The State of the News and TLS: Part II

by alex_gaynor

About six weeks ago I blogged about the state of the news and TLS. Spoiler alert, it wasn't great. Happily, there's been some good news on this front.

First, the New York Times wrote a piece calling for more news websites to expose their content over TLS. While the Times is not yet available over TLS, based on this post I'm hopeful it will happen in 2015.

The second major piece of news was the Chrome Security Team's announcement of their plans to move towards a negative security-indicator for plain-HTTP websites. Better informing users as to what the security implications are when websites don't respect user's privacy and readership will hopefully be a major step forward in pushing website operators to offer and require TLS.

Given these pieces of news, let's see how major newspapers are doing:

Net change over last month? The Chicago Sun-Times actually regressed. Last month they had a working deployment, now it's a certificate error.

Let's see how other major news sites are doing:

The change here was a regression for Time, which used to have semi-functional TLS, and now they redirect HTTPS requests over to HTTP.

All in all, despite the good news from the New York Times and Chrome's Security Team, on a technical level, it's been a crummy month for TLS.

There are two things I'd like to draw attention to:

First, many of these websites technically have TLS, they listen on port 443, and even have an HTTP server running, but all they do is redirect to HTTP on port 80. This is unfortunate. However, it makes clear that the issue is not obtaining certificates or anything like that.

What I have heard identified as a major issue many many times is advertising providers either not offering TLS or having reduced inventory with HTTPS. This incentivizes websites to redirect over to HTTP, lest they lose revenue.

I'm not unsympathetic to the difficulties this can cause for a news website interested in TLS. However, I don't think it excuses the silence from these sites on HTTPS. If you are a news site who would like to offer HTTPS, but is unable to because of your advertisers: talk about it. You are a newspaper, and this is a story in the public interest.

In the meantime, I'm hopeful that Chrome's proposed changes will help swing the pendulum towards incentivizing TLS.

Hi, I'm Alex. I'm a software engineer at Mozilla, working on Firefox security. Before that I was a software engineer with the U.S. Digital Service. I'm an avid open source contributor and live in Washington, DC.