Google tightens HTTPS protections in Gmail in light of government snooping

Users are no longer given the option to turn off HTTPS

Citing the need to protect users from government cyber-spying, Google has tightened Gmail's encryption screws by removing the option to turn off HTTPS.

Google first gave people the option of encrypting their Gmail sessions via the HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) communications protocol in 2008. Google turned it on by default in 2010 for all users, but allowed them to turn it off manually. Not anymore.

"Starting today, Gmail will always use an encrypted HTTPS connection when you check or send email," Nicolas Lidzborski, Gmail Security Engineering Lead, wrote in a blog post Thursday.

He highlighted the security benefits of having HTTPS permanently on. "Today's change means that no one can listen in on your messages as they go back and forth between you and Gmail's servers -- no matter if you're using public WiFi or logging in from your computer, phone or tablet," Lidzborski wrote.

In addition, all messages sent or received by Gmail users will remain encrypted while moving among Google data centers. That is "something we made a top priority after last summer's revelations," Lidzborski wrote, alluding to the press leaks from whistleblower Edward Snowden, the former contractor for the U.S. National Security Agency who was disgruntled with its surveillance methods and practices.

When it announced the availability of HTTPS for Gmail and later when it turned it on by default, Google officials noted that the security boost from using HTTPS would sacrifice performance by increasing latency to a certain degree. It made no mention of that in Thursday's blog post.

Asked for comment about the security-speed tradeoff of using HTTPS, a Google spokeswoman said the Gmail team has worked hard to mitigate any performance impact, and that at this point the company believes it makes no sense to allow unencrypted HTTP connections. Plus, currently most people use HTTPS, she added.

Lidzborski also revealed in the blog post that Gmail had uptime of 99.978 percent in 2013, which works out to under two hours of downtime for a user during the year.

Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Internet-based applications and servicesGooglesecurityMailSoftware as a servicecloud computinginternet

More about GoogleIDGNational Security Agency

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Juan Carlos Perez

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    IDG Live Webinar:The right collaboration strategy will help your business take flight

    Speakers - Mike Harris, Engineering Services Manager, Jetstar - Christopher Johnson, IT Director APAC, 20th Century Fox - Brent Maxwell, Director of Information Systems, THE ICONIC - IDG MC/Moderator Anthony Caruana

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts