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What is HTTPS?

Website security is extremely important, no matter the types of information businesses are saving or transmitting. Setting up encryption and authentication for your website can mean the difference between providing a secure site for users vs. potentially leaking sensitive data. 

Continue reading to examine what is HTTPS, how it differs from HTTP, and how you can set up this necessary security feature on your website.

HTTPS Definition

HTTPS, meaning Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure, is the primary way to securely send data from a web browser to a website. HTTPS encrypts the data entered into a user’s device to safely deliver it to the website they are interacting with. It also encrypts data going from the website to the browser. HTTPS is a common protocol and serves as the communication standard for traffic between browsers and web servers.

How Does HTTPS Work?

HTTPS has been designed to protect communication sent over the internet. This is accomplished by adding security layers, Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) and Transport Layer Security (TLS), to the original Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) to encrypt whatever information is being transferred from a user to a website. Using public key infrastructure (PKI), the SSL and TLS layers work to ensure you are sending data directly to the intended recipient and that the information is being sent from and to the sources indicated.

Encryption

Encryption is critical to the security of HTTPS because it implements SSL and TLS. Setting up a shared private key through public-key cryptography and SSL/TLS handshake ensures that even if someone can access the data you entered into a website, they will not be able to read it. Encryption turns your fully coherent sensitive data into a complete jumble of letters, symbols, and numbers that means nothing to someone trying to read it. 

身份验证

Authentication is the next step in maintaining the security of data entering a website. A website's SSL/TLS certificate will have a public key to verify the data sent has been digitally signed by an individual using the correct private key. This proves the information is coming from a trusted source and can be accepted.

Data Integrity

Files, images, or web pages are vulnerable to corruption by third-party entities if not properly secured. HTTPS ensures that each document sent through the server has a digital signature from the original sender, which a website can then use to determine the integrity of the sent data. The document's contents, including its digital certificate, can be analyzed to verify no corruption has occurred in transit.

 

How Does HTTPS work?  Three key layers of protection

What is the Difference Between HTTP and HTTPS?

At their core, both HTTP and HTTPS serve the same purpose—to transfer data over the internet. Servers store web pages that are then provided to the client's computer when a user accesses them. This communication between servers and clients creates a network—known as the worldwide web. 

HTTP fetches requested information from web servers, but the downside is that it has no layer of security. It is simply a delivery system, and it leaves all information vulnerable and open for anyone to access.

The main difference between HTTP and HTTPS is that HTTPS has the additional SSL/TLS layer to ensure all data being transferred is encrypted and secure. The security provided by HTTPS is essential for sites that send sensitive information, such as credit card information or billing addresses. 

Differences Between HTTP and HTTPS

(Source: SEMrush)

How to Switch Your Website to HTTPS

HTTPS has become the standard for websites looking to secure their users' data. For a safe and secure migration from HTTP over to HTTPS, follow the seven steps below:

  1. Back up your website: Do a full backup of your website before making any changes to it. If you are using a shared hosting platform, check what backup options they offer. Or if you use a platform such as cPanel hosting, there may be a built-in backup feature.
  2. Buy and install an SSL certificate: An SSL certificate authenticates the identity of a website and enables encrypted communication between the browser and web server. Entry-level or domain SSLs can be set up quickly and are best for small businesses on a budget. Organization SSLs may require a few days of verification, but once established, they put the company name and domain directly in the browser bar. Extended validation (EV) SSLs will do an in-depth check of the business and allow you to use a green browser bar to show you are a fully verified and secure website.
  3. Switch internal and external links to HTTPS: Make sure all links for your website are changed over from HTTP to HTTPS. If you have just a few pages, you can do this manually. But if you have a much larger site, you can investigate automated options. Make a list of any links on social media accounts, email advertisements, or automated marketing to change over to the correct HTTPS link.
  4. Check code libraries: If you have a larger, more complex site, check the code libraries. Contact your website’s developer to make sure any software used on your site that links to HTTP pages is changed over to HTTPS.
  5. Set up a 301 redirect: Creating a redirect for your website is essentially like setting up mail forwarding for your new address. Users will instantly be sent to the correct HTTPS version of your site instead of clicking on a bad link that brings them nowhere. This will help you maintain your search engine ranking.
  6. Update CDN SSL: This step is only necessary if you are using a content delivery network (CDN) for your website. A CDN stores copies of each of your web pages on servers around the world and delivers requested pages using the server closest to the user. If your site uses a CDN, ask the provider to update the SSL to match your new HTTPS site.
  7. Update Google: Your Google account’s Analytics and Search Console will have to be updated to match your HTTPS site. For Google Analytics, simply change the default Uniform Resource Locator (URL) to HTTPS. For Search Console, add a new site with HTTPS.

How Can HTTPS Prevent Cyberattacks?

HTTPS works to protect and encrypt nearly all the information sent from a user to a website. The URL path, post bodies, and query string parameters are all encrypted when sent via an HTTPS connection. 

Although HTTPS provides a strong layer of protection for the information being sent to and from a website, it is not meant to work as a firewall for the website as a whole. It protects the actual transfer of data using the SSL/TLS encryption, but you will want to add security precautions for the rest of the information on your site.

Can HTTPS Protect Against DNS Spoofing?

Domain Name System (DNS) spoofing secretly redirects users to a site different from what they are requesting. By using HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS), you can force a browser to always show your website. Since your site has a secure SSL/TLS certificate, a hacker may try creating a fake version of your site, but users will immediately be alerted to the security breach. Setting up HSTS, coupled with HTTPS, is one of your best protections against DNS spoofing.

HTTPS vs. VPN: Why You Need Both?

HTTPS and virtual private networks (VPNs) are both excellent security tools for websites, and when used together, they can provide an even higher level of security that you may not be able to achieve otherwise. HTTPS protects the data sent from a user to a website and vice versa. This security is necessary for all the sensitive data being transferred over websites today, but it only protects that direct line of communication. 

A VPN, on the other hand, offers protection for your entire device and hides your identity and browsing activity. Using HTTPS along with a VPN service, you will have a double layer of security for all of your networks’ users.

Migrating from HTTPS to HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS) for Enhanced Security

As mentioned above, setting up HTTPS on your website involves creating a 301 redirect to send users directly to your site from an old link. Unfortunately, the redirecting process opens a small window for hackers to get in and gain the needed information to break through your SSL encryption and steal valuable data, using means such as a man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack. This is why HSTS was introduced. HSTS will disregard any attempts to load a web page over HTTP and send the information directly to the assigned HTTPS site.

To implement HSTS, first, make sure your SSL certificate is up-to-date and working properly. Then, test your web applications, session management, and user login. Next, test the response of HSTS in stages while adding to its max-age as you go. While testing, check for any broken pages, monitor the site's metrics, and fix problems before adjusting the max-age. You can increase the max-age using the length of time, in seconds, such as:

  1. Five minutes max-age = 300
  2. One week max-age = 604800
  3. One month max-age = 2592000
  4. Two years max-age = 63072000

Once HTTPS is enabled on the root domain and all subdomains, and has been preloaded on the HSTS list, the owner of the domain is confirming that their website infrastructure is HTTPS, and anyone overseeing the transition to HTTPS will know that this domain has consented to be completely HTTPS from now on.

How Fortinet Can Help?

With the Fortinet Secure Web Gateway (SWG), you can ensure that people using your network only access sites that have been secured with HTTPS. Securing your website is vital to keeping your information safe and for the overall success of your business. Fortinet SWG delivers on this objective by providing an extra layer of protection—employees and guests who do not know how to identify a secure site are even prevented from browsing their way into a threat.

FAQs

What is HTTPS and why is it used?

HTTPS is the security protocol used to transfer data over the internet. It encrypts data that is entered and sent between users and websites.

What is the difference between HTTP and HTTPS?

HTTP is the avenue through which information is sent over the internet. HTTPS has an additional layer of security because it encrypts the information being sent.

What are the advantages of HTTPS?

Sensitive data such as billing addresses, credit card information, and passwords can be protected via HTTPS encryption.

How do I make my website HTTPS secure?

To make your website secure using HTTPS, purchase an SSL certificate, set up a 301 redirect, change all external and internal links to HTTPS, and implement HSTS.

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