What are HTTP and HTTPS protocols, and why websites should use HTTPS?

Internet is a gigantic collection of computers. These computers are connected to each other mainly by wires and sometimes using wireless mediums. These computers communicate with each other to provide users with the information they need. But to share information, the computers must be able to understand what the other computer is saying, that is they must have a common language which both of them can understand.

The common language...

HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol) is the common language that helps computers in transmitting data. The HTTP protocol defines a specific format and method which computers use to ask questions (a request for some data) and answer (a response with the requested data) those questions.

HTTP is a really cool protocol that helps computers in exchanging data, but it has a drawback. All the data exchanged between the computers travels as it is on the wire. So, if a computer sends a request it will be without any encryption and its response will also be non-encrypted. And so it can be very easily overheard by anybody in between these 2 computers. This is an issue for an application, where you need to provide your passwords/credit card/debit card info or any other personal info.

HTTPS to the rescue...

HTTPS (HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure) was invented by Netscape in 1994 to overcome the drawbacks of HTTP. HTTPS protocol defines a specific format and method to convert requests and responses into another string that only the recipient can understand.

Ok, but how?

HTTPS takes advantage of a mathematical technique(asymmetric key cryptography AKA Public-key cryptography). It takes data and a publicly available key published by the website as input and converts data into a code. The code can be decoded using only a privately held key.

Asymmetric key cryptography

Symmetric key cryptography

This technique provides one-way security. Client computers and websites use this technique to share a public key. Actual data is encrypted using another mathematical algorithm(symmetric key cryptography AKA Symmetric-key algorithm); that takes session key and data to generate a code. The code can be decoded using the same session key only.

Web browsers use HTTPS to encrypt your session key with the public key (SSL certificate) and share it with the website. The web server decrypts the key using the private key, and then both web browser and web server use the session key to encrypt any data that needs to be exchanged. A new session key is generated every time the client computer sends a new HTTPS request.

HTTPS is good, but do I need it?

YES! even if your website does not collect any sensitive data using HTTP is dangerous. The content shared over HTTP can be tempered and your user may end up getting pawned on your site. A person with malicious intent might temper data sent by your website to show a form and collect personal user data, which can then be used for cybercrimes.

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