HTTP vs HTTPS: What's the Difference?

ecommerce security

When browsing the web, you may start to notice little differences between web addresses for different sites. Some websites have addresses that start with HTTP, while others have web addresses that start with HTTPS. What’s the real difference between these two prefixes? Does it matter what you use for your Volusion store?

What is HTTP?

Hypertext Transfer Protocol, or HTTP, was created as a way to share information across the internet. It’s basically the Ford Model T of data communication on the web. When you access a website from your computer or mobile device, your web browser uses HTTP to communicate with the site’s web server. Seems easy enough, right?

The problem is that it might be too easy to send data this way. Once you know how HTTP works, it’s easy to find and intercept data as it travels across the internet – leaving HTTP websites vulnerable to hackers. That’s where HTTPS comes into play!

So What’s the Extra “S” for?

HTTPS, or Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure, uses a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) to encrypt data transmitted via internet. Whenever information gets sent from a browser or device, the SSL provides a form of coded encryption that scrambles the information into a random series of characters. Once the information arrives at its destination (another computer or server), it gets unscrambled back to its original format. This prevents prying eyes – whether individuals or malware – from stealing sensitive information.

This encryption is especially crucial for ecommerce websites, where personal information and payment details are transmitted frequently. These details include credit card information, usernames and passwords. Both you and your customers want that information to be safe!

An SSL certificate is a key component of encrypting and securing information sent through your site. Before installing an SSL on your site, every SSL provider is required to validate your domain. We use a simple process to verify that you own the domain name tied to the site, then we install it for you. Once an SSL has been installed on your site, it will protect your site’s data for the duration of time you selected when purchasing the SSL (usually either one or two years).

How do you know it’s working?

There are two signs that the site you are currently visiting is encrypted with an SSL:

You may come across a website where the business name is also listed in green next to the padlock; depending on the web browser, the entire web address bar may be green. These sites are typically using “Extended Validation” SSL certificates that encrypt data and prove and verify ownership of the site. While it may sound like an obvious choice to buy an Extended Validation SSL, note that these SSLs do not provide any higher level of encryption than a standard SSL. They’re most commonly used by larger, well-known companies like national banking chains or Amazon. Additionally, EV SSLs require additional vetting and are typically more expensive than standard SSLs.

What makes HTTPS so important?

There are multiple benefits to using HTTPS for your site.

What does all this mean for your Volusion store?

You purchased your SSL, and it’s installed on your Volusion store. Now what?

At this point, your login and checkout pages will encrypt information as it’s sent across the internet. In order to secure the rest of the site, though, you’ll need to adjust config variables in your store that allow the full site to show as HTTPS instead of HTTP. From your Dashboard, go to Settings > Config Variables. Click Search, then search for the word “secure” in the Name field. From the search results that appear, check the boxes next to Force Secure Logins and Force Secure Registration.

There’s one more set of config variables to adjust. Go back to Settings > Config Variables and perform a search for the word “URL”. You’ll want to adjust both Full Secure Store URL and Full Store URL so that each URL contains an “s”, turning them into HTTPS addresses.

Note that when you first visit your website’s homepage, the URL will initially come up as http://www.yourstore.com, even after you’ve adjusted the necessary config variables. Not to worry – once you click on any link or navigate to a new page, the URL will show HTTPS in the address bar. Your site is secure at this point!

If you’re taking the important step of establishing an online business, one of your top priorities should include security for you and your customers. As the internet moves to an age where safety is key, using HTTPS to operate your website is one of the best decisions you can make!

Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy is an Ecommerce Support Specialist at Volusion and loves to help people. This allows him to solve problems, and utilize an array of skills each day as he connects with interesting people. After graduating from UTSA with a double major in Marketing and Sports Event Tourism Management Mike brought his talents to Austin to find adventure. You can catch him with his nose in a book or performing on stage at any opportunity.