Senator Schumer Says Websites Should Default To HTTPS

from the security dept

There are plenty of websites where it absolutely makes sense for the default to be https, rather than http as the protocol (if you don’t know — and you should — https encrypts the traffic, while http does not). Most banks and such already use https, but plenty of sites that don’t involve financial institutions do not. Even sites like Google’s Gmail only recently switched over to defaulting to https. Still, it’s a bit of a surprise to see Senator Chuck Schumer announcing that major websites should switch to https, and it makes me wonder if he’s preparing legislation on that. I’m not so sure that we want a law mandating https.

Separately, he seems to indicate that the lack of encryption with http is a “security flaw” that only really got attention in 2007. That’s not quite true. I mean it’s been well known that http isn’t encrypted for much, much longer than that. And it’s not so much a “flaw” as the basic way that http was designed. And, of course, whether or not websites use https, you can protect yourself with VPN encryption software or services, but it doesn’t seem like Schumer wants to mandate that…

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Comments on “Senator Schumer Says Websites Should Default To HTTPS”

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Anonymous Coward says:

VPN only protects you to the VPN computer, it doesn’t protect you from the VPN computer to the website since the website itself likely doesn’t have a VPN server. VPN can be useful if you’re on an open wifi and you want to securely connect to your home internet connection and browse the Internet through your home connection, it’ll protect you from your location to your home, but it doesn’t protect you from your home to the website.

HTTPS also costs more to implement.

Miff (profile) says:

I seriously hope we don’t get an HTTPS mandate law.

Of course it would seem good at first, for the protection of the public; but one of the clauses will likely happen to be that self-signed certificates are nixed.

And I ask how many web sites out there now don’t use HTTPS or use insecure HTTPS because they can’t afford a cert. :/

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

A non patentable idea

Why can’t websites have their own “self signed” keys and have a search engine, like Google, search various websites for the keys and store them. When I want to connect to a website via a wireless connection, my laptop (which can securely connect to Google) verifies the website’s authenticity with Google and, maybe, Yahoo to ensure that the keys that Google/Yahoo give me match with each other and that they match with the keys of the website that I am connecting to. Then, Google connects to the site and verifies the keys for me.

DoxAvg says:

Re: Re: Re:

As an optimization, you could cache Google’s verification in a cryptographically secure way by having Google publish their public keys, and sign the site’s self-signed keys.

Oh, look. We’ve just re-invented the Certificate Authority.

The solution is to update HTTPS to have “Private HTTP”, which still uses Diffie-Hellman for key exchange and privacy, but doesn’t attempt to verify authenticity to prevent against a man-in-the-middle attack. This would protect all sessions from passive snooping (I’m looking at you, NSA; I’m looking at you, FireSheep) while not needing a central CA.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“As an optimization, you could cache Google’s verification in a cryptographically secure way by having Google publish their public keys, and sign the site’s self-signed keys. “

That’s what I said. I know Google’s/yahoo’s public keys ahead of time because it’s pre-built into my browser that I downloaded ahead of time (from a secure channel, presumably).

I go on open wifi.

I go on site with Https

I check the key.

I securely connect to Google and ask it what the key is

Google goes to site

Google checks key

google securely tells me what the key is

I see if what I’m getting from the site matches what Google is telling me.

(the software does this automatically of course, transparent to the user).

If they don’t match, my browser alerts me with popups.

mirradric says:

Re: Re: Re: Already present

The mechanism is already present in most browsers. Just accept the certificate despite the warning.
In fact, as long as you have some other means to verify the certificate like a finger print distributed via signed email or a physical name card, you are relatively safe against the man in the middle attack.
Further, most browsers will provide options to accept the certificate permanently. If you do that, you’ll only need to do the verification/authentication manually only the first time and it should be smooth going the next time while providing about as much protection as using a CA. (no cert revoking but you can remove the particular cert from your trusted list if you know to no longer trust it)
Hmm… Perhaps a social networking/crowd-source web of trust… hee hee

Anonymous Coward says:

Mandated HTTPS could mean the end of self-certificates, which is bad.

I think a better way is informing the public and making then shun websites that don’t use encryption end to end on everything.

Heck HTTP is prone to:

– Ad insertion by anyone along the way.
– Snooping by anyone(i.e. law enforcement, the government, ad agencies, criminals, your neighbor)

Hanging on to the Cluetrain says:

Why not just educate people?

This is the same problem with trying to ‘lock down’ users in any network. Instead of going crazy trying to implement uber-net nanny, starting government black lists of websites and restricting people, just educate them! Major companies can offer ‘lite’ versions of their security software for free and the gov’t can partner with them to educate people on how and why they should use them. Empowering people with knowledge makes more sense than chasing down a problem with byzantine mandates created by people who are clueless about technology.

Schmoo says:

HTTPS costs hosts to set up, and is way slower. If my site needs HTTPS then fine, no problem. Very often they don’t, or only need it for a small part of the traffic the site receives. If you’ve ever used a site that puts all its images, javascript, css etc behind HTTPS, you’ll know why this is a mind-numbingly stupid idea.

Anonymous Coward says:

Don't know if this is related...

But Ars Technica just ran a story about a cable ISP that’s using DPI gear to inject ads on web pages (they have screen shots of the Google home page with said ad injected). One of the ways to defeat this is, of course, if the website in question were to use https.

Dean Landolt (profile) says:


While you’re right that encryption was left out of HTTP by design (for the caching benefits) it was relatively recently (even later than 2007) that it become obvious that HTTPS was more than just a best practice for any web application where users log in.

Before tools like firesheep [1] came on the scene it was generally assumed that simply encrypting the login exchange was sufficient. I’m pretty sure I remember you mentioning firesheep in a story so you ought to be aware of this but it sounds like you may have missed the wider implications.

RE: vpn, as pointed out by the first Coward, your statement is not quite true. It _will_ however help you in a proximity-based attack (e.g. coffee shop wifi + firesheep).


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