There’s always another digital acronym on the horizon, and while some never stick, it’s worth getting to know Google’s latest effort: the HTTPS Strict Transport Security (HSTS) preload list. The search giant will start enforcing HTTPS connections across 45 top-level domains (TLDs), including .google, .how and .soy. What does this mean for web security?

Does HSTS Mean the Death of HTTP?

HTTP is risky. According to Threatpost, attackers can snoop on traffic to execute connection downgrade attacks such as Logjam or leverage other techniques to hijack cookies. HTTPS is functionally superior, and the standard is finally making progress.

As noted by Wired, half the web now relies on encrypted page loads and HTTPS. Google gets some of the credit here: Back in 2010, the company defaulted to HTTPS for Gmail and began developing encrypted search features. In 2014, Google gave ranking boosts to sites using HTTPS, and last year it became a platinum sponsor of free secure sockets layer (SSL) certificate service Let’s Encrypt.

Chrome now also displays insecure site warnings. In response, many major enterprises have made the shift to HTTPS.

Simply put, HTTP served its purpose but can’t compete with HTTPS. After years of asking nicely, Google is taking the next step and forcing secure connections.

Preload Potential

Even if a user enters an HTTP address, the HSTS list automatically converts the page to HTTPS before loading. The preload list is supported across Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer, Edge and Opera. On the Google Security Blog, Ben McIlwain, a software engineer for Google Registry, wrote that “the use of TLD-level HSTS allows such namespaces to be secure by default.”

In addition to .google, the search giant owns live domains such as .how and .soy, which it sells to companies or individuals looking to set up their own websites. Others, such as .ads, .boo, .here and .meme, haven’t gone live yet. But since the search giant is a TLD registrar and has a vested interest in top-level security, expect to see these up and running in short order.

A Line in the Sand

Ultimately, the HSTS list represents a paradox: Shouldn’t users be allowed to connect insecurely if they prefer? Is a user’s browsing experience his or her own?

Yes and no. With no measurable benefit to using HTTP over HTTPS, and given the risk of large-scale compromise if infected browsers then infect others, there’s a reasonable case here for Google’s line in the sand. Just as Microsoft eventually shutters service for outdated and insecure versions of Windows, Google is doing the same for HTTP.

If Google is doing it, others will likely follow suit. The HSTS preload list is merely a precursor to the new state of web security.

More from

Patch Tuesday -> Exploit Wednesday: Pwning Windows Ancillary Function Driver for WinSock (afd.sys) in 24 Hours

‘Patch Tuesday, Exploit Wednesday’ is an old hacker adage that refers to the weaponization of vulnerabilities the day after monthly security patches become publicly available. As security improves and exploit mitigations become more sophisticated, the amount of research and development required to craft a weaponized exploit has increased. This is especially relevant for memory corruption vulnerabilities. Figure 1 — Exploitation timeline However, with the addition of new features (and memory-unsafe C code) in the Windows 11 kernel, ripe new attack…

OneNote, Many Problems? The New Phishing Framework

There are plenty of phish in the digital sea, and attackers are constantly looking for new bait that helps them bypass security perimeters and land in user inboxes. Their newest hook? OneNote documents. First noticed in December 2022, this phishing framework has seen success in fooling multiple antivirus (AV) tools by using .one file extensions, and January 2023 saw an attack uptick as compromises continued. While this novel notes approach will eventually be phased out as phishing defenses catch up,…

When the Absence of Noise Becomes Signal: Defensive Considerations for Lazarus FudModule

In February 2023, X-Force posted a blog entitled “Direct Kernel Object Manipulation (DKOM) Attacks on ETW Providers” that details the capabilities of a sample attributed to the Lazarus group leveraged to impair visibility of the malware’s operations. This blog will not rehash analysis of the Lazarus malware sample or Event Tracing for Windows (ETW) as that has been previously covered in the X-Force blog post. This blog will focus on highlighting the opportunities for detection of the FudModule within the…

LastPass Breaches Cast Doubt on Password Manager Safety

In 2022, LastPass suffered a string of security breaches which sparked concern among cyber professionals and those impacted by the intrusions. Some called into question the way LastPass handled and responded to the incident. In addition, the situation ignited a wider conversation about the risks linked to utilizing password managers. A password manager helps users generate strong passwords and safeguards them within a digital locker. A master password secures all data, which enables users to conveniently access all their passwords…