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Monday, 21 April 2014

Before MORE Website's Heart start bleeding it’s Better to Encrypt the entire Internet

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The Heartbleed bug crushed everyone’s faith in the secure web, but a world without the encryption software that Heartbleed exploited would be even worse. In fact, it’s time for the web to take a good hard look at a new idea: encryption everywhere.

Most major websites use either the SSL or TLS protocol to protect your password or credit card information as it travels between your browser and their servers. Whenever you see that a site is using HTTPS, as opposed to HTTP, you know that SSL/TLS is being used. But only a few sites — like Facebook and Gmail — actually use HTTPS to protect all of their traffic as opposed to just passwords and payment details.

Many security experts — including Google’s in-house search guru, Matt Cutts — think it’s time to bring this style of encryption to the entire web. That means secure connections to everything from your bank site to Wired.com to the online menu at your local pizza parlor.

Cutts runs Google’s web spam team. He helps the company tweak its search engine algorithms to prioritize certain sites over others. For example, the search engine prioritizes sites that load quickly, and penalizes sites that copy — or “scrape” — text from others.

If Cutts had his way, Google would prioritize sites that use HTTPS over those that don’t, he told blogger Barry Schwartz at a conference earlier this year. The change, if it were ever implemented, would likely spur an HTTPS stampede as web sites competed for better search rankings.
A Google spokesperson would only tell us that the company has nothing to announce at this time. So this change won’t happen overnight.


The Dispute Against Total SSL

But if HTTPS is so great, then why don’t all websites use it already? There are several disadvantages to using HTTPS everywhere, the World Wide Web Consortium’s HTTPS expert Yves Lafon told us in 2011.

The first is the increased cost. You have to purchase TLS certificates from one of several certificate authorities, which can cost anything from $10 dollars per year to about $1,000 dollars a year, depending on the type of certificate you purchase and the level of identity verification it provides. Another issue is that HTTPS increases server resource consumption and can slow sites down. But Marlinspike and Butler say the costs and resource overhead are actually greatly overestimated.

An issue for smaller sites is that it’s historically been hard to set up unique certificates on sites that use cheap shared hosting. Also, sites that used content delivery networks — or CDNs — to speed up their responsiveness also frequently faced challenges when implementing SSL. Both of these issues have been largely resolved today, though the costs, performance and complexity varies from host to host.

But even if the entire web isn’t ready to switch completely to HTTPS, there are plenty of reasons that more sites should start using HTTPS by default — especially sites that provide public information and software. And given how far we’ve already come since the days of FireSheep, we can expect HTTPS to continue to continue to spread, even if Google doesn’t start prioritizing sites that use it.

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