The Wikimedia Foundation, the charity operating the Wikipedia website, announced last month (June 2015) that it would change its website address. The site, historically found at the following URL - http://www.wikipedia.org - is now at https://www.wikipedia.org.
Whats the difference?
Looking carefully, you'll see that the new address has an s before the colon. This s is very important as it stands for secure.
This refers to the connection over which you access the Wikipedia website. Accessing Wikipedia, the worlds sixth most visited website, via this new method means your connection is encrypted. The Wikimedia Foundation explained in a blog post announcing the switch that it will encrypt all traffic accessing the site so its users cannot be spied upon.
What is HTTPS, and why should I care?
HTTPS is a method of encrypting data that travels between your computer and a certain website. Accessing a website via HTTPS makes it harder (not impossible) for government agencies, ISPs and other organisations to know what you're looking at. It also means you can access content your government may wish to censor. The Wikimedia Foundation said that encryption makes the web stronger for everyone.
In a world where mass surveillance has become a serious threat to intellectual freedom, secure connections are essential for protecting users worldwide. Without encryption, governments can more easily surveil sensitive information, creating a chilling effect and deterring participation, or in extreme cases, they can isolate or discipline citizens. Accounts may also be hijacked, pages may be censored, and other security flaws could expose sensitive user information and communications.
Hang on; you're saying people can spy on my Internet usage if I dont use HTTPS?
Yes, thats entirely possible, although quite unlikely. Your Internet usage is subject to certain conditions (you'll have signed up to these when you signed up with your ISP or mobile provider), meaning certain information can be shared if you are suspected of wrongdoing. We're not saying you're being spied on, but you may be. We recently wrote about the Snoopers' Charter and how governments, including our own UK government, want to make it easier to find out what you've been looking at online. After that, we wrote about how computer encryption is now a human right, according to the United Nations.
So how do I make sure my connection is always encrypted?
You can do this in several quite easy ways. If you're one of those who never type in a URL but instead navigates to all websites via Google, theres a good chance you're always on a securely encrypted connection. You can also use a browser add-on like HTTPS Anywhere (available for Chrome and Firefox). This converts unsecured connections to HTTPS. Its important to note that HTTPS isn't a magic bullet to online security, and you must still be careful. Its also worth remembering that certain functions or features of websites (such as comparison engines that let you get the cheapest flights) may not work properly if you're visiting via an encrypted connection.