How Does HTTPS Work?

The Internet has evolved quickly. While it originally only provided access to educational and military-related information, the Web has grown into a flourishing medium through which the general population can send and receive information of all varieties. Although this power has greatly advanced the world, there are risks associated with such easy access. In order to ensure that personal details are kept secure, such as credit card or banking information, addresses, and telephone numbers, the HTTPS technology was created.

When you browse the Internet normally, the http:// in front of the URL indicates that Hypertext Transfer Protocol is handling the transaction of information. The client, or person browsing the Internet, enters a website in the URL bar via an HTTP request. The server on which the website is hosted receives this request and transmits the requested data to the user. Unlike HTTPS, this exchange of information is completely literal. If a user searches the term “fake flowers” in a search engine, HTTP tells the server that the user wants a page of results for “fake flowers.”

With hackers and phishers on the Internet, however, this unprotected exchange of information is unwise for more secure bits of information. Because of this, Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure, or HTTPS, was designed. HTTPS combines the protocol of HTTP with SSL/TLS encryption. Instead of sending information directly to the server, a user of HTTPS will have their requests masked by a public encryption key. For instance, if a user was doing an HTTPS search for “fake flowers,” it may be encrypted into “klsd tiefjka” before being sent.

Of course, fraud prevention measures must be enacted to guarantee that fake websites cannot pretend to be trusted corporations or government entities. Certificate authorities have the responsibility of granting these encryption certificates to website administrators. Individual web browser companies determine whether they will accept a certificate authority or not; however, most of these authorities are universally trusted.

Once a server with an encryption certificate obtains the encrypted message, they depend on their own private key to decrypt the message. It is this private key that prevents malicious third parties from stealing sensitive information. While obtaining an encrypted message in HTTPS protocol can be done relatively simply, it is quite difficult to crack the code.

Web browsers make it incredibly easy for their users to know whether a not a website is using HTTPS. For instance, most have a padlock graphic that appears on the edge of the browser window. By clicking this padlock, the user can get more information about the web server’s certificate. In more modern browsers, secure websites are also made visible with decoration, such as a green background, in or around the URL bar.

The means by which Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure keeps sensitive information safe is not only ingenious, but relatively simple to understand. Users can rest assured that a website using HTTPS technology has been verified secure by a major certificate authority and is making all exchanges of information encrypted to prevent third-party access. Finally, web browsers make it easy for their users to know whether or not websites they are visiting are protected with HTTPS. It’s no wonder that Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure has emerged as the leading means of website security.