The State of the News and TLS

by alex_gaynor

I've previously written about the importance of TLS. There are few domains that I can imagine the protections TLS offers are more important for than the news. The idea that articles I read could be manipulated be an attacker on the network is absolutely frightening to me, and the fact that I have no privacy from anyone else on the network with respect to which articles I'm reading is similarly disturbing.

Given the obvious importance of privacy, authentication, and integrity for critical news, I wanted to see how the top newspapers did, in terms of offering, and hopefully even requiring, TLS for their websites. Here's how the top ten newspapers, by circulation in the US, did:

Not so hot. Mixed content is when sub-resources, such as JavaScript, are loaded over HTTP, even though the main page is loaded with HTTPS, most browsers will block this content, effectively breaking a site. Of the top 10, only one has a functioning TLS deployment, and it doesn't require TLS. Almost all of the rest redirect HTTPS back to HTTP, or fail with a certificate error (many of them for Akamai).

Ok, maybe print newspapers aren't the best place to look. So I combed through the Alexa Top 150, looking for news websites to see how they did, these are companies with major internet presences, surely they'll do better (I've excluded sites that were also present in the first list):

There you have it. TMZ's TLS is better than almost any other top news website on the internet. [Editor's note: an earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that TMZ redirected HTTP to HTTPS. This is incorrect.]

We should all be appalled, and the news sites embarrassed, by this pathetic state of TLS deployment for critical news outlets. There is no reason for TLS not to be deployed by every single website, much less websites whose contents is this critical. It's not the '90s anymore, TLS has exactly one performance problem: it is not used widely enough.

If you, the reader, work for one of these websites, please, advocate internally for prioritizing the availability of TLS, redirecting HTTP traffic to HTTPS, and deploying HSTS.

Everyone else, please reach out to the news websites you read and ask them for TLS, to protect your privacy and the integrity and authenticity of your access to these websites.

Surely a fundamental component of a free press, ultimately necessary for a functioning democracy, is the ability of the people to access the press uninterrupted.

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.