Developers of the Firefox browser have moved one step closer to an Internet that encrypts all the world's traffic with a new feature that can cryptographically protect connections even when servers don't support the HTTPS protocol.
Opportunistic encryption, as the feature is known, acts as a bridge between plaintext HTTP connections and fully compliant HTTPS connections based on transport layer security or its predecessor, protocol secure sockets layer. These traditional Web-based encryption measures require site operators to obtain a digital credential issued by a browser-recognized certificate authority and to implement TLS protection through OpenSSL or a similar code library. Even then, many sites are unable to fully encrypt their pages because they embed ads and other third-party content that's still transmitted in plaintext. As a result, large numbers of sites (including this one) continue to publish some or all of their content in HTTP, which can be readily manipulated by people with the ability to monitor the connection.
OE, as opportunistic encryption is often abbreviated, was turned on by default in Firefox 37, which was released this week. The move comes 17 months after an Internet Engineering Task Force working group proposed OE become an official part of the HTTP 2.0 specification. The move garnered critics and supporters alike, with the former arguing it may delay some sites from using the more secure HTTPS protections and the latter saying, in effect, some protection is better than none. The chief shortcoming of OE is its lack of authentication for cryptographically validating that a connected server is operated by the organization claiming ownership.