HTTP vs. HTTPS: What is the Difference?

What Is HTTP?

Since the dawn of the internet age, we have all seen the letters HTTP in front of a website’s URL address, but most people have never taken the time to figure out why it’s there and what it means.

The common but mysterious HTTP stands for HyperText Transfer Protocol. Simply put, it is the method by which the internet (world wide web) allows you to open the landing pages of a website.  To describe it  another way, HTTP is a road or path for your computer to communicate with a web server. When you click on a web page link that utilizes HTTP, your browser uses the HyperText Transfer Protocol to ask the web server to pull up a page. Upon receiving your request, the server accepts it and sends back the page to you using the same HTTP pathway. The internet as we know it today would not be able to operate without this standardized and universally accepted communication process. All web links depend on HTTP to function properly.

From a cyber security perspective, one major drawback of HTTP is that it communicates in plaintext. This means that while you are visiting a website, anyone else on the network can see everything that is going back and forth between your browser and the web server. This includes messages, files and passwords. In today’s cyber crime laden environment, this obviously poses a serious problem for users.

What Is HTTPS Encryption?

Because a solution was needed for the inherent security issues found within HTTP, a new protocol was developed called HTTPS. While this technology is quite similar in many ways to the traditional HTTP pathway, the main difference is that HTTPS is secure. HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure uses SSL (secure sockets layer) or TLS (transport layer security) to enclose the data between your browser and a web server in a secure, encrypted tunnel. This kind of security makes it difficult for cyber criminals to access information. 

HTTPS is ideal for any browser/server communication, but it is especially needed when ecommerce or financial data is involved. This protocol is also extremely helpful for websites that require passwords and other confidential information. Another outstanding benefit of HTTPS is that it is faster, due to the fact that data is already secure and does not have to travel through any filters or scans.

Is HTTPS Alone Sufficient?

While it is very important to use HTTPS, it is certainly not an adequate cyber security strategy on its own. HTTPS is not effective in preventing phishing, where users are tricked into entering a password into a fake login screen. In addition, malicious files can still be downloaded even in a HTTPS environment, as the secure connection does not evaluate the type or quality of the data being transferred.

Conclusion

It is difficult to imagine that the internet has only been around in the public space for about 25 years now, given its enormous influence on modern society. When HTTP was first developed, it was a very reliable and efficient way to pass information between a browser and a web server. However as the internet evolved, cyber criminals found ways to steal from people online. HTTPS was a giant step forward in securing passwords and ecommerce transactions, but it must be used in conjunction with modern cyber security tools.  Safeguarding the internet is an ever evolving industry and will continually have to stay ahead of online criminals who want to cause as much harm as possible. HTTPS will remain a firm foundation on which to build a solid security strategy.

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