This post is part of the series, SmallBusiness.com Guide to Business Computer and Tech Security: Advice, alerts and information about digital security threats faced by small businesses. You can browse other posts in the series below.
If you’re wondering what that “S” at the end of more and more URLs (HTTPS) means, here is a one-word answer: Secure. Before long, you’ll be seeing it in even more places, including your business website. This is a brief explainer covering the “S” and a few other acronyms that are intended to keep your business website — and its users — safe from internet bad guys.
A more in-depth and technical article about HTTPS can be found on the SmallBusiness.com WIKI
First, some good news: Small businesses are creating and actively managing websites more than ever before. They are discovering easier and better ways to use their websites to find new customers and build stronger relationships with current customers.
Now, for the bad news: Business websites, large or small, are attracting criminal hackers from around the world. According to the Better Business Bureau, here are some alarming statistics.
71% | Percentage of data breaches that are targeting small businesses
$7,100 | Average cost for a small business to fix a data breach
$32,000 | Average cost to fix if money was stolen by the cyber criminals
An example of a cyber crime targeting people using your website
In one common criminal scam, victims are lured into visiting a counterfeit website — one that looks like the legitimate site but has a slightly different domain name from the authentic site (gooogle, for example). Not realizing it’s a fake site, the user can be fooled into providing information like a username, password, and sensitive personal information.
Unfortunately, if you have a customer who falls victim to this type of scam, they will want to blame you. Fair or not, they entered what they believed to be your web address in their browser, an address that would guide them safely to your site and protect their interactions.
How the letter “S” and lock add security to your website
In response to scams like the example above, many leading companies in the internet security field work together to prevent website owners and users from becoming victims of such crimes. One of the results of their efforts can be noticed as you visit an ecommerce website and see the browser address window displaying HTTPS instead of HTTP, along with an icon of a closed lock: .
That “S” and closed lock icon let users know that the site is secure. Historically (and with a lot fewer acronyms than security experts use today) website owners who had e-commerce features and other secure information on their websites would obtain what is called a Secure Sockets Layer* (or, SSL) certificate that provides security for information speeding around a computer network. Once installed onto the website, the SSL works like a home security system: it has a sign in the front yard (that S in the URL) that alerts cyber criminals of its presence and assures your customers their information is secure. (Acronym alert: At the end of this explainer, you’ll learn that SSL has been replaced by TLS. But so few people know what “TLS” stands for, you’ll typically see TLS/SSL )
Coming Soon: It’s not pretty what will happen to websites that don’t have an HTTPS URL?
While having security features on your website was once limited to websites that included ecommerce capabilities, today the sophistication of cyber criminals and the personalization features of a website means nearly all websites have increased need for security.
For example, unless a website owner adds more security, browsers like Google Chrome will soon start displaying visual cues in a user’s browser window to alert them of an unsecured website:
- Google Chrome will highlight insecure pages with a red X in the address bar
- If there is no “s,” Chrome will start warning users with the words “Not Secure” if usernames or credit card information are requested
- Firefox plans a similar warning for sites requesting passwords
- In the future, both will transition from an information warning to a red triangle which is more noticeable
- Services like Geolocation, Device Motion/Orientation, Full-screen mode, DRM and others will soon be limited to computers with HTTPS connections
- Referrer data from other sites will require the use of https
How does a small business add an “S” to its HTTP?
If you own or manage a small business, you need to communicate with the person or company who manages or hosts your website. Discuss with them how to obtain a “publicly registered” SSL/TLS certificate. This infographic outlines the considerations you will have in selecting the type of license best for your website.
Information is also available from the Certificate Authorities Security Council (CASC, CASecurity.org), an advocacy and educational campaign to encourage the use of HTTPS. Members include GoDaddy, Digicert, GlobalSign, Entrust, Trustwave and Comodo.
If your website is hosted by a large national or international website company, look for information in their user-support resources in the security section.
*The people who came up with the names and acronyms for all of these protocols should be embarrassed. For example, the term Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) has actually been replaced by something called Transport Layer Security (TLS) that provides secure communications on the internet for such things as e-mail, internet faxing, and other data transfers. There are slight differences between SSL 3.0 and TLS 1.0, but the protocol remains substantially the same. Even the people who work full-time in the world of internet security call it TLS/SSL so as not to confuse one-another, just us.