Understanding HTTPS: Importance, Mechanism, and Benefits

The internet is a vast network of data transferred from one point to another in a complex system of requests and responses. One crucial element in this network is the HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS), the security backbone of online communication. This article will explore HTTPS’s essence, workings, and significance and how it differentiates from HTTP. We’ll also touch upon the consequences of not using HTTPS and how a website can implement HTTPS using nginx or haproxy.

What is HTTPS?

HTTPS, or HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure, is an internet communication protocol used for secure communication over a computer network. It is the secure version of HTTP, the protocol over which data is sent between your browser and the website you’re connected to. The ‘S’ at the end of HTTP stands for ‘Secure,’ meaning all communications between your browser and the website are encrypted.

How does HTTPS work?

HTTPS operates through a process known as Transport Layer Security (TLS) or its predecessor, Secure Sockets Layer (SSL). TLS and SSL are cryptographic protocols that provide communications security over a computer network.

When a browser attempts to access a website secured with HTTPS, the website will send its SSL certificate to the browser. This certificate includes the website’s public key. The browser checks the validity of this certificate—if it trusts the certificate, it creates, encrypts, and sends back a symmetric session key using the website’s public key. The website then decrypts the symmetric session key using its private key, and the session then continues over this symmetric session key.

The beauty of this exchange, known as an SSL/TLS handshake, is that even if an attacker manages to intercept the messages, they won’t have the necessary keys to decrypt the information.

Why is HTTPS important?

  1. Data protection: HTTPS helps protect your site’s integrity and your users’ security. It prevents intruders from tampering with the communications between your websites and your users’ browsers. Intruders include malicious attackers and legitimate but intrusive companies, such as ISPs or hotels, that inject ads into pages.
  2. Privacy and Confidentiality: The data exchanged is encrypted, which ensures that the information stays confidential from eavesdroppers. Only the sender and receiver can understand the content of the data.
  3. Trust and Credibility: With increasing awareness about online safety, more users are wary of websites without a secure connection. Websites with HTTPS give users peace of mind while performing sensitive operations.

What happens if a website doesn’t have HTTPS?

If a website lacks HTTPS, all the data is sent in plaintext over the network. This setup makes it easy for malicious actors to eavesdrop on the data transfer and access sensitive information. Additionally, users may see security warnings or have less trust in a site not secured with HTTPS.

How does traffic look before encryption and after?

Before encryption, data sent over HTTP is in plaintext. If an attacker intercepts the data, they can read and understand it.

After encryption under HTTPS, the data is transformed into an unreadable format without the correct decryption key. This process helps ensure that even if someone intercepts the data, they cannot understand it without the appropriate key.

Which kind of attacks can be prevented by using HTTPS?

HTTPS can mitigate several types of cyberattacks, including:

  1. Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) Attacks occur when attackers insert themselves into a two-party transaction. After interrupting the traffic, they can filter and steal data. HTTPS prevents this by encrypting the data.
  2. Eavesdropping: As data transmitted over HTTPS is encrypted, potential eavesdroppers cannot understand the intercepted data.
  3. Content Alteration: HTTPS also protects against attackers who may want to alter the site’s content while in transit, maintaining the integrity of the data.

How is HTTPS different from HTTP?

The significant difference between HTTPS and HTTP is security. HTTP transfers data in plaintext, making it readable to anyone who manages to intercept the communication. On the other hand, HTTPS encrypts the data, ensuring that even if someone intercepts it, they can’t understand it without the decryption key.

Pros and Cons of HTTPS


  1. Security: HTTPS protects against cyber threats, ensuring data integrity, confidentiality, and authenticity.
  2. SEO Advantage: Google has confirmed that HTTPS is a ranking factor, meaning websites with HTTPS could potentially rank higher in search results.
  3. Trust: Websites with HTTPS and a visible padlock in the address bar appear more trustworthy to users.


  1. Performance: The SSL/TLS handshake can add to the total time it takes for a user to download a webpage. However, modern servers and network optimization techniques can often mitigate this issue.
  2. Cost: SSL certificates can come at a price, especially if you require a specific type of certificate. However, initiatives like Let’s Encrypt provide credentials for free.

Implementing HTTPS in nginx/haproxy

You’ll first need an SSL/TLS certificate to start using HTTPS. You can purchase these from a Certificate Authority (CA) or get one free from organizations like Let’s Encrypt.

Here’s a simplified way to configure HTTPS on nginx:

  1. Place the certificate file (e.g., mydomain.crt) and the private key (e.g., mydomain.key) in a directory on the Nginx server, such as /etc/nginx/ssl.
  2. Open your nginx configuration file (often found at /etc/nginx/nginx.conf or /etc/nginx/sites-available/default).
  3. Add or modify the server block to include these directives:
server {
    listen 443 ssl;
    server_name mydomain.com;

    ssl_certificate /etc/nginx/ssl/mydomain.crt;
    ssl_certificate_key /etc/nginx/ssl/mydomain.key;

    # ...
  1. Save the changes and exit the text editor. Test the configuration to ensure there are no syntax errors: sudo nginx -t.
  2. If the configuration test is successful, reload Nginx to apply the changes: sudo systemctl reload nginx.

For haproxy, the process is slightly different:

1. Concatenate the certificate and private key into one file: cat mydomain.crt mydomain.key > mydomain.pem.

2. Place this mydomain.pem file into a directory on the haproxy server, like /etc/haproxy/ssl.

3. Open your haproxy configuration file (often found at /etc/haproxy/haproxy.cfg).

4. Add or modify the frontend block to include these directives:

frontend https_front
    bind *:443 ssl crt /etc/haproxy/ssl/mydomain.pem
    # ...

5. Save and exit. Check the configuration: sudo haproxy -c -f /etc/haproxy/haproxy.cfg.

6. If the check is successful, restart haproxy: sudo systemctl restart haproxy.

Remember, you may need to open port 443 on your firewall to allow HTTPS traffic.


HTTPS is not just a fancy addition to your website; it’s an essential feature for secure, reliable, and trusted online communications. As the internet evolves, the need for secure data transmission will only increase, making HTTPS even more critical.