Feeds

Mandatory HTTP 2.0 encryption proposal sparks hot debate

Just how robust is transport layer security anyway?

Security for virtualized datacentres

Most Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) debates pass unnoticed, because they're very dry and detailed. However, a suggestion that the HTTP 2.0 specification might mandate encryption – in a post-Snowden world – is too tasty an idea to go under the radar.

The suggestion sparking the debate came from HTTPbis chair, Mark Nottingham, who put forward a discussion summary in which he suggested some kind of consensus is emerging that HTTP 2.0 should favour https:// to protect users (to some degree) against traffic snooping: “HTTP/2 to only be used with https:// URIs on the "open" Internet. http:// URIs would continue to use HTTP/1 (and of course it would still be possible for older HTTP/1 clients to still interoperate with https:// URIs)”, Nottingham wrote on the IETF HTTP working group list.

Other options he reported from the IETF Vancouver meeting were to use opportunistic encryption for http:// URIs without authenticating the server; or to add server authentication to the opportunistic encryption suggestion.

It's regrettable that the story has turned into a “W3C wants to encrypt HTTP 2.0 by default”, because what's more interesting is the strength of feeling that accompanies the debate.

Nottingham's e-mail sparked two things: headlines giving the “SSL-only” idea a stronger status than it has; and a strong debate on the list about the merits of the proposal.

Since the ongoing debate is a clear indication that Nottingham's proposal wasn't any kind of a consensus position, but rather a summary of discussions, The Register would like to focus on how the list seems to see the pros and cons of the idea.

Would “mandatory” SSL make the Internet more secure?

Obviously the starting point is that if it were adopted – that is, HTTP 2.0 sites default to secure sockets layer (SSL) using transport layer security (TLS) as the mechanism, it would only impact HTTP 2.0 servers communicating with HTTP 2.0 browsers. Someone with an older browser landing on an http:// page sees no change.

Microsoft went on the record in the list as preferring to encourage TLS in HTTP 2.0 without making it mandatory; while the Chromium project takes the opposite view, and is planning on supporting HTTP 2.0 only over a secure channel.

The debate highlights the deep concerns those in the know – that is, those actually contributing to IETF discussions – have about the security of TLS, particularly in light of the Snowden-driven belief that man-in-the-middle attacks are widespread.

However, making TLS more secure lives off in a different working group. Clearly, if a “secure channel” implementation were mandated for HTTP 2.0, it can only use those security mechanisms that are available to it.

What might it break?

Once concern cited by the participants in the discussion is simply that a more restrictive specification would inhibit adoption of HTTP 2.0. Microsoft's Rob Trace summed it up: “we should strongly encourage the use of TLS with HTTP, but not at the expense of creating a standard that is as broadly applicable as HTTP 1.1”.

In other words, there's no point in having a “more secure” standard if it ends up being one that nobody uses.

Perhaps thornier is what the proposal would do between browser and server, in the proxies and caches that ISPs use to help manage their traffic. An ISP can only cache a popular story from The Register if the content is in the clear. Encryption makes every piece of content look like unique content.

This one's got a long way to run … ®

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
Docker's app containers are coming to Windows Server, says Microsoft
MS chases app deployment speeds already enjoyed by Linux devs
IBM storage revenues sink: 'We are disappointed,' says CEO
Time to put the storage biz up for sale?
'Hmm, why CAN'T I run a water pipe through that rack of media servers?'
Leaving Las Vegas for Armenia kludging and Dubai dune bashing
Facebook slurps 'paste sites' for STOLEN passwords, sprinkles on hash and salt
Zuck's ad empire DOESN'T see details in plain text. Phew!
Windows 10: Forget Cloudobile, put Security and Privacy First
But - dammit - It would be insane to say 'don't collect, because NSA'
Symantec backs out of Backup Exec: Plans to can appliance in Jan
Will still provide support to existing customers
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.