The HTTP is one of the most widely adopted application protocols on the Internet and enables us to communicate online. From its simple beginnings, the World Wide Web changed scientifically. It has become the protocol of choice for virtually every Internet-connected software and hardware application. To understand the differences between HTTP and its more secure version HTTPS, as well as why it is so important for modern communication and eCommerce, we have to go back in time a couple of decades.
The history behind HTTP and HTTPS
The acronym HTTP stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol. It was developed by Tim Berners-Lee in the early 1990s and was the foundation of the World Wide Web as we use it today. The first documented version of HTTP was HTTP V0.9 and was first used by the European Organization for Nuclear Research in November 1990 to communicate through the exchange of data. It is an underlying application layer protocol, a set of rules, which defines how hypertext files are formatted and transmitted. HTTP is a stateless system that enables connection on demand. That means once you enter a link to request a connection, your web browser sends this request to the server expecting it to respond by opening the desired website. It runs on top of the TCP/IP suite of protocols, which were the foundation protocols for the Internet. It functions as a request/response protocol in a client/server computing model. Simply put, it is a procedure for exchanging information online, or how communication between a web server and a web browser works.
Unfortunately, the original design had simplicity, not security in mind: Data traveling between point A and point B is displayed in plain text, and HTTP is just not as secure as we would like it to be. HTTP cares more about presenting the information and less about the way this information travels from one place to another. That makes it relatively easy for someone to intercept and potentially alter the exchange, which puts sensitive information at risk. Websites without proper security became very vulnerable to attacks. HTTP was just not secure enough anymore, and the need for a safer protocol ultimately led to the development of HTTPS, the Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure. Netscape Communications created the cryptographic protocol for the Internet in 1994 for its Netscape Navigator web browser. It secures communications between clients and server applications over an unprotected network.
What is the difference between both protocols?
To establish an HTTPS connection, you need a Secure Socket Layer (SSL) or TLS (Transport Layer Security) certificate. It provides authentication as well as encryption when transferring data. When you add a certificate to a website, you are encrypting sensitive information that is being passed to and from your site. That means that the sender, as well as the recipient both, agree to use a code that translates their files into random character strings. As a result, you can only decipher the message if you know the code.
Trust is everything in the world of online business, and SSL certificates give users the assurance that a website is credible. Security challenges rank among the most pressing issues of modern times, and creating a trusted environment is essential when doing business online. If you communicate information to a website that is not using HTTPS, chances are someone else is listening to your conversation. Aside from the security risk, the idea behind both HTTP and HTTPS is very similar but there are still more differences between them.
Advantages and limitations of both protocols
HTTP comes with a lot of advantages, but it has its limitations. It can be easily implemented with other Internet protocols or networks, and its pages are stored on caches, so it is also quickly accessible which guarantees fast loading times. It does not need any runtime support and it is platform-independent which allows cross-platform porting. Last but not least, it is connection-oriented. That means it does not need a network overhead to create or maintain information. As mentioned earlier, the biggest problem of HTTP is that it has to deal with security issues. It does not provide encryption data integrity, which is a big issue, and it cannot guarantee privacy to the user as anyone can see the shared content. Technically, anyone who intercepts communication can get access to usernames and passwords.
By using SSL certificates, the HTTPS allows users to perform secure eCommerce transactions, such as online banking or online shopping. An independent certificate authority ensures the verification of the certificate owner. The usage of SSL certificates from providers like 101domain does not just protect information, it also helps to build trust and a long-term relationship with users or customers. Most of the time, if a site is running over HTTPS, the website will use a redirect to make sure that users land on the secure version even if they type HTTP into the browser window. Using HTTPS instead of HTTP can also speed up the connectivity between your website and the browser. There are a few visual indicators that help you tell the difference. In addition to displaying HTTP or HTTPS before the URL in the address bar, many browsers trigger security warnings when a user attempts to enter a site with an unsecured connection. Google Chrome shows a “Not Secure” warning right away if the page is not using an SSL certificate or shows a green “secure” or padlock (site identity button) when the page is using HTTPS. Clicking the padlock opens the site information to view more details about the website owner. Indicators like that give customers peace of mind that your website can be trusted and that information like credit card details, telephone numbers, or addresses is safe. This, in turn, can lead to increased conversion rates and customer loyalty. In addition to that, HTTPS can help improve SEO efforts because, since 2014, Google and other search engines put additional weight on HTTPS sites. If your site is not secure, it could be getting outranked by the competition.