What is HTTPS
Note: this article is obsolete as most popular online services now offer HTTPS as default. Thank you Mr. Snowden.
HTTPS is the secured version of HTTP. Basically it uses certificates, issued by a certificate authority (CA) to validate the identity of the website you are visiting while also encrypting the connection between you and the website’s server. I will write an article explaining HTTPS and certificates soon. This article is intended to educate people about its existence, and the fact that they can be using it more often than they think on websites they use every day.
With mobile internet access such as your phone service provider, or public wifi becoming ever more popular, and the already popular browsing from work or campus, encrypting your web browsing is essential to maintain a maximum level of privacy and security.
This is what an HTTPS website might look like in your address bar:
The best way to start is to make sure the services you frequently use are being used through HTTPS rather than plain HTTP.
For example, did you know wikipedia.org supports HTTPS? Try this URL: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Https
Switching to HTTPS on wikipedia is not very obvious, most people do not own an account to even be able to configure such settings, and I’m not sure the option even exists. The solution? Using your browsers search engine options to always go to the HTTPS version of the wiki when you do a wiki search. In the chrome browser for example, if you go to settings -> manage search engines you can add a new entry for wikipedia like this:
Notice the “%S”, this is a variable google chrome uses to insert your search terms.
That’s all there is to it. Now try searching for something and notice that it returns an HTTPS page.
Other services that support HTTPS
In this article I will cover a few more services that support HTTPS that are frequently used. There are many others, you just have to look through their control panels/account settings, try manually adding “https” in the address bar in the case of search engines, or even read up their tech support articles or contact them directly. All financial and government services websites should always be in HTTPS, at the very least starting from the moment you reach the login page. If it is not, then avoid logging in anywhere except from home, and if possible contact them to find out what is going on (preferably before logging in).
With that out of the way here are a few other popular services and how to enable them to use HTTPS.
Enable HTTPS on Google Search, Gmail, Google+ and Youtube
Google search allows you to use HTTPS, but it only seems to kick in when you are logged in (and seems to be on by default). Other google services seem to also be HTTPS by default, including gmail and google+. It is possible to turn this off in gmail, and if yours is disabled you can turn it back on by going to your mail settings, under the general tab:
That’s great for people with a google account. What about those who don’t? You can use the same trick as the wikipedia search.
Either create a new search engine (or replace your default) with the following:
Youtube (which is owned by google) is also HTTPS enabled, but as far as I can see it is not supported via an account setting yet. However, every aspect of youtube does support HTTPS, even embeded videos on websites. On Osayidan.net all youtube videos are embeded using HTTPS. So once again, the most convenient way to use HTTPS on youtube is with a custom search engine added to your browser. Following the same example as the wikipedia search engine, use the following search URL:
Enable HTTPS on Windows Live / Hotmail
For once Microsoft does something right (would be even more right if they enabled it by default) by allowing you to turn on HTTPS for your email and other related services. To do so, go to your account overview page. To get there click on your name in the top right corner to make the drop-down menu show up, then click on “account”.
Once in there, look near the bottom to find “Connect with HTTPS”. Click that and enable HTTPS.
Enable HTTPS on Twitter
If you have a twitter account, you can force HTTPS to be used. Just log in, go to your account settings and find the “HTTPS only” option.
Enable HTTPS on Facebook
Facebook has added an option to enable HTTPS via your settings. To turn it on, go to your facebook account, and open up the settings page. Click on security, and then click edit on the secure browsing option.
Both Chrome and Firefox will allow you to use the custom search methods. Other browsers might or might not support such features. If your browser does not, see if it has some sort of plugin or add-on that does, or consider using a decent browser.
Enjoy your safer browsing.