The Difference Between HTTP vs HTTPS Clarified

The Difference Between HTTP vs HTTPS Clarified

As more and more information is transmitted over the internet and cyber attackers are improving their methods to steal private information, the use of HTTPS on all websites is becoming increasingly important.

When browsing online you've probably noticed that on some websites the URL starts with HTTP while on others there's HTTPS.

The main noticeable difference between HTTP vs HTTPS is a sole letter - S. But this letter makes a huge difference in the way your connection to the website is made as it stands for secure. That's why you'll see that in the best practices for online security you're always suggested to only visit HTTPS websites, especially if you're going to make a purchase online or make an online money transaction.

And not only individuals using the internet for browsing should be concerned with visiting HTTPS websites.

Business owners that use a website to promote their services should also switch to an HTTPS protocol if they haven't already.

Back in the days, not many websites bothered to use the HTTPS protocol. But, in 2014, Google announced that it would give HTTPS websites a boost in rankings so more sites would enhance their security game by switching to an HTTPS protocol.

To better understand how the HTTPS protocol improves online security, let's take a closer look over what both HTTP and HTTPS are and what are the differences between HTTP vs HTTPS.

What is HTTP?

HTTP stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol and it is the foundation of data communication for the World Wide Web providing a set of standards and rules by which information is transmitted over the internet.

HTTP has been used since early websites and its most common use is for transferring data from a web server to a browser so that users are able to view web pages. With HTTP, the data is transmitted in plain text.

HTTP is an application layer protocol, functioning as a request-response protocol in the client-server model. For example, a web browser can be the client and an application on the computer hosting a website is the serve. The client sends an HTTP request to the server and returns a response message to the client, providing the resources such as HTML files and other types of content. These resources are identified on the network by URLs (Uniform Resource Locators) using URI's (Uniform Resource Identifiers) schemes (http).

An HTTP client launches the request by establishing a TPC (Transmission Control Protocol) connection to a specific server's port, usually port 80, and the server monitoring that port sends back a status line when it receives the request message.

HTTP is a stateless port which means that the HTTP server does not save information about users during multiple requests. Still, some web application may implement states such as HTTP cookies.

What is HTTPS?

HTTPS stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure and it's an extension of the HTTP. Because with HTTP the data is transmitted in plain text and can be easily intercepted and stolen, a more secure way to exchange information needed to be implemented. That's how HTTPS came to be.

HTTPS protocols create a secure encrypted connection between the client and the server by using an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) or TLS (Transport Layer Security) certificate. You'll also see HTTPS referred to as HTTP over TLS or HTTP over SSL. The HTTPS basically piggybacks HTTP on top of TLS/SSL, which means that the underlying of the HTTP protocol is encrypted, including the URL and cookies (which hold information about the users).

The connection with HTTPS is encrypted by using two keys, one private key and one public key. The private key belongs to the website owner and the public key is available to anyone accessing the website. The keys can only be decrypted by each other. When a user sends a request to access a secure website, the server will send the SSL/TLS certificate to the web browser to verify if the certificate is valid. The website and the website server will then create a secure connection.

The HTTPS protocol is used because it provides privacy and security for the information that's being transmitted. It protects against data being stolen by man-in-the-middle attacks. HTTPS makes it possible for users to be assured that they access the genuine website they want to access instead of a malicious website set up by cyber attackers.

Most importantly, the SSL/TLS certificate encrypts all the data users provide to the website, including passwords and credit card information. Even if someone manages to steal this data, they won't be able to read it due to the encryption.

Initially, HTTPS protocols were used only for money transactions, emails, and sensitive corporate data. Nowadays, most web servers use the HTTP protocol to secure users' accounts and to protect users' privacy and identity.

Differences between HTTP and HTTPS

The main difference between HTTP vs HTTPS is that HTTPS is basically an HTTP protocol with extra security. But let's lay out the differences.

  • HTTPS URLs' begin with https:// while HTTP URLs' begin with http://.
  • The HTTP protocol is vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks as it is not encrypted. This allows cyber attackers to steal users' private information and get access to accounts, and even to alter webpages to introduce malware.
  • The HTTPS protocol secures the connection to protect against man-in-the-middle attacks and to protect users' data.
  • The HTTPS uses port 443 to set up the connection while HTTP uses port 80.
  • HTTP sends all the information in plain text which means attackers are able to see all the data transmitted in case of a cyber attack.
  • With HTTPS, the underlying of the HTTP protocol is encrypted, including the URL, the HTTP headers and cookies. There are some types of cryptographic attacks that can allow attackers to only find out the domain names and IP addresses of the two parties exchanging information.
  • To use the HTTPS protocol, the website owner must purchase an SSL/TSL certificate from a trusted certificate authority so the web browser can accept it without warning.

Advantages of HTTPS

Improved security

The biggest advantage of HTTPS over HTTP protocols is the layer of security it provides. And this should be noted by both users and website owners.

For users, it is highly important to only access HTTPS websites so they protect their online security while browsing online. Especially if you're going to provide sensitive information such as emails, passwords, or credit card information. You should know that using HTTP websites for money transactions can end catastrophically for your bank account.

Also, you should never use HTTP websites when you're connecting to a public WiFi network as the connection can be easily intercepted and altered by hackers through packet-sniffing.

If you're a website owner, you should want to provide your users with a secure site. Especially if you have an e-commerce page. Imagine all the sensitive data users submit on your website being stolen and misused by an attacker. How could users ever trust your website again in the future? If you haven't switched to an HTTPS protocol yet, you should get to it as soon as possible.

The SEO benefits

Now talking about your online business, you should also know that using HTTPS will give you a boost in Google rankings. Google actually announced a while back that they will slightly increase the rankings of the HTTPS websites due to the fact that users will be more inclined to visit secured sites.

Using AMP

AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) were designed by Google to load the content of a web page faster on mobile devices. You'll notice that AMP pages get better rankings in the search results so they provide users with an enhanced experience when browsing from smartphones or tablets.

In order to use AMP, you need to have an HTTPS protocol on your website.

Building trust

By using the HTTPS protocol, you create a secure environment for users where they can safely provide sensitive information such as emails, names, passwords, and credit card information. And it's highly important for a business that users trust it with the data. This will result in more leads and more satisfied customers.

Another aspect worth mentioning is that most browsers warn users when they are trying to access an unsecured website by displaying a warning across the entire window. Seeing this message is enough for most users to get suspicious and stay away from accessing your website.

HTTP vs HTTPS: The Conclusion

As more and more information is transmitted over the internet and cyber attackers are improving their methods to steal private information, the use of HTTPS on all websites is becoming increasingly important.

After seeing the differences between HTTP vs HTTPS protocols I hope you'll now pay more attention to the website you visit and will make sure they are secured before you provide any sensitive information.

If you're a website owner, you should also switch to HTTPS security as soon as possible so you provide your users with the best security and gain their trust in your services.

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