US gov't wants HTTPS on its publicly-accessible sites within two years

New sites set up by government agencies will be required to implement HTTPS

Publicly accessible websites and services of U.S. government agencies will have to move to HTTPS encryption within two years to meet the government's objective that these sites and Web services should be offered over a secure connection.

The Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure offers the strongest privacy protection available for public Web connections with today's Internet technology, according to a draft proposal released Tuesday by the White House's Office of Management and Budget.

"The use of HTTPS reduces the risk of interception or modification of user interactions with government online services," it added.

Besides verifying the identity of a website or service to which the person is connecting, thus preventing redirection to bogus websites, HTTPS also encrypts information sent between the website or service and the user.

A number of government websites including that of the White House have moved to HTTPS by default. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission said earlier this month that it had enabled HTTPS encryption on its website by default. The Federal Register, the daily journal of the U.S. government, has a fully HTTPS-enabled website since 2011.

Under the program now being proposed, newly developed websites and services at all federal agency domains or subdomains must follow the policy upon launch. Existing websites and services are being asked to deploy the encryption in phases, with priority given to services and sites where the content is sensitive or has high traffic and personally identifiable information is exchanged.

Private intranets are also recommended to move to HTTPS, but the shift is not "explicitly required."

Websites and services must also enable a new security mechanism HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS) that allows sites to specify that the browser should always use a secure connection to the server. "This reduces insecure redirects, and protects users against attacks that attempt to downgrade connections to plain HTTP," according to the proposal.

OMB recognized that the cost of the transition and maintenance could be high but said it was outweighed by the benefits of a secure service for the public.

The proposal has been put up on GitHub for comment. People can also send in their comments by email, the government said.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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