Monthly Archives: April 2016

The Hidden Reason for Switching to HTTPS

If you run a website, you have probably debated on whether or not you need to make the switch to HTTPS instead of using HTTP. For those that still don’t know, HTTPS is the encrypted version of HTTP. This is typically seen on banking sites, touted to protect your sensitive information when transmitted between you (your browser) and the application.

I wrote on this topic about a year ago in the post: Is HTTP being left behind for HTTPS? Back then there was a big push for making the switch and since we have seen even government mandates for government operated sites to make the switch to HTTPS.

There are typically two reasons you will hear someone recommend using HTTPS:

  • SEO (search engine optimization) – To learn more about these benefits, check out this great article Should you switch your site to HTTPS? Here’s Why you should or shouldn’t by Neil Patel. Neil does a great job of explaining HTTPS and the pros and cons.
  • Protecting sensitive information – We all should know by now that we need to protect sensitive information as it is transmitted to the application. So if your application transmits any sensitive information (Passwords, Social Security Number, Credit Card Info, Account information, etc) it is a must to use SSL.

But Wait…What about…

There is another big reason that HTTPS is important, even if you do not have sensitive information on your site. Let’s step into our favorite scenario of using your computer in the local coffee shop. You connect to the free wifi and start surfing to your favorite sites. You feel comfortable logging into your bank account because it uses HTTPS and you see the green lock in your browser (although maybe you shouldn’t feel so comfortable). Ideally, that session with your bank is protected from the guy sitting one table over trying to intercept the traffic.

Then you point your browser to a local news site to check out the latest happenings. That site is over HTTP and is not protected while traversing the wifi network. What happens when the attacker is able to intercept that news traffic and he changes the response, that you expect to contain today’s news, to contain malicious content. This would be no different than you clicking on a malicious site to begin with. Except here, you feel safe on that familiar news site.

This scenario shows how your site, the one running without HTTPS, could be used as a launching point to attack a user. While it didn’t effect your actual site, or your servers, it will lead to a break in trust from your visitors. If something happens while on your site, it doesn’t matter how it happened, the finger is pointing straight at you.

Conclusion

So while we put a lot of focus on sensitive information or SEO, there are other very important reasons why a site owner would want to make the switch to HTTPS. Gone are the days when performance is an excuse. Heck, with the Let’s Encrypt project, maybe gone are the days of the cost of purchasing a certificate to enable HTTPS. Sure there may be reasons, even some valid ones, why you don’t need to make the switch. Don’t just look at the constraints. Take the time to really understand your situation, how the change effects you, and make rational decisions. Don’t do it because some site said too. Do it because you understand the situation and know it is right for your situation.