HTTP Considered Unethical

Returning visitors: notice anything different? No, not the design (although thanks Kenneth Love!). I’m talking about the lock icon! Accessing this website now requires TLS (and a fairly modern client to boot).

But Alex, it’s just your blog! There’s nothing confidential on here, why does it need TLS?

First, TLS doesn’t just guarantee confidentiality, it also provides authentication and guarantees the integrity of this page. That prevents an attacker on the network from serving you bogus content, and pretending like it’s from me.

But we could work around those, I could include a PGP signature for every post, and you’d know they’re from me. Confidentiality is required because I shouldn’t get to have an opinion about what’s important to my readers.

Everything on my blog may be public, but that doesn’t mean any given reader is ok with it being known by the prying eyes between them and me.

A student should be able to browse for information on depression without their principal knowing it, a dissident should be able to research how to avoid national firewalls without their government knowing it, and anyone who damn well pleases should be able to read whatever they like without their ISP knowing it.

A key issue in designing API and user interfaces is making sure that actions reflect the intent and agency of their user. No users' mental model for how their browser works includes the possibility that attackers are reading or manipulating the contents of pages (if you don’t believe, try explaining to someone that the From field of an email doesn’t prove who it’s really from).

As operators of websites, we should not be empowered to give away our users' privacy.

Right now on the web, the default is unauthenticated and unencrypted, and that’s got to change. HTTP must cease to exist as we know it. Typing must access it over HTTPS.

If you operate a website, please add HTTPS 1, and redirect all traffic to it. If you’re in a position to define web standards going forward, or browser UI: require HTTPS for anything and everything, and where you can’t, penalize sites using HTTP.

  1. Cost is no longer an excuse, both StartSSL and CloudFlare provide free certificates. ↩︎