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What is HTTPS - Why Use a Secure a Web Site
If you're going to run an online store or an Ecommerce Web site, you will want to ensure customers that the information they give you on that site, including their credit card number, is handled securely. To do this, your site will need to use HTTPS - or HyperText Transfer Protocol with Secure Sockets Layer, or SSL. HTTPS is a protocol to transfer encrypted data over the Web. When someone sends you financial information, social security numbers, or other sensitive data, HTTPS keeps that transmission secure.
There are two primary differences between an HTTPS and an HTTP connection work:
HTTPS connects on port 443, while HTTP is on port 80
HTTPS encrypts the data sent and received with SSL, while HTTP sends it all as plain text
Most Web customers know that they should look for the "https" in the URL and to seek out the lock icon in their browser when they are making a transaction. If your storefront is not using HTTPS, you will lose customers and you will also possibly open yourself and your company up to serious liability should your lack of security compromise someone's private data. This is why pretty much any online store today is using HTTPS and SSL - but using a secure website is not only for Ecommerce sites any more. On today's Web, all sites can benefit from SSL usage. Google actually recommends this for sites today as a way to authenticate that the information on that site is, indeed, coming from that company and is not someone trying to spoof the site somehow.
As such, Google is now rewarding sites that do use an SSL, which is yet another reason, on top of improved security, to add this to your site.
Sending Encrypted Data
As mentioned above, HTTP sends the data collected over the Internet in plain text. This means that if you have a form asking for a credit card number, that credit card number can be intercepted by anyone with a packet sniffer.
Since there are many free sniffer software tools available, this could be done anyone at all. By collecting credit card information over an HTTP (not HTTPS) connection, you are taking a risk that this credit card information could be intercepted and, since it is not encrypted, used by a thief.
What You Need to Host Secure Pages
There are only a couple things you need in order to host secure pages on your web site:
A Web server such as Apache with mod_ssl that supports SSL encryption
A Unique IP address - this is what the certificate providers use to validate the secure certificate
An SSL Certificate from an SSL certificate provider
If you aren't sure about the first two items, you should contact your Web hosting provider. They will be able to tell you if you can use HTTPS on your Web site.
Once You've Got Your HTTPS Certificate
Your hosting provider will need to set up the certificate in your Web server so that every time a page is accessed via the https:// protocol, it hits the secure server. Once that is set up, you can start building your Web pages that need to be secure.
Here are some tips for using HTTPS:
Point to all Web forms on the https:// server. Whenever you link to Web forms on your Web site, get in the habit of linking to them with the full server URL including the https:// designation. This will insure that they always are secured.
Use relative paths to images on secured pages. If you use a full path (http://www...) for your images, and those images are not on the secure server, your customers will get error messages that say things like: "Insecure data found. Continue?" This can be disconcerting, and many people will stop the purchase process when they see that. If you use relative paths, your images will be loaded from the same secure server as the rest of the page.
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