What is HTTPS?

Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) is a communications protocol for secure communication over a computer network, with especially wide deployment on the Internet. Technically, it is not a protocol in and of itself; rather, it is the result of simply layering the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) on top of the SSL/TLS protocol, thus adding the security capabilities of SSL/TLS to standard HTTP communications. The main motivation for HTTPS is to prevent wiretapping and man-in-the-middle attacks. The security of HTTPS is therefore that of the underlying TLS, which uses long-term public and secret keys to exchange a short term session key to encrypt the data flow between client and server. An important property in this context is perfect forward secrecy (PFS), so the short-term session key cannot be derived from the long-term asymmetric secret key; however, PFS is not widely adopted.

X.509 certificates are used to guarantee one is talking to the partner with whom one wants to talk. As a consequence, certificate authorities and a public key infrastructure are necessary to verify the relation between the owner of a certificate and the certificate, as well as to generate, sign, and administer the validity of certificates. While this can be more beneficial than verifying the identities via a web of trust, the 2013 mass surveillance disclosures made it more widely known that certificate authorities are a weak point from a security standpoint, allowing man-in-the-middle attacks.

Historically, HTTPS connections were primarily used for payment transactions on the World Wide Web, e-mail and for sensitive transactions in corporate information systems. In the late 2000s and early 2010s, HTTPS began to see widespread use for protecting page authenticity on all types of websites, securing accounts and keeping user communications, identity and web browsing private.

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