Following its use of encryption in search and Gmail to counter Internet censorship and NSA snooping, Google recently stepped up its encryption efforts in China to counter the censorship system known as the Great Firewall.
Now the search giant is considering rewarding encrypted websites, which may lead to more widespread adoption, according to a new report by The Wall Street Journal.
Encrypting data transmitted over the Internet adds a barrier between web users and anyone that wants to snoop on their Internet activities, or steal their information.
Google uses its search algorithm to encourage and discourage practices among web developers. Sites known to have malicious software are penalized in rankings as are those that load very slowly, for instance. In total, the company has over 200 “signals” that help it determine search rankings, most of which it doesn’t discuss publicly.
Computer science professor at Johns Hopkins University, Mathew Green, told the WSJ that while many websites encrypt their pages, it is often limited to only parts of pages, leaving users vulnerable to attacks by hackers who use “cookies” to log in to websites as someone else.
According to the WSJ, Google engineer Matt Cutts hinted that the new initiative could make it harder to spy on web users. “Cutts also has spoken in private conversations of Google’s interest in making the change, according to a person familiar with the matter. The person says Google’s internal discussions about encryption are still at an early stage and any change wouldn’t happen soon.”
In 2010, Uber software developer Eric Butler designed an extension for the Firefox browser called Firesheep, which let the extension’s users log on to insecure websites and impersonate people with one click. “All websites should be using [encryption] everywhere with no exceptions,” Butler told the WSJ.
See the full report here.