HTTP vs. HTTPS: What's the Difference?
HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) and HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) are both protocols for transferring information across the web. The main difference between the two is the level of security they provide.
HTTP transfers data in plain text, making it vulnerable to potential interception or tampering. This increases the risk of data breaches or threats such as Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) attacks.
HTTPS is essentially a secure version of HTTP. It uses SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) or TLS (Transport Layer Security) to encrypt and authenticate the data transferred, ensuring that data cannot be intercepted and understood by unauthorized entities.
While HTTPS significantly improves your security, it’s not 100% secure. It can protect your data from eavesdropping or tampering as it travels between your browser and the server, but it cannot guarantee absolute safety from all forms of cyber threats.
You’re still vulnerable to phishing scams, malware, and other vulnerabilities when you’re browsing a HTTPS website. In addition, your ISP can still see all of the websites you visit.
To fully understand the differences between HTTP and HTTPS, we’ll explain each protocol in more detail in this section:
What does HTTP Actually Mean?
In simple terms, HTTP is a universal language that allows the internet to function. As a network protocol standard, it governs how requests are formatted and transmitted between different browsers and web servers, and what actions should be taken in response to specific commands.
Whenever you enter a URL into your browser, that request for information stored on a web server is transmitted via HTTP, allowing communication between disparate systems and devices.
What does HTTPS Actually Mean?
HTTPS fulfills the same function as HTTPS but with an added layer of encryption and validation. It uses either Secure Socket Layer (SSL) or Transport Layer Security (TLS) to protect the data sent between a browser and a web server.
HTTPS connections also use public key encryption to verify that the server being connected to is the legitimate host of the website.
HTTPS encryption and authentication prevents cyber attacks such as DNS hijacking, man-in-the-middle attacks, and domain spoofing, which are much more common with regular unsecured HTTP connections.
The Differences Between HTTP and HTTPS Summarized
Here’s a table explaining the main differences between HTTP and HTTPS:
|Data transmission||Hypertext||Encrypted via SSL or TLS|
|Port number used||80||443|
|Compatibility||Wide ranging||Wide ranging|
|Use cases||Unsecured communication between browsers and websites||Secured communication between browsers and websites|
- Speed: Because HTTPS requires a SSL handshake to initiate encryption, it could be slightly slower than HTTP. However, the computational difference between the two protocols is almost negligible.
- Encryption: HTTP is entirely unencrypted, making it relatively easy for malicious actors to access the data moving between browser and web server. HTTPS uses asymmetric public key cryptography to secure the data being transmitted.
- Data transmission: HTTP transmitted information in open Hypertext, meaning anyone who intercepts it can read the data. HTTPS transmits the data in an encrypted form, meaning even if it is intercepted, it cannot be read.
- Authentication: HTTP offers no form of website authentication. HTTPS uses SSL certificate authentication to verify that a website is secured.
- Port number used: By default, HTTP communication uses port 80 while HTTPS uses port 443.
- Compatibility: Since both HTTP and HTTPS are foundational aspects of how the internet works, they are both compatible with the vast majority of browsers and web servers.
- Use cases: Both HTTP and HTTPS are used to facilitate communication between browsers and web servers, with HTTPS offering more secure encrypted communication.