Web publishers no longer need an invite to get one of Let’s Encrypt’s free certificates to enable an encrypted connection between browsers and their website.
The project announced it had moved to public beta today, meaning that any website publisher who wants a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate can get it at no charge from the Let’s Encrypt Certificate Authority (CA). The point of the project is to encourage more websites to enable HTTPS — often signalled by a padlock in the browser address bar — by removing cost barriers.
Let’s Encrypt launched a little over a year ago with the backing by Firefox-maker Mozilla and the Electronic Frontiers Foundation (EFF), and may when it moves out of beta provide an alternative to giant CAs like GoDaddy and Symantec.
Sites that have enabled HTTPS require a certificate, which can be expensive, however the price of them is likely a smaller cost than the managing them.
Jacob Hoffman-Andrews, a senior staff technologist at EFF, said the main obstacle Let’s Encrypt will overcome is the difficulty of installing and maintaining certificates.
“Most CAs today charge for certificates. While some are very cheap, every dollar of expense means a large swath of people who can't afford to host a secure website. The larger barrier, though, is difficulty,” wrote Hoffman-Andrews.
“Once someone has purchased a certificate, they need to install it on their website, a time consuming and error-prone process that requires significant technical skill, which is a cost in itself. Let's Encrypt is not only free but also automated, in order to make HTTPS encryption more accessible than ever.”
Perhaps threatened by the project, GoDaddy recently published a page highlighting the key differences between a free SSL certificate and its paid certificates, claiming that the only similarity is that both group’s certificates use 2048-bit encryption.
The free SSL certificate project as of today counts as Facebook as a supporter, which joined existing supporters Akamai, Cisco and the Internet Society, among others.
“Making it easier for websites to deploy HTTPS encryption is an important step in improving the security of the whole internet, and Facebook is proud to support this effort,” said Facebook’s chief security officer Alex Stamos, commenting on its new sponsorship.
Let’s Encrypt issued its first certificate in September and its certificates are trusted by all major browsers thanks to “cross-signatures” it gained from IdenTrust, a CA supporter.
Let’s Encrypt said it had issued over 26,000 certificates during its private beta. While the project is more confident about its systems, Josh Aas, ISRG executive director, said it needed to improve automation features before moving out of beta.
"We have more work to do before we’re comfortable dropping the beta label entirely, particularly on the client experience. Automation is a cornerstone of our strategy, and we need to make sure that the client works smoothly and reliably on a wide range of platforms. We’ll be monitoring feedback from users closely, and making improvements as quickly as possible," said Aas.
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