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What is HTTPS? A Detailed Guide

What is HTTPS? A Detailed Guide

When we talk about sports, teams always prefer players that have the “X” factor. In the case of Google’s search engine rankings, the algorithm favours websites that have the “S” factor. 

Any transmission on the internet, including text, sound, images (barring videos) can be accomplished using a set of protocols called HTTP (hypertext transfer protocol). 

However, HTTP isn’t secure enough to handle confidential information. Here’s where the “S” factor changes the ball game and provides the much-needed security to HTTP.

The new version is called HTTPS (hypertext transfer protocol secure) where “S” implies a more “secure” version of HTTP.

HTTP vs HTTPS

HTTPS establishes end-to-end encryption, thereby making the portal secure for data transmission and monetary transactions.

To make an upgrade from HTTP to HTTPS, you need to get your website SSL (secure sockets layer) certified, also called TLS (transport layer security).

How does HTTPS work?

HTTPS does to a transmitted text what heat does to water. It changes the form without modifying the actual data.

So, during a random browsing session over HTTPS, an encrypted connection will be established.

Consider this example for better understanding.

Connection established over HTTPS:

Original message: HTTPS is critical for security reasons.

Post encryption:

Transmitted text: LIas89sXCHHFB128DFHCJKFMAcchda187AxcWdaljP

The machine receiving the encrypted code can easily interpret the actual message, but any malicious or tracking software cannot decode it.

In case of HTTP though, the data is sent in its real form, and therefore, interception can lead to dire consequences. 

The process of encrypting and decrypting is a complex one, and HTTPS uses two separate keys to achieve end-to-end security.

The public key encrypts any communication that takes place on the server from secure sources.

To decrypt the encrypted information, a private key is put to use. The proprietor of the website has complete access to the private key.

Why does your website need HTTPS encryption?

Simply put, your website needs HTTPS for entrusting the visitors by enhancing the existing level of security. Here’s an example:

Suppose you visit an E-commerce website to make a purchase. If that website doesn’t have an SSL/TLS certificate, it’ll operate over HTTP.

When you toggle over the address bar, you’ll see a notification that warns you of not entering any sensitive information on the web page.

Image source: ScratchPads

What are chances of you still going ahead with your purchase and entering your card details on their payment page? 

Reverse the roles now and speculate if you want your visitors and organic customers to get “not secure” notifications for your website?

Users won’t compromise with security levels because they have plenty of options available. Therefore, you need your website to match their basic expectations.

After winning their trust, your products and services take over, and if your offerings incline with the customer’s requirements, you score a sale.

A market study done by Moz suggests that more than 42% of the website owners understand the importance of HTTPS and have already made a switch. If you don’t land amongst this 42%, now is the time to transform your website into a secure portal for all the visitors. 

Below graph shows the constant increase in the usage of HTTPS over the years:

Increase in usage of HTTPS
Image source: SEMRush

To summarize, your website needs HTTPS so that:

  • Customers can safely enter sensitive information
  • Data is end-to-end encrypted (client to server)
  • Website is safe from malicious applications and manual data forging

HTTP vs HTTPS: What’s the difference?

Security level differentiates HTTP and HTTPS on the grounds of functionality. To illustrate an example from the recent scenario, take a hypothetical situation where the vaccine for coronavirus is ready. 

For any employee, he/she has the option of going to work with or without taking the vaccine.

They’ll work with equal productivity with or without the virus remedy. But the employee with a vaccine dose is more safe from the virus while the other is prone to it every second.

SSL/TLS certification with end-to-end encryption serves the purpose of the vaccine and makes HTTPS a secure connection.

There won’t be any decrease in the website’s efficiency, but it’ll be prone to various mishappenings. 

With regards to their technical aspects, HTTP uses port 80 for communication while HTTPS utilizes port 443.

As soon as you get the SSL done for your website, the control transfers from 80 to 443 (alongside HTTP to HTTPS).

Why is HTTPS important for SEO?

HTTPS is a secure protocol and is backed by Google for similar reasons. No search engine would want their user to access any risky website. Therefore, Google also rewards HTTPS oriented sites with boosted SEO performance. 

Here’s why HTTPS is essential for SEO:

1. A Ranking Signal

When websites are ranked from top to bottom, several factors are considered.

HTTPS isn’t the top-of-the-list ranking factor, but websites with HTTPS always get the edge over HTTP, given that their SEO performance lies in close proximity.

HTTPS helps the search crawlers to distinguish between a safe and risky web page directly.

2. Increase in user engagement

A shielded website with increased levels of security is an obvious choice for any user. When a visitor opens your website, and the address bar notifies them not to enter any details, user engagement takes a dent. 

Many visitors bounce away right after the warning, while some aren’t sure of their next steps. On-page time is critical for an efficient SEO strategy and keeping the visitors hooked to your content is the key. 

With HTTPS, you offer a seal of trust to the audience. You ensure that an immediate bounce doesn’t happen and even if you don’t make a sale, the SEO score takes the positive route.

3. Better security and privacy

HTTPS is optimum for transmitting any sensitive or confidential information. It’s true that it isn’t 100% safe for communication, but it is lightyears ahead of HTTP with regards to security. 

In a recent survey by GlobalSign, it came to the fore that more than 85% of the online shoppers avoid unsecured websites. So even if you have polished your SEO strategy, the mission isn’t accomplished until you go for HTTPS. 

You can build a loyal subscriber base only if you have a secured portal where users can safely enter their personal details. For online transactions, HTTPS is a must.

4. HTTPS authenticates websites

Everyone has given exams, and an integral part of any examination is the hall ticket or admit card.

No matter how long you’ve been associated with the institute, without a legitimate hall ticket with your photo on it, you won’t get an entry. 

Similar is the case with HTTPS too.

The TLS/SSL certificate ensures that a website shows the “secure” status to any user across the globe.

This bridges the gap between the user and the destination server, and the user can confidently access the website.

Example of a secured website

Myths for not using HTTPS

Using HTTPS isn’t restricted to bank portals and e-commerce websites. Below, a few such myths have been addressed:

1. My website does not have sensitive information

Many website owners conclude that there’s nothing confidential on their website to invest a sum on security.

Well, even for a simple blog site, security is critical because a lack of it compromises with the visitor’s data. 

Uncontrolled ad campaigns also run on HTTP protocols, and their genre can vary with the ad controller and has nothing to do with your theme.

The ads may be violent, repulsive or prohibited, and users won’t stay more than a second on your website after such unpleasant encounters.

2. I do not want to hurt my website performance

When HTTPS first came into the scene, the page load time was considerably longer in comparison to HTTP.

However, HTTPS has now become optimized and page load and reload times align with those of HTTP.

In fact, techniques like session resumption and TLS false start significantly improve the overall website performance.

While session resumption keeps the connection alive for longer periods to ensure a quick re-establishment, the latter follows a different approach.

In TLS false start, the delay in loading time is cut short by transmitting the encrypted data ahead of user authentication.

3. Implementing HTTPS is costly

Just like any other technology, HTTPS was heavy on user’s pockets when it entered the market.

Today, this difference has been bridged and you can upgrade site security without paying hefty amounts.

You can use LetsEncrypt or CloudFlare to secure your website way within your estimated budget.

As a matter of fact, CloudFlare started with the scheme of providing free encryptions and the scheme is running efficiently today as well.

4. I will lose my search rankings if I migrate to HTTPS

Out of all the myths, losing search engine rankings due to migration is indeed a cause of concern.

But when you follow certain migration guidelines, you can smoothly transfer control to a new address without losing the link juice. What are they?

Implement 301 redirect so that when a transition happens from HTTP to HTTPS, the link juice is maintained.

All the queries are simply forwarded to a new address, and you don’t lose out on your rankings.

Put canonical tags to use so that web crawlers are notified about the recent migration, and they consider the new link as the canonical one.

Types of SSL Certificates

SSL certificates provide HTTPS encryption to websites and, in turn, prevent your website from domain spoofing and middleman attacks. Here are some different types of SSL certificates:

1. Wildcard SSL certificate

Wildcard SSL certificates are recognized by an asterisk (*) sign which is a part of the “common name.”

The asterisk represents a credible subdomain which has the same base domain. 

The best use case for a wildcard SSL certificate is when you have several singular domains.

You can use this SSL with the common name and it’ll save you a good sum of money.

2. Extended Validation certificate (EV SSL)

If you feel that your domain name is being exploited by duplication and fake accounts, you can go for EV SSL certificate.

It’s the most expensive one but users can distinguish your website by looking at the address alone.

Here’s what it looks like when you have EV SSL:

Example of EV SSL certificate
Image source: Buzinessware

Use EV certificate for high-profile websites or even for payment portals as an added layer of security.

3. Organization Validated certificate (OV SSL)

To get this certificate, the owner of the website has to follow a legitimate validation process.

Certification Authority (CA) evaluates the application and then grants the certificate. The purpose of OV is to encrypt the user data and prevent it from malicious attackers. 

Below are the certification details of an OV SSL certificate:

Example of OV SSL certificate
Image source: LiquidWeb

It is best suited for eCommerce websites, banking portals and other websites that require sensitive user information.

4. Domain Validated certificate (DV SSL)

DV certificate can be obtained at low cost because the process requires the owner of the domain to verify his/her ownership.

Post successful authentication, the certificate is issued within a few minutes. 

It provides the authentic lock sign in the address bar along with the HTTPS addition in the website’s URL.

Below is an example of how a DV SSL certified site looks:

This certificate is extensively used by blog sites and other informational websites.

You can trust a DV certificate for protecting your data but as a preventive measure, one should avoid the transmission of highly confidential information.

How to implement HTTPS for WordPress using CloudFlare?

Your WordPress website will handle a plethora of traffic in the not-so-distant future, and you should have HTTPS ready for your platform.

Here’s how you can implement HTTPS for WordPress using CloudFlare:

  • Visit CloudFlare’s official plugin link for WordPress.
  • If you are switching from HTTP to HTTPS, then you’ll see the default dashboard of CloudFlare.
  • In case you are upgrading from a prior plugin, you’ll need to go to the plugin settings. There, you need to fill in your CloudFlare username and the API key.
  • To generate your API key, go to the CloudFlare’s dashboard. Click on My Profile and open the API Tokens tab. Hover to the Create Token section under My Tokens tab and click on Custom Token. Set the permissions for Edit and Read and after reviewing all the details, click on Create Token to finish the process. To view the API key you generated, visit – My Profile > API Tokens > API Keys. All you need to do now is select Global API Key or Origin CA Key, i.e., the one that you’d like to view. 
  • Click on default settings, and that’s it. CloudFlare’s encryption is now fully functioning on your WordPress domain, and attackers and DDoS attempts are adequately safeguarded.
  • There’s a premium tier of encryption available as well, and an upgrade is just one tap away. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

#1. Will HTTPS provide 100% protection from malicious attacks? 

HTTPS puts SSL/TLS to use which work on data encryption. This means that a network interceptor or manual attacker cannot decode the packets being transmitted from both the ends.

However, 100% protection isn’t guaranteed, and you need to have more than HTTPS for complete protection.

 

#2. Which encryption provider should I go with?

For the best HTTPS experience within your budget, you can go with CloudFlare and LetsEncrypt. They provide best-in-class protection services and have advanced versions to handle any website or server.

 

#3. How long will it take to switch from HTTP to HTTPS?

Once you have decided the type of SSL you want, you can place a CSR (certificate signing request) and wait for its validation.

If all the provided information is correct, you can switch to HTTPS within an hour of CSR. If not, it may take several hours to a couple of days.

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