Security

Mozilla, EFF, Cisco back free-as-in-FREE-BEER SSL cert authority

Let’s Encrypt to give HTTPS-everywhere a boost in 2015

A new certificate authority – backed by big names on the internet including Mozilla, Cisco and Akamai – plans to offer SSL certs at no charge starting next year. The move will make it even more easier for people to run encrypted, secure HTTPS websites.

Let’s Encrypt aims to provide an easier way to obtain and use a digital cryptographic certificates (TLS) to secure web site, as its pitch explains:

Let’s Encrypt is a new free certificate authority, built on a foundation of cooperation and openness, that lets everyone be up and running with basic server certificates for their domains through a simple one-click process.

For many server operators, getting even a basic server certificate is just too much of a hassle. The application process can be confusing. It usually costs money. It’s tricky to install correctly. It’s a pain to update.

If successful, the organisation would help push the broader encryption by default and the TLS Everywhere movement, which is in large part a response by the tech industry to revelations from Edward Snowden about mass surveillance. Google's recent decision to begin giving secure (https) sites a higher search engine ranking is another factor pushing an all encrypted web. The latest web protocols (such as HTTP/2 and Google's SPDY) are TLS-based and this is acting as another driver.

Mozilla, Cisco Systems, Akamai Technologies, Electronic Frontier Foundation, IdenTrust and researchers at the University of Michigan are working through the Internet Security Research Group to deliver the infrastructure to deliver the service in Q2 2015. "The automated issuance and renewal protocol will be an open standard and as much of the software as possible will be open source," Let’s Encrypt said in a blog post.

When Let’s Encrypt launches in summer 2015, "enabling HTTPS for your site will be as easy as installing a small piece of certificate management software on the server", the pitch runs.

The new initiative dovetails with CloudFlare's Universal SSL program, a service that encrypts and secures web traffic between visitors and websites cached by CloudFlare's content delivery network. This was previously a paid-for feature but became free of charge in September.

CloudFlare boss Matthew Prince recently told El Reg how he had to persuade certificate authorities that low grade certificates were eventually going to be free to persuade them to partner with it in delivering the service. Let’s Encrypt is evidence that this message has sunk in and that other organisations are on board to build an encrypted web. ®

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