Secure Searching with Google

Alternate title: k6ZJ*vGqQDPKv%eF98MIBuh50@DP*

Last week, Google unveiled a secure option for searching the famous search engine using SSL – Secure Sockets Layer (If you own a tin-foil hat, please click here) which means your connection to Google’s servers is encrypted–so the content of whatever you’re searching for is private between you and Google.

When using SSL searching on Google, the logo changes to include the locked padlock and "SSL" and beta, as this is a new feature

This is a valuable feature for times when you don’t trust (or don’t want to worry about) who may be prying on your search content… for example:

  1. When you’re surfing at a public wifi hotspot and who knows who/what is watching your web traffic flow by.
  2. If you’re concerned about the data your ISP may (be forced to) have about your web activities.
  3. If you’re paranoid.
  4. You grok the idea of encrypting your searching… just because you can.
  5. Any/All of the above.
  6. What? If I don’t use this encryption, people can read what I write, even my search results?Yes. Data transmitted over the Internet, if it’s not encrypted, is sent simply as plain text… called "in the clear".  This is no different than sending a letter in an envelope to a dear friend.  The text of what you write can easily be intercepted, read, and even passed on without the recipient knowing. 

    Generally, there is no problem in this as the people who may come in contact with your letter or post-card will likely not care about your communication (gee, it’s nice in Cabo this time of year… who knew).  However, if you were, for example, conversing with a known/suspected criminal, there’s a chance your messages might be intercepted or even logged for future reasons.
    Should I really care about this?
    Maybe. Maybe not. But I think the fact its available is good for the world overall. Matt Cutts, an employee in an unrelated team at Google, wrote a great piece on this recently on his blog, noting:

    I believe encrypted search is an important option for Google searchers. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has asked for secure search in the past (see this post from 2009), and I credit them for helping to put this on Google’s radar. Another inspiration that helped to spark this project was Cory Doctorow’s book “Little Brother.” It was one of my favorite books of 2008 and while I won’t go into the book’s plot here, it’s a quick, fun read. “Little Brother” also makes a compelling case for encrypting HTTP traffic on the web.

    How do I get it?

    Currently, to get this feature "enabled" in your search, you can simply add the little "s" to your web address (homepage?) when you go to Google changing the address from http://www.google.com to https://www.google.com (apparently the www is required).  If you run Firefox, you can get this add-on. I am sure there are/will be others for IE, Chrome and, sooner than later I hope, a setting on Google’s site that will default all searches to SSL like they have in GMAIL.

Note: This doesn’t make you "invisible" on the Internet, by the way. As Google/’s Evan Roseman pointed out on the official blog post releasing the feature:

A few notes to remember: Google will still maintain search data to improve your search quality and to provide better service. Searching over SSL doesn’t reduce the data sent to Google — it only hides that data from third parties who seek it. And clicking on any of the web results, including Google universal search results for unsupported services like Google Images, could take you out of SSL mode. Our hope is that more websites and services will add support for SSL to help create a better and more consistent experience for you.

Want more?  Google’s help article may quench your brain.

* What’s with my alternate title? This is a randomized text string the same length as the phrase "Secure Searching with " showing you what your search data might look like as it flows across the wire.

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