Let’s Encrypt, the free and open certificate authority, has been busy. Just a few months ago, the program rolled out its private beta testing program, which required interested parties to request an invitation to participate. Early results look promising, and as noted by SecurityWeek, the HTTPS-focused CA has entered the public beta phase: Anyone can now obtain free certs from Let’s Encrypt as it works out the bugs and looks to improve the future of Web security.
Welcome to the Big Leagues
The idea behind Let’s Encrypt is simple: provide HTTPS encryption for Web data and then serve it over transport layer security (TLS). The result should be a much safer Internet, one where malicious actors or interested parties can’t snoop on user data. Under current HTTP certificates, some Web browsing information is natively encrypted, but if cybercriminals know what they’re looking for it’s not difficult to sniff out specific bits of data.
HTTPS does a much better job at protecting websites and users but uptake has been slow. Certificate authorities (CA) are reluctant to spend on necessary infrastructure upgrades, with consumers also unwilling to bear the extra cost. Let’s Encrypt — proposed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and backed by companies like Mozilla and Cisco — aims to hand out free HTTPS certificates to any company that wants one, backed by the same level of mutual trust enjoyed by other CAs online.
The first step in this process was actually issuing a certificate, which the project did in September. In October, issued certificates were cross-signed by public-key certificate authority IdenTrust, making Let’s Encrpyt a legitimate CA. Then last month, Let’s Encrypt added automation scripts using its open-source ACME tool to make installing certificates even easier.
Now, the large number of certs issued — around 26,000 — helped push Let’s Encrypt into the public beta phase. According to Threatpost, Let’s Encrypt lead developer Jacob Hoffman-Andrews still sees this beta label as necessary despite early successes, saying it’s important to improve the customer experience and ensure automation services work across a variety of platforms.
Essential Protection With Encryption?
Arguments for HTTPS have been gaining traction over the past few years as businesses come to recognize the inherent vulnerability of their data online. According to a recent interview conducted by The Intercept, the use of HTTPS encryption services such as the EFF HTTPS Everywhere plugin — and by extension HTTPS certs — can help limit the risk of unwanted snooping on Web activities.
In other words, expect a tipping point for HTTPS sooner rather than later. Ideally, initiatives like Let’s Encrypt should help keep costs to a minimum but bump up security. For businesses on the fence, there’s no better time to act. Go check out the public beta, grab an HTTPS certificate and see the difference.