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Online security using SSL and HTTPS

How it works and why you should implement it now

In recent years, Google has started to push HTTPS sites as a standard internet protocol. HTTPS sites, which establish a safe, encrypted connection for visitors on a website, mostly gained popularity when Google announced them as a SEO ‘ranking signal’. Many webmasters have followed suit - moving their sites on to HTTPs to benefit from the slight SEO boost.

Yet many site owners have neglected this task - mostly out of a lack of understanding about the process and its significance. The key to making your site HTTPS is an SSL certificate, which we will explore further in this article. With Google ramping up its SSL push in recent weeks, as well as the significance of HTTPS for your onsite SEO, it is vital for website owners to understand how the process works. Before we go into why SSL and HTTPS should be implemented, we will discuss what the terms mean and how the protocol works.

What do SSL and HTTPS mean?

SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer, which is essentially a protocol that provides a secure connection and encrypts the information that is being sent from a server to a user and vice versa. It provides safe communication when using websites, email, instant messaging etc. SSL provides security in two steps, which offers online privacy and data integrity. This basically means that the connection with a server is safe and the data you are sending and receiving is encrypted.

HTTPS stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure. The security protocol used is SSL, it uses HTTP to send and receive data. The “S” is a security measure to ensure the safe and encrypted connection with a server. You may have come across safe websites using https:// or may have seen a warning in your browser when visiting a website using http://.

How does it work?

Whenever you enter a website, send out an email, or use a messaging service, you are connecting with an external server. The communication to this server is unprotected and not encrypted. This could mean hackers or other unwanted third parties can access the information you are sending to and receiving from this server. To prevent that, a security measure such as SSL can be implemented.

SSL provides:

  • Authentication: authenticates the visitor is connecting to the correct server by providing an SSL certificate

  • Encryption: establishes a unique secure connection using encrypted data

  • Data integrity: prevents data from being corrupted during transfer by using private keys

Source: What is HTTPS?

An SSL certificate secures the connection to a server and encrypts the data you are sending and receiving. This is done by setting up an encrypted connection with the server you are accessing. In order to do that, the connection is established via HTTPS, which gives a signal to your browser that a security protocol needs to be followed. The server you are trying to access will send over a file, an SSL certificate, with a public key that your browser will open to establish the secure connection.

Once that is completed, shared secret keys will be created and sent to and from the server to establish a unique secure connection. With these two security steps, the connection is secured and data is being encrypted. This two-step process ensures a safe connection and safe communication of data between servers. When you are entering credit card details when purchasing something from an online store, it is important that the data you are providing is not being copied or used for anything other than confirming your purchase. A secure and encrypted connection is the way to do this.

Why should you use HTTPS?

Perhaps your site never deals with personal information such as credit card information and social security numbers. Do you still need a secure connection using SSL? Yes, you do. There are a few major reasons to migrate to HTTPS as soon as possible.

  • Google is trying to make the web a safer place – they are pushing secure connections using SSL

  • As per October 2017, not having SSL certificates will impact your SEO and ranking, according to Google

  • Web pages using http will be marked as “Not secure” in all major web browsers, and this may drive visitors away

  • Secure connections are rapidly becoming the norm, and not adapting to the more secure way of connecting online may have a negative impact on your reputation

  • With online security being hot topic and regulations getting stricter to service the request for privacy, providing a safe and trustworthy connection to your server is of major importance

  • Not using SSL will make it easy for hackers to intercept communication to and from your web server, which may have a huge impact on your business and reputation

Basically, the security of the communication to your server and the reputation that goes along with this, including SEO and ranking, are the main reasons to adapt to this protocol. Luckily, adapting to SSL is not new and most IT helpdesks, web developers and software or server providers know how to handle a migration to HTTPS. Make sure you know what the migration entails and create a backup of any online pages and files. With proper preparation your website can be a safe haven in no time.

Further reading:

Google Security Blog, 'Next steps toward more connection security', April 24, 2017

Google Security Blog, ‘Moving towards a more secure web’, September 8, 2016


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