HTTP, also known as Hypertext Transfer Protocol, serves as a language for your browser and web server to communicate over the internet. Every action on the Internet, from searching for recipes to online equity trading—you can do it thanks to HTTP data transfer. Although it is good to know how important HTTP is for successful data communication on the World Wide Web, it has one significant flaw: it is not secure. That’s where HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) comes into play. HTTPS is a secure protocol that uses encryption to protect the data transmitted between your browser and the server.
In this article, we’ll compare and contrast the differences between HTTP and HTTPS. Additionally, you’ll learn about the basics of HTTP and why it is not secure. By the time you finish reading, you will fully understand the importance of using HTTPS to secure your website and application.
HTTP is a communication protocol. It enables the exchange of information between clients and servers over the internet, using a request-response model where the client (typically a web browser) sends an HTTP request to the server, and the server responds with an HTTP response.
For example, once you visit a website and type the URL in the browser, the browser sends an HTTP request to the server, which then sends back the requested web page.
HTTP is a stateless protocol. The protocol itself does not retain any information about previous requests—it doesn’t “remember” at end points and therefore each request from the client is treated as new. That being said, services using HTTP require the ability to associate multiple requests from the same browser and cookies function as unique identifiers stored in browsers to help applications retrieve session data.
For example, when you bypass entering login credentials while visiting the same site repeatedly—that’s a cookie in action (and HTTP is transferring that info unencrypted, which we address in the next section).
HTTP is a text-based protocol. HTTP uses a set of standardized messages to facilitate communication between clients and servers. These messages include HTTP methods (such as GET, POST, PUT, and DELETE) and status codes (such as “200 OK,” “404 Not Found,” and “500 Internal Server Error”). We’ll dive into these concepts in more detail later.
For example, when you click a link on a web page, the browser sends an HTTP GET request to the server to retrieve the linked page, and the server responds with a 200 OK status code and the HTML for the new page.
It works by following a set of rules for formatting messages that are sent between the client (e.g. a web browser) and the server that hosts the requested web page. Here’s how:
For instance, say you’re planning a movie night with friends and you’re interested in checking out some reviews for the latest releases. While connected to the internet, you might type in “http://imdb.com” into your browser’s address bar, and the browser will do the rest, connecting to the server and returning the web page to you.
An HTTP request is a message generated by the client (usually your browser) that is sent to the server. For instance, if you search for a “reliable CDN at an affordable price” on Google, you might click on one of the websites in the search results. Once you click on that link, your browser generates an HTTP request for you to visit the site and get that information.
Here are the following components in the HTTP request:
In this example, the client uses the GET method with index.html as the resource path for the URL www.example.com with HTTP/1.1 protocol version. This also includes request headers that provide more information such as the type of browser (Mozilla/5.0) and what language and type of content.
Now that you’re familiar with HTTP requests, let’s discuss what HTTP response is.
An HTTP response is the message that a server sends to a client after receiving an HTTP request. It contains the data that the client requested, such as a web page or a file, along with additional information such as the status of the request and any headers. The response is typically sent using the HTTP protocol and can be customized based on the specific request from the client.
HTTP responses generally consist of the following information:
In this example, the response headers indicate that the server responded with an HTTP 200 OK status code on November 15, 2022 at 9:12:31 GMT. It says here that the server is running Apache version 2.4.6 (CentOS). Then, based on the response, the content type is text/html, telling us that the response body (which is the content) contains an HTML code. From here, it tells us that the content length is 1274 bytes, indicating the overall size of the content.
HTTP does not encrypt data during client-to-server communication, which means that any data transmitted over HTTP is sent in plain text without any encryption or security mechanisms. As a result, it can be intercepted and read by anyone with access to the network traffic, including cybercriminals. Additionally, HTTP does not provide any authentication, making it vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks. Attackers can eavesdrop on communication between a server and a client, resulting in the theft of personal information such as login credentials and credit card numbers.
For instance, say you set up an e-commerce website that sells shoes and you take online payments. If your website uses HTTP, chances are high that users’ credentials and other account details can be easily intercepted and stolen by cybercriminals.
Therefore, using HTTP on a website or application can indeed lead to various security risks and potential losses, including data theft, legal liabilities and negative impact on business revenue. Here are just a few examples of the consequences possible when relying on HTTP:
|Consequences of Using HTTP||Potential Losses|
|Loss of customer trust||Customers may lose trust in the business due to the lack of security on the website. This will lead them to take their business elsewhere.|
|Data breaches||Using HTTP can put sensitive customer information at risk of being stolen by hackers. This can result in legal issues, fines, and a damaged reputation.|
|SEO disadvantages||Websites using HTTP are likely to rank lower in search results compared to HTTPS websites. This can result in decreased website traffic and revenue.|
|Liability issues||If a data breach occurs on a website using HTTP, the business owner may be held liable for damages, fines, and legal fees.|
|Lost revenue||Data breaches and loss of customer trust directly translate to lost revenue for the business.|
There are two easy steps to check if your site is secure.
Once you become aware of the security symbols in web browsers, it’s easier to distinguish whether a website is secure. If you own a website and it’s still using HTTP, it’s highly recommended to switch to HTTPS to improve security for potential customers.
HTTPS, short for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure, is a more secure version of HTTP. Unlike HTTP, HTTPS encrypts the communication between a web browser and a website, making it more difficult for hackers to eavesdrop, tamper with, or forge data.
This enhanced security makes HTTPS the preferred protocol for online transactions, including online banking and e-commerce, where sensitive information like credit card numbers, passwords, and personal details are transmitted over the internet.
By encrypting data and verifying website identity, HTTPS provides a safe way for users to share and receive information online without worrying about the security of their data.
HTTPS secures communication between the client and server using asymmetric encryption, a significant improvement over HTTP’s plain text. The encryption protocol used in HTTPS is called Transport Layer Security (TLS). In other words, when a website uses HTTPS, it signifies that the TLS standard is being used to encrypt the data being transmitted between parties. In order to do this, a valid SSL certificate should be installed on the server. From that point, a website can switch from HTTP to HTTPS and activate the lock icon in the address bar.
At its core, TLS provides three key services: encryption, authentication, and data integrity.
As you continue reading and learn more about how HTTPS works, you may be curious about the benefits of using it as either a website owner or a regular user. Is it really worth it to switch from HTTP to HTTPS? And what advantages does HTTPS bring to the table? Here are the benefits:
Both HTTP and HTTPS are protocols used for transferring data between web browsers and web servers. However, the main difference between the two is the level of security they offer. HTTPS uses SSL/TLS protocols to authenticate both the web browser and the web server, ensuring that data transmitted between them is encrypted and secure. In contrast, HTTP doesn’t use any encryption protocol, leaving data vulnerable to interception and unauthorized access.
Now that you have learned about the benefits of HTTPS and the potential drawbacks of using HTTP, let’s compare the two in real-life situations to understand how they can differ in impacting your business.
|Data Security||Not secure, as data is transmitted in plain text||Secure, as data is encrypted between the web browser and the web server||Without HTTPS, sensitive data such as customer login credentials and payment details are vulnerable to interception and theft by hackers. For example, a business that processes credit card transactions on their website would need to use HTTPS to ensure their customers’ financial information is kept safe.|
|Search Engine Optimization (SEO)||Not a ranking factor for SEO||A ranking factor for SEO, as Google prefers secure websites||HTTPS can give a business an SEO advantage over non-HTTPS websites. For example, an e-commerce site that uses HTTPS may rank higher in Google search results for certain keywords compared to a competitor site that doesn’t use HTTPS.|
|Brand Reputation||Lack of HTTPS can harm a business’ reputation and deter potential customers||HTTPS can improve a business’ reputation and instill trust in customers||Without HTTPS, customers may perceive a business as untrustworthy and be less likely to make purchases or share personal information on the site. For example, a medical practice that uses HTTPS to protect patient data can gain a reputation for taking security seriously and earn the trust of its patients.|
|Legal Compliance||Lack of HTTPS could lead to legal issues and fines||HTTPS is increasingly becoming a legal requirement for businesses that process sensitive data||In some industries, such as healthcare and finance, businesses are required by law to protect sensitive data using HTTPS. For example, a financial institution that doesn’t use HTTPS could face legal repercussions for failing to meet data protection standards.|
Now that you understand the advantages of using HTTPS, you may be wondering how to make the switch from HTTP to HTTPS. To enable HTTPS on your website, you typically need to obtain an SSL/TLS certificate and configure your web server to use it.
At Gcore, we are dedicated to helping our clients to make the switch from HTTP to HTTPS.
With any of our CDN plans, you can issue a free Let’s Encrypt SSL certificate for all domains associated with your Gcore account. Also, you can install a custom SSL certificate from another provider. When the certificate is installed, you can switch from HTTP to HTTPS in a few clicks.
Furthermore, we offer various paid SSL certificates to cater to different industries and sectors. Let’s delve into each of the SSL certificate types we provide:
|Certificate Type||Description||Best for|
|DV certificate with domain validation||This certificate is useful for protecting basic web pages such as personal websites and blogs.|
A Domain Validated (DV) certificate is a type of SSL certificate that provides basic encryption and is issued within minutes. It is typically the most affordable type of SSL certificate and offers the lowest level of validation. An example of a DV certificate is the Let’s Encrypt SSL certificate.
|Blogs, informational websites|
|OV certificate with organization validation||This certificate is required for e-commerce and online sales.|
An OV certificate identifies the website owner and contains a company name. Fraudsters will not be able to pass the validation check and get this certificate.
Once this certificate is obtained, a company name is displayed in the browser bar. Such websites are more trustworthy for visitors.
|Online stores, websites that require its users to log in|
|IDN certificate||This certificate supports domains in native language characters.|
If your website domain name does not contain ASCII characters, you’ll need to get an IDN certificate.
|Domain and subdomain. Domain names that use non-English languages|
|Wildcard certificate||This certificate covers both the domain and its subdomains.|
Subdomains must have the same second-level domain name (i.e., domain.com).
|Mail server, online banking services, social media platform|
To review the price of each certificate, check out our pricing comparison.
In summary, HTTP is a protocol that is vulnerable to attacks, while HTTPS is a secure version of HTTP that uses encryption to protect data in transit.
Fortunately, switching to HTTPS is a relatively simple process, and Gcore CDN service allows users to enable HTTPS encryption for free using Let’s Encrypt certificate. However, using a free SSL certificate has its limitations. Gcore has this covered as well, offering SSL certificates with various validation levels, including DV, OV, IDN, and Wildcard, giving website owners several options to choose from based on their specific requirements. Finally, seeking guidance from experts can help website owners ensure their websites are adequately secured and protected from potential threats.