Maybe you notice it, maybe not. When you connect to a website, you’re likely to find a small lock symbol in the upper left corner of the address bar. Sites with the lock indicator are built and displayed with encrypted content. Today, for the first time, the average volume of encrypted internet content is greater than unencrypted content. Reaching this point is an important milestone for web security.
What It Means
That small lock symbol indicates that the website you are surfing was built using the https protocol as opposed to the traditional http. With https, it’s much harder for internet service providers and government agencies to see what you’re looking at, though it does not completely hide that you’re surfing a specific site. Https or secure socket layer (SSL) protocols have been around since 1995, originally used primarily as a way for sites to process credit card transactions. SSL’s successor function, transport layer security (TLS), offers online payments as well as broader site encryption. However, TLS certificates cost money and require technical know-how that any smaller companies were not able or willing to invest. In recent years, those costs have largely disappeared. Sites like WordPress and Squarespace offer the security functionality free of charge to users. Cloud-based companies like Amazon offer free encryption certification training programs. While https is not a perfect solution that can keep away all bad actors, it’s still the best viable option out there.
There are a number of important implications to the new security measures. Google, for one, has started to mark any sites built with http as insecure. Big tech companies and government agencies will continue to have divergent views on this issue. It was just last year that Apple refused a court order to unlock an encrypted iPhone that the FBI wanted to investigate the San Bernardino shootings. Law enforcement agencies would like a backdoor password that would allow for access as needed. Tech companies are generally resistant to the idea. Instead, they are making it more difficult to access personal information. Google and Android, for example, now hide devices’ Mac addresses from both over-the-air detection and from apps. For now, they are siding with users. As tech companies and government agencies battle it out about the future obligations for cracking encrypted data, companies are already beginning to explore what’s next. As computing power and speed continue to get stronger and faster, the hackers will have more tools than ever at their disposal. That means that tools such as https will eventually become more exposed to potential hacks. That’s why companies are hard at work on the next wave of encryption technology. Google is working on post-quantum cryptography, which keep sites safe from high-power, high-speed quantum computers.
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