What started out as an option for online users will soon become a default as Microsoft becomes the latest company to standardize on HTTPS for encrypting Web traffic.
In a Bing blog post published June 15, the California-based software giant said that while it had let users of its search engine decide for themselves whether to use HTTPS for some time, it will now be a default setting across all Bing traffic. The changes will be rolled out later this summer, Microsoft said.
Some security experts were quick to cheer the decision. BetaNews suggested high-profile data leaks and other incidents have made consumers increasingly concerned about the safety of their personal information. This explains why HTTPS adoption is on the rise. In fact, Microsoft’s move comes fast on the heels of a similar change from the Wikimedia Foundation, which publishes Wikipedia. The switch also mirrors efforts by the U.S. federal government, which has promised to switch its agency websites to HTTPS by the end of next year.
Computerworld, meanwhile, suggested that Microsoft is merely playing catch-up to major online rivals such as Yahoo and Google, both of which made HTTPS a default setting for some of their services more than a year ago. Even if it’s not as popular a search engine, Bing still accounts for a significant volume of Web traffic, so it’s better if it follows the same approach to encryption as other well-known portals.
On the flip side, HTTPS could lead to some headaches for those who try to collect and use Web traffic data as part of their online marketing analytics. Search Engine Land explained that while there are products such as Bing Webmaster Tools that could continue to provide some answers, there will inevitably be a trade-off in how much information third-party sources will be able to learn about how someone came to their site through Bing.
As Sophos researchers noted on Naked Security, Microsoft was similarly cautious in moving its browser, Internet Explorer, and its Windows operating system to HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS). Beyond the Bing news, HSTS is a big deal because it prevents cybercriminals from subverting back to HTTP from HTTPS.
Although it may still be behind Google, Bing’s switch to HTTPS encryption is welcome news for users of the search engine, protecting private information more fully than in the past. As cybercriminals strive to collect any and all useful data to help carry out their attacks, this additional protection could prove to make a major difference.