The Future Of SSL

Google announced the other day that it will now enable HTTPS by default on Gmail. Previously a user had to either manually type in HTTPS or change a setting to default to it, something most people likely never bothered to do. Google says it’s not related but it seems oddly coincidental that this chance coincides with its China announcement.

However Gmail using HTTPS is not the big story here.

The big story is that HTTPS is now being used in places where it before was considered excessive. Once upon only financial information was generally sent over HTTPS. As time went on, so did most website login pages, though the rest of the sites often were unencrypted. The reason for being so selective is that it’s more costly to scale HTTPS due to it’s CPU usage on the server-side, and it’s performance on the client side. These days CPU is becoming very cheap.

In the next few years I think we’ll see more and more of the web switch to using HTTPS. If things like network neutrality don’t work this trend could accelerate at an even quicker rate just like it did for P2P using MSE/PE to mask traffic.

Like I said, these days the CPU impact is pretty affordable, however the performance impact due to HTTP handshaking can be pretty substantial. Minimizing HTTP requests obviously helps. HTTP Keepalive is a good solution however that generally results in more child processes on the server as they aren’t freed as quickly (read: more memory needed).

Mobile is a whole different ballgame since CPU is still more limited. I’m not aware of any mobile devices that have hardware to specifically handle SSL, which does exist for servers. Add in the extra latency and mobile really suffers. Perhaps it’s time to re-examine how various Crypto libraries are optimized for running on ARM hardware? I think the day will come where performance over SSL will matter as it becomes more ubiquitous.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *