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HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS) for enhanced security

While the Internet has revolutionized the whole world with the digital communications, with the comfort and easiness it comes with the price of new threats. Thus, without precautions and good online defense, you cannot leave your servers and browsers open else you would be a victim of theft, fraud and even property damage. Having said that, security and caution are imperative in keeping your data and business safe and this responsibility is on the individual to adhere to the policies and cyber laws.

HSTS - HTTP Strict Transport Security Policy

The world of computer security is increasing faster than anyone could ever imagine to an extent that, many security experts are today racing against major cyber threats and smart cyber attackers worldwide. When we talk about smart attackers, no one is certainly hacker proof even if they deploy some refined defense mechanisms and protocols. However, in this scenario HTTPS come as a savior and a great tool to safeguard the users against cyber hacks. Let’s discuss something on the same front that will give you a better idea on HTTPS/SSL certificate, and cyber security. Although there are many solutions and provinces for stringent security laws but this article will talk about HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS) and its detailed understanding.

History of HTTP Strict Transport policy: HSTS was first published as RFC 6797 dated back in 2012 with the approval by the IESG (Internet Engineering Steering Group). Then it was first submitted as a draft on internet 2010 where they changed the name of the specification from Strict Transport Security to HTTP Strict Transport Security. Please note that the original authors of the specification are Jeff Hodges, Collin Jackson, and Adam Barth.

What is HSTS: It is a web security solution and a policy system that protects the online businesses and websites against demoting cyber attacks and cookie hijacking. The HSTS Policy is well connected and informed with the server to the user via HTTP feature response header field that is termed as “Strict-Transport-Security”. Here, HSTS Policy sets a defined period of time during which the user will have to access the web server in a locked pattern. HSTS also allows the web servers to assert that browsers should only network with it secure HTTPS connections that are in use and it should never be connected via an insecure HTTP protocol.

HTTP Strict Transport Security – HSTS is opt-in security enhancements that are connected with a supported browser which receives the header that the browser will avert any communications coming from or sent over HTTP. Further, it will be sent to a specified domain that will instead send all the communications over HTTPS; this gives enhanced security and a click through prompts on the browsers.

What all threats does HSTS address too:

  • User bookmarks or manually and is subject to a man-in-the-middle attacker.
  • HSTS routinely redirects HTTP requirements to HTTPS for the larger target domain.
  • A web application that is proposed to be purely HTTPS involuntarily includes HTTP links or serves the content over HTTP.
  • A man-in-the-middle attacker endeavors to cut off traffic from a fatality user that is using an invalid certificate and further hopes the user will acknowledge the bad certificate.
  • HSTS will never allow a user to supersede the invalid certificate message.

Let’s learn about HTTP Strict Transport Security Policy

To start with the description – If a website takes up a connection via HTTP and the redirects it to HTTPS, in this case the user may at first have to deal with a non-encrypted version of the site until the redirection doesn’t gets completed. The HSTS Policy secures users against eavesdropping and other network attacks. A man-in-the-middle attack can be drastically reduced that can intercept requests and act like a man-in middle person between users and the server. For better understanding have a look at an example:

You have logged in to a free WiFi zone or a point at a railway station and you start using internet surfing of do some online banking service to transact or shop or pay some bills. Unluckily the access payment point that you are is in fact a hacker’s laptop, and they’re interrupting your original HTTP request by pushing you to a clone bank’s site as an alternative of the real thing. With this your private data and personal information gets uncovered to the hacker, which is dangerous. Now how to protect – Here Strict Transport Security is the savior; your bank’s web site should use HTTPS, and then it should also have Strict Transport Security, with the browser that is already using HTTPS. This prevents the eavesdroppers from entering into the information of your website.

Check the browser compatibility for HTTP Strict Transport Security Policy:

  • Desktop – Feature – Strict Transport – Security
  • Chrome – 4.0
  • Edge – 12
  • Firefox – 4
  • Internet Explorer – 11
  • Opera – 12
  • Safari – 7

Lastly, before we wrap up this article let’s understand HTTPS and HSTS:

You know what is HTTP, perhaps you also know what is HTTPS and SSL certificates are, now if you have types HTTP:// on your browser and in case you are missing out on knowing what the acronym actually means then keep reading: HTTP means Hypertext Transfer Protocol that is a set of protocols that are used by the browser to correspond the server. On the other hand, HTTPS is a development towards HTTP in the sense that it encodes the communication done via secure tunnel else it is called Secure Socket Layer (SSL) or Transport Layer Security (TLS).

Image credit: webdevbreak.com

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