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NASA guy to White House: Be really careful with that HTTPS stuff

What's wrong with a 'waiver process'?

Photo of the White House at dusk

A webserver and database administrator at NASA has penned an epic plea on the White House's GitHub repository to include a waiver process as part of the HTTPS-Only project, which is intended to improve security for citizens visiting federal websites, but may interfere with niche services.

Joe Hourclé has taken to GitHub to criticise the HTTPS-Only website's claims that "there is no such thing as insensitive web traffic".

"Yet there is," writes Hourclé. "Due to many institutions having policies against FTP and peer-to-peer protocols, HTTP has become the de facto standard in sharing scientific data."

Restricting the use of HTTP may affect a number of scientific analysis tools, according to Hourclé, although whether these would be included in the HTTPS-Only roll-out is not clear.

The webserver admin states he has seen "nothing that would indicate [there will be exemptions to this policy] and my complaint is specifically because I think that there should be a waiver process".

Hourclé's main gripe is "top-down solutions" that "they try to force down our throats when they don't actually understand what our needs are. I've seen it happen in both government and when I worked for a university, where someone convinces higher-up management to buy services/products from their company, and it's a waste, just a hole to pour money into".

Mandating the deprecation of HTTP could be disruptive for host security too, Hourclé claims, as HTTPS provides an increased attack surface and frequent improper implementation could decrease the availability of the service for the user and increase the security risk for those maintaining the server.

Additionally, Hourclé warns of the effect the policy may have on those without computers at home, as many public institutions which offer internet access are mandated to filter it by state or local laws and may block HTTPS entirely.

Following calls of support from the ACLU and Mozilla, and its implementation by Netflix, the secure hypertext transfer protocol looks as if it may eventually be standard across the web, even if plain-old HTTP still has use cases alongside it.

The Register was unable to contact NASA as of publication. ®

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