

  1. The client browser and web server exchange “hello” messages.
  2. Both parties communicate their encryption standards with each other.
  3. The server shares its certificate with the browser.
  4. The client verifies the validity of the certificate.
  5. The client uses the public key to generate an initial secret key.
  6. This secret key is encrypted using the public key and shared with the server.
  7. The client and server calculate the symmetric key based on the secret key value.
  8. Both sides confirm that they have calculated the secret key.
  9. Data transmission uses symmetric encryption.

An example of how HTTPS works

Suppose a customer visits a retailer’s e-commerce website to purchase an item. When the customer is ready to place an order, they are directed to the product order page. The URL for this page begins with https: //Not http: //.

To place the order, the customer is required to enter some personal details (for example, name and shipping address), as well as financial data (for example, his credit card number). HTTPS encrypts this data to ensure that it cannot be hacked or stolen by an unauthorized party, such as a hacker or cybercriminal.

Then the request reaches the server where it is processed. Once the request is successfully submitted, the user receives an acknowledgment from the server, which is also transmitted in encrypted form and displayed in his web browser. This acknowledgment is decrypted by the browser’s HTTPS sublayer.

HTTPS and the CIA’s Triad

HTTPS ensures the CIA triad, an essential element of information security:

  • HTTPS encrypts a site visitor’s connection and hides cookies, URLs, and other types of sensitive metadata.
  • HTTPS ensures that any data transmitted between the visitor and the website cannot be tampered with or modified by the hacker.
  • HTTPS ensures that the user has access to the actual website and not a fake version.

HTTPS Advantages

HTTPS offers several advantages over HTTP connections:

  • Data and user protection. HTTPS prevents eavesdropping between web browsers and web servers and establish secure connections. Thus it protects user privacy and protects sensitive information from hackers. This is critical for transactions involving personal or financial data.
  • Improve user experience. When customers know a website is authentic and protect their data, it instills trust. In addition, HTTPS increases data transfer speeds by reducing data volume.
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO). HTTPS sites usually rank higher in search engine results pagesThis is an important feature for organizations looking to boost their digital presence through SEO.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Adapting an HTTPS Connection

While HTTPS can improve website security, implementing it incorrectly can negatively affect the security and usability of the website. Common errors include the following issues.

problem solution
Expired certificates Always make sure the site’s certificate is up to date.
Missing certificate for all hostnames Obtain a certificate for all hostnames served by the site to avoid certificate name mismatch errors.
Server Name Index (SNI) support Ensure that the web server supports SNI and that the audience is using browsers that support SNI.
Crawl and indexing issues Ensure that crawling of the HTTPS site is not blocked by robots.txt. Also, enable proper indexing of all pages by search engines.
content Make sure that the content on both the HTTP and HTTPS pages matches.

Are HTTPS connections vulnerable to attacks?

While HTTPS is more secure than HTTP, neither of them is immune to cyber attacks. HTTPS connections may be subject to the following malicious activities:

  • Cryptanalysis or protocol weakness. Threats may use cryptanalysis or exploit potential vulnerabilities to breach the HTTPS connection.
  • Attacks on the client computer. Attackers might install a malicious root certificate in the client computer or the browser’s trusted store, compromising the HTTPS connection.
  • Manipulation of a CA. Attackers can tamper or compromise the CA to get a spoofed certificate that major browsers trust by mistake.

We see What are the most important email security protocols.

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