Last week, Chrome 68 began a new era in the way browsers communicate with users about security. The Google Chromium team has decided to simplify the green padlock indicator that has been confusing at best, and misleading at worst. Often, consumers were unclear what the security indicators were trying to tell them, especially since the way they were used widely varied by browser and/or platform (and still does). In practical terms, this means you can receive a different message about the security of a specific website, depending on which browser or platform you use at the time.
For the longest time, the only common element in the way different browsers communicated security indicators to users was the beloved “padlock” – indicating only that the connection between browser and web server was encrypted using SSL/TLS. The digital certificate used to identify the website and support TLS communication was either Domain Validated (DV) or Organization Validated (OV) – it didn’t matter which type; both triggered the display of a browser’s “padlock” icon.
With the introduction of Extended Validation (EV) certificates, web browsing became a little more complicated for the average consumer. Initially, for sites using EV certificates, a completely “green” address bar and the name of the organization validated as the domain owner were introduced as additional browser security indicators. The intention was to distinguish sites using EV certificates from sites using DV or OV certificates (which remained acutely ‘not green’….but still got the padlock treatment). The underlying encryption for sites using EV certificates remained the same as sites using DV/OV certificates, but EV certificates were advertised to provide better security for websites and consumers. This security boost was primarily claimed because of the additional (extended) identity validation performed upon the certificate requestor. The security value of EV versus DV/OV is a blog for another time…
Over time, the “wholly green address bar with organization name” morphed to a “partially green address bar with organization name”, or a “green padlock with organization name”, or just the organization name (in green, of course), or sometimes just a padlock (yes….a green padlock) with the word “Secure”. Oh….and almost none of those changes to the browsers’ treatment of EV certificates happened in unison; each browser made its own decision on the style of the EV indicator and when the indicator would morph yet again. Between the multiple types of TLS certificates and the various ways in which each browser displays security indicators (based, in part, on the type of certificate), consumers were left confused – if not apathetic – to the information presented.
So, when is the connection ‘secure’ ? When a padlock is displayed? When the padlock is green? When there’s an organization’s name next to the padlock? Of equal importance, what should we look for to determine whether the session is encrypted or not?
If all of this seems confusing to you, you’re not alone. Most consumers simply ignore browser indicators, if they notice them at all. A study from BYU, in collaboration with Google Chrome engineers, showed that 90% of people ignore browser security warnings, including those that indicate problems with certificates. Since most users don't make browsing decisions based on whether the bar is green or there's a padlock, Google has decided to take meaningful action within the Chrome browser.
In order to promote and speed the continued adoption of an encrypted Web andto reduce consumer confusion surrounding security indicators, Google introduced a significant change the indicators in Chrome. They have introduced the “Not Secure” chip for any non-HTTPS (unencrypted) browsing session.
TLS-encrypted (HTTPS) browsing sessions continue to offer the same experience in Chrome 68 as they did in Chrome 67 – green padlock and the “Secure” chip for sites using DV/OV certificates or the green padlock and organization name for sites using EV certificates. But the seismic shift in user experience is the direct and easily understood “Not Secure” chip that will be displayed when browsing non-HTTPS sites in Chrome.
This was a logical, evolutionary change for Chrome. The end game for the Web is that everything will be encrypted by default. Everything will be HTTPS. When we reach this state is there really a need to warn users unlessthe connection is not HTTPS?
That's the position that Google has taken. Warnings will only happen for non-encrypted connections. The advantage of this approach is that it's very clearly presented to the user – the display of the “Not Secure” chip should give pause to any user who values their own browsing security.
Look for more changes to come in the Chrome browser’s security indicators. Chrome 69 appears to cease differentiating between DV/OV and EV certificates – only a padlock will indicate the connection is encrypted; no more “green”, no more “Secure” chip, no more organization names. Additionally, Chrome 70 plans to introduce the color red to the “Not Secure” chip when users enter data on unencrypted pages (i.e. login screens, payment forms).
I agree with Google on this point: simple indicators are more effective; they’re simply easier to understand. Plus, this move will further encourage all websites to use TLS encryption. Eventually, everything is encrypted…everywhere. What do you think?