Google adds default end-to-end encryption to search

SSL omissions of Yahoo and Bing remain


Google is rolling out default end-to-end encryption to people who use the site to seek for images, news and general webpages, a change that will better protect search queries and results from eavesdroppers.

The SSL, or secure sockets layer, service will be offered by default to users who are signed into their Google accounts, beginning in the next few weeks, Google Product Manager Evelyn Kao wrote in a blog post published on Tuesday. The change, which will convert the default Google address to https://www.google.com (note the "s"), will encrypt search queries sent from a user's computer to Google and the resulting links, which travel the other way. People eavesdropping on the connection won't be able to easily read the traffic.

"This is especially important when you're using an unsecured internet connection, such as a Wi-Fi hotspot in an internet cafe," Kao wrote. "You can navigate to https://www.google.com directly if you're signed out or if you don't have a Google Account."

The change comes 21 months after Google made SSL the default mode for Gmail and 17 months after the search behemoth introduced an SSL option for its primary search engine. A variety of other sites, namely Twitter and Facebook, quickly followed suit.

Google has also been at the forefront of the industry's SSL conversion with research that can significantly reduce the cost of offering SSL connections, although cryptographer Nate Lawson of Root Labs has questioned whether the method, known as SSL False Start, comes with unintended security tradeoffs. The company has made SSL a priority following several sophisticated attacks on Gmail users that attempted to monitor their communications.

Noticeably absent from the default SSL party are Microsoft and Yahoo. While the companies offer some end-to-end encryption, Hotmail's always-on SSL broke Microsoft's own applications, the last time we checked. It's not clear from Yahoo search results if the site's webmail service offers always-on SSL. Neither Bing nor Yahoo offer SSL for general search.

The move to encrypt Google search queries and results by default is good news for users who want to keep such data private, but the change will have a big effect on millions of websites that count on Google to attract visitors to their pages.

Clicking on a result returned from Google's SSL service won't include the search terms used in the query, so webmasters will know the person arrived from Google but won't know what terms she used to arrive at the result. This is true only when a user clicks on search results. Clicking on an ad will continue to reveal search terms, Kao said.

The change will also have no effect on the reams of personal information Google collects about its users. Google logs storing the time and queries for each search work the same under SSL as they do for unencrypted search. ®

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