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HTTP to HTTPS Migration

by @ 10:26 pm
Filed under: google,internet,web — Tags:

https-ssl-tlsA universally secure internet may have its defenders and detractors but like it or not, Google is going to force site encryption (https) across the board.

First it was the SEO penalty threat, supposedly giving higher scores to secure sites but it doesn't seem like that worked out great. I think Google recognized that just giving prominence to secure sites over plain ones might lead to low quality sites stealing rankings from reputable ones simply by going encrypted. That would have meant poor search results pages, possibly alienating users and driving them to competitors such a Bing.

Now Google is coming at this from another angle, the Chrome browser and this one may stick. As Chrome has the biggest browser market share on the market, they can shame non-encrypted sites right from the browser rather than jeopardizing the Google search engine money machine.

Beginning January 2017 Chrome will print a timid 'Not secure' next to a plain page's URL indicating it is not encrypted. But that is just the start. The plan is to make the label bolder and more colorful with the future versions of Chrome. I suspect that at some future point Chrome may require users to jump through warning messages to show a plain page. That would be much like the cumbersome steps needed today to show a page when browsing to a secure page with a broken or invalid certificate.

The process of migration from a plain site to an encrypted site starts with obtaining a site certificate. This used to be an expensive proposition but nowadays a basic one can be had for free. In terms of the web server there are 3 ways to migrate a site from plain to secure:

1- In-place migration of the web server application - Just about any web server on the market today can handle secure connections as well as plain ones. The process generally involves installing the certificate, making some configuration changes and the site goes encrypted. Servers with multiple domains may however need an upgrade. For that, check for SNI support. For example Microsoft's IIS below version 8 does not support SNI. And if you have users that are still on Windows XP, good luck. SNI isn't supported on that platform at all.

2- Using an https appliance - Here the web server infrastructure is left intact but instead it is fronted by another server or service known as an https appliance or SSL termination. There are many such appliances on the market that are relatively easy to set up. There are also open source products such a Nginx or HAProxy that require a bit more tech know-how. In both cases they are deployed by installing the corresponding domain certificates and exposing them to the internet traffic. Internally they access the actual web server via plain http and return the page to the users encrypted over https.

3- Using a CDN - This is similar to the 2nd method, except that the appliance is actually managed by another company, like CloudFlare (free), Akamai or  CloudFront among others, in the cloud. The benefit is that little administration is required and in some  cases, like CloudFlare, even the certificate is pre-handled. The downside is giving up a certain level control and trust which a business may not be comfortable with.

Going https is not a trivial task, specially for the less tech savvy. But at least there are a number of available migration choices, each with a number of product options. They have various degrees of convenience, efficiency, and precision but eventually one must be chosen as the https migration seems inevitable. How would this site migrate to https? Remains to be seen.

... And now here's a glimpse: The Long, Hard and Possibly Foolish Path to SSL/TLS Security - TLS 1.2 on Fedora Core 14.

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