Have you noticed the Google URL in your browser's address bar now has an HTTPS in front? That is because the internet and technology services giant announced earlier this week that every search will now go over secure sockets layer (SSL), something its account members – those with Google accounts – have been benefiting from since 2011.
The SSL will encrypt the connection between a user's computer and Google, according to a statement from the company, which means intermediaries – such as internet cafes, internet service providers and Wi-Fi hotspots – will be unable to intercept Google searches.
“We think it's really great and are very encouraged by the news,” Dan Auerbach, staff technologist with nonprofit digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), told SCMagazine.com on Friday. “We think that encryption should be the default on the web. With the uptick in surveillance and sophisticated spying techniques, it's become so critical that networks switch to HTTPS.”
However, SSL will not protect against the typical dangers of the web, such as viruses and other malware. Additionally, while SSL will protect users' search results, the Google statement warns that it will not necessarily protect what terms were searched and that one visited Google.com.
Auerbach said the problem is in "referers," a legacy HTTP mechanism used for seeing what websites people come from. The EFF technologist said referers are only sent from HTTPS sites when going to another HTTPS website – the idea being that information is protected on both ends.
“It's very silly that web browsers send them at all,” said Auerbach. “There's no reason for it technologically speaking. We really hope browsers become more aggressive about blocking them. If people want referrers [from Google] they will have to implement HTTPS. That can be the incentive to adopt HTTPS, but ultimately it would be better if it wasn't sent at all.”